Interview with Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! Cape Town’s Executive chef Jason Scott as he unveils his latest gourmet burger creations:
The Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! in Cape Town has a reputation for the remarkable in its decor, quality of service and food. When you step into a lift in the hotel you could suddenly find yourself talking a virtual cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, or swimming with great white sharks in your very own steel cage.
The hotel’s food offering is no different – stylish, innovative and exciting. Among other things, the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! is renowned for its gourmet burgers, but despite devoted diners having salivated over the range for years, executive chef Jason Scott is taking the plunge and changing a formula that has worked well for such a long time.
Messing with the hotel’s awesome burger menu is stepping into dangerous territory, but just like the edgy designer hotel where he works, Scott isn’t afraid of jumping in with both feet.
1. Why did you decide to pursue a culinary career and how did your interest in the field begin?
Unfortunately, I am not one of the fairy tale stories in that I popped my curious head into the working world and felt I was destined to be a chef. Quite honestly, my interest was initially ignited by observing family members who are chefs or just excellent cooks. I was 21 and had done maybe 10 jobs from landscaping and reception to banking, but I wasn’t happy. I was walking the streets handing out my CV when relatives suggested I try my hand at cooking. I honestly didn’t know what an adventure I was letting myself in for, but it’s been an amazing ride.
2. Where did you train and did you find it difficult?
I did my in service training at Kelvin Grove Sports Club in Cape Town. After the practical, I completed my studies at Granger Bay Hotel School. Because I found an avenue for my creative flair and had a great support system, the training was a breeze.
3. Best advice – words of wisdom and words of warning – for anyone interested in becoming a chef?
Wow! How do you take years of challenges, experience, victories, and sum it all up? I suppose, in a job interview, I am very straight. My first words to someone I was interviewing would be, “RUN AWAY!’ Seriously, though, you must be honest with yourself and be under no illusion that you will be the next Jamie Oliver. This tends not to be just a career, but your life, which demands sacrifice, discipline, perseverance and a huge sense of humour. If you don’t at the very least learn to love being a chef then you might as well do a job where you carry fifty kilogram bags around because that is what it will be like every day if your heart isn’t in it. Quite simply,’ what you sow is what you reap’.
4. Which chefs do you most admire?
I admire chefs not for what they have accomplished in life, but how they have inspired me to achieve my dreams. This means I admire those closest to me; family members who have shown me dream cuisine that looks like works of art and those who challenge my palate and give me the wonderful, blissful feeling of ‘magies vol, oogies toe’. If I had to choose anyone outside of that circle, I would say I love the flamboyant and ‘can do’ attitudes of Jamie Oliver and the late Floyd.
5. What do you enjoy most about your work? What are your greatest stresses and greatest joys?
Almost every day presents unique challenges, as well as interesting new GUESTS who demand happy taste buds and tummies. The only stress for me is that I’m a perfectionist, which doesn’t mean I’m perfect, but I set lofty goals that are sometimes unrealistic. On the flip side, though, it has served me well and helped to get me where I am today. My joy in the kitchen, besides creating new dishes, must definitely be my team of chefs. They are creative, hard working and most importantly, they put up with me all day. (‘Hee-hee”)
6. Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! is famous for its gourmet burgers. You’re now changing the menu to include a large “build your own burger” section – what was your thinking behind that?
GUESTS love to eat what they love to eat, but want every time to be like the first when they sink their teeth into that juicy burger. This allows us to take our gourmet burgers to the next level in creation, making what has been such a huge success, and perfecting it. GUESTS want simplicity, great quality and variety. I used the ‘KISS’, (keep it simple stupid) method, and with my butcher designed quality burgers from the best cut of meats. They are prepared and lightly seasoned by the chefs, then grilled to perfection and ready to be smothered in one of our new wonderfully engineered sauces. The sauces are designed to work across the spectrum of our new burgers.
7. The concept of the new part of the ‘build your own burger’ menu is that diners can choose a burger base of sirloin, game, ostrich, lamb, chicken, salmon, hake or calamari. The interesting mix is the variety of sauces. How did you conceptualise the sauces to complement such a wide range of burger bases?
It is important to have flavors marry each other, but it does not have to be restricted to only one meat type as long as you have one definite main ingredient that is your base, an ingredient that is familiar to the palate. Then you can add different spices to give the sauce originality and flexibility. This allows you to have one sauce that can cross borders and complement a beef or fish burger. Our burgers are sublime; from the best quality sirloin to game, ostrich, salmon, chicken and calamari. Some of the new accompaniments on the menu that perfectly compliment the burger range are a more-ish triple peppercorn cream, tropical teriyaki syrup, Thai coconut and coriander sauce, Neopolitan habanero salsa and a smooth dark Lindt and chilli sauce.
8. Which is your personal favourite?
When creating the gourmet sauces they become your babies and every single one is your favourite. But if I was forced to choose, our new cumin chermoula sauce over a mouthwatering grilled Norwegian Salmon fillet burger is absolute perfection.
9. Which of the old favourites have remained on the menu?
Our ‘Spicy Killer’, lamb burger and vegetarian burgers like the “Just Butt Out’ are favourites and they’re here to stay; not forgetting the ever-popular jaw-breaking “Jaws!” burger.
10. Burgers are not the only things on the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! menu – what is your favourite dish to prepare and your favourite to eat?
Favourite dish to prepare would be our Nutty Gardener Salad, simply because of the amazing depth of the fragrant herbs, toasted cashews and banana chili dressing. To eat would be our pork rashers cooked in a rich black bean sherry paste, served with jasmine rice and pickled cucumber.
11. The overall concept of Protea Fire & Ice! hotels is funky urban chic and trend setting. What direction will your next food innovation take?
It’s sometimes difficult to make a dish complex in flavours and still uncomplicated. It is a fine line, but ideally, I want to create dishes that are a journey of flavours. You should be able to have something as simple as a refreshing summer salad and have 10 different flavours permeating your taste buds. However, I have always loved listening to people saying ‘no one can cook it like my mother!’ My dream is to have everyone say that when we create new dishes, while still keeping it original and making it a ‘fantasmanastical’, gastronomical experience.
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