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Jonathan “Jonny” Ralph is a new chef lecturer at Capsicum Culinary School’s Rosebank campus.
The Randpark Ridge resident has more than two decades of experience in the culinary industry, including work experience overseas, but now wants to give back and train a future generation of upcoming food superstars, something he has done before and which really resonates with him.
Explains Ralph: “I started my culinary journey in 2001 while I was employed at resorts in the US, and fell in love with working in the kitchens. Three years later, I made the decision to return to South Africa and study for a formal chef qualification. Once I graduated, I had the opportunity to return to America to work as a sous chef in Florida.
“I came back home to study further – doing an advanced pastry course as well as a hospitality diploma – and then lectured before working at various restaurants as well as consulting and designing kitchens. I can truly say that I have done it all. Now I want to once again share my knowledge and experience, this time with students at Capsicum. I feel such a sense of pride when I see them turning into great chefs.”
He has some sage advice for those wanting to join the industry.
“It isn’t quite what you see on television. Not all chefs are rock stars. The work is hard and the hours can be gruelling. However, if you love it you will find it hugely fulfilling. You need to keep your passion burning and work hard.”
Ralph believes the culinary and hospitality industries in the country are burgeoning: “In the last 15 years the industry has grown hugely, with social media and cooking shows at the forefront of this expansion. South Africa is now what I could call a destination for world class dining.”
We asked Ralph some quickfire questions.
Who was your biggest food influence growing up?
Was there anything you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
I always wanted to act and studied acting, playwriting and directing at AFDA for a year, hence landing up in the US to get a gig. But I ended up in the kitchens which changed my life.
What are you most proud of?
While working in Florida, I put out a special for the evening – Patagonian toothfish, with a lobster and truffle risotto and peppadew beurre blanc. I was called to a table outside and thought that something must be wrong, so my heart was in my throat! But instead I received a standing ovation and subsequently found out that the diners were industry heavyweights and judges from Top Chef.
Did you have anyone special who mentored you in your career?
I had two brilliant chefs who mentored me – Albert Lanz and Slobodan Stefancic. Both were hard on me but that was the best thing for me as that made me the chef I am today.
Another inspirational figure was the late Billy Gallagher, who is missed to this day.
Name five things always in your fridge or pantry
White cheddar, tomatoes, fruit juice, chocolates and a decent merlot.
What would be your last meal?
An angus beef ribeye steak, cooked with butter and rosemary.
Is there anything you do not eat?
I have a seafood allergy but can cook it to perfection.
If you had to cook dinner for five famous people, who would they be and what would you make?
Metallica’s James Hetfield, Sandra Bullock, Sheryl Crow, John Cleese and Eddie Murphy
For starters we would have Ahi Tuna three ways –tartar, confit and seared. For mains there would be a Camembert filled beef fillet, wrapped in bacon with pomme anna, pea puree and charred heirloom carrots served with a red wine jus. We would end our meal with cappuccino panna cotta, honeycomb, pistachio pavlova crumb and a sambuca dark chocolate ganache.
Favourite celebrity cook?
What are three latest food trends?
Ecofriendly and sustainable farmed ingredients, foams and gastronomic caviars.
Ralph shares his recipe for a delicious Rooibos & Vanilla Infused Couscous Salad which serves four.
1 cup couscous
1 rooibos teabag
¼ vanilla pod
30g carrot, diced
30g red onion, diced
30g apple, diced
30g walnuts, roasted and chopped
5g coriander leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut a quarter of a vanilla pod in half, scrape out the seeds. Place seeds and pod together with the rooibos teabag and honey in a pot and add 2 cups of water. Boil until the tea is black and strong or reduced by ⅓. Place the couscous into a sealable container and strain in 1 cup of the boiling tea over it and seal, leave for 5 minutes. Next, sauté the carrot, onion, apple and walnuts. Open the couscous container and scrape with a fork to loosen the grains. Season to taste. Mix in the sauteed ingredients and sprinkle over the chopped up coriander. Enjoy as a side or as a whole salad by adding some shredded BBQ chicken strips