By Anelde Greeff – Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“Sorry, it’s chaos here. Going from a 50-seater to a 500-seater restaurant is a change, I can tell you. Logistically it’s a nightmare!” So said David Higgs, Eat Out Chef of the Year 2010 and, until recently, executive chef of Rust en Vrede, during a hurried phone interview on day two of his new job.

Said new job is senior chef of the 110 square metre Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel in Johannesburg. David was approached by the hotel earlier in the year and jumped at the opportunity to work in Johannesburg – a city whose dining scene has been under much debate this past year.

“It’s a very exciting, diverse city, and I’ve always been one to challenge myself. Plus, I’ve never worked in a hotel. I’ve had experience in almost every other part of the industry – from working in a restaurant, to industrial catering and catering for Woolworths, a school and weddings. I’ve literally done almost everything, and I really do think I have something to offer here.”

In addition to overseeing all the hotel’s food, David will be heading up itsCentral One Bar & All Day Restaurant, which will undergo a major aesthetic and culinary facelift. He will draw inspiration from multiple Michelin-starred chef Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier brand.

“We’re going to warm it up a little bit. Joburg has a big after-work crowd, and we need to be able to give them some great cocktails and really good music. And, obviously, we want to try and entice them to stay in the restaurant. That’s your biggest challenge in hotel restaurants: getting people in, and then keeping them in.”

David and his new employer are still busy finalising the menus, but we can expect modern comfort food – not fine dining – at breakfast, lunch and dinner. David is extremely excited about his new challenge, albeit a bit emotional about leaving South Africa’s number one restaurant.

“It was the dream job! Rust en Vrede is such a wonderful restaurant and I had carte blanche – owner Jean Engelbrecht left me to do whatever I wanted to, as long as it worked. It was difficult to leave, but sometimes you feel like a bit of a change. After all, it’s not just about creating the food – you can create the plate that the food gets served on; you can create the restaurant around the plate. The whole creative process can expand. Which is really nice and where I am at the moment.”


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