Hi Etienne, tell us about you and your passion for food.
Braai is in my blood coming from a rural town in South Africa, we learned how to cook over wood from a very early age.
I started working in Cantaloupe bar in Shoreditch in 1999 and it had a good restaurant attached to.
My passion really took off there and grew as the group was growing with Cargo and the street food concept and then Camino restaurants.
Who has been really influential in your career and why?
My parents and grand parents firstly due to all the braai’s we had and then in a professional capacity it is Richard Bigg who started Cantaloupe Group which is now Camino restaurants and Big Chill bars.
When did you realise you wanted to work in hospitality?
It kind of happened automatically as I needed a job as soon as I got to the UK to make enough money to travel.
One of my first jobs was working at Cantaloupe and I loved it so much, I stayed with the company for 13 years.
Tell us about the concept behind your venues.
The concept is very simple, food cooked over wood fire.
This was the first cooking method for humans and simply put, food cooked with hard wood and charcoal tastes better than food with no wood.
In your opinion what is the biggest challenge facing the restaurant industry today?
There are so many factors but staffing is certainly a massive issue, along with business rates and staying relevant with your concept, which can cost a lot of money.
How do you test the quality of your ingredients?
We try and keep all the food we use as local as possible and certainly only in the UK as much as possible.
All the animals have to grow up very happy firstly and then we start looking at the quality of the actual produce.
We do a fair amount of tastings with suppliers that can prove where the produce is from and what the animal husbandry is like.
It is a bit harder with vegetables as you the seasonality means you can’t always get what you want from the UK.
The one dish we should absolutely try off the menu?
I really love the Cape Malay curry fish starter at Hammer & Tongs as it is very different with great flavours.
The 24 hour marinated Pork Ribs at Park Tavern and Hammer & Tongs is also great as we use some Rooibos tea in the marinade along with honey and mustard.
Best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Always make sure your staff are happy in their working environment.
How do you keep up to date with the latest food trends?
I read a fair bit on new restaurant openings and what kind of food they are doing and try and follow the trends in South Africa for home cooking and the kind of braai’s people are having at home.
What are you most excited about right now in the food scene?
I like all the new concepts that are still popping up, people really cooking stuff that you thought would not be possible and mixing flavours that you never thought would go with each other.
Where did you last have a memorable meal?
In Stellenbosch in a place called The Fat Butcher
Your favourite 5 minute recipe?
The recipe takes longer than 5 minutes, but if you don’t have a braai or bbq at home and you want to cook the perfect pork chops, then I have a great recipe.
Brine the chops for a minimum of 3 hours, but ideally overnight.
Fry in a little oil on the stove for about 10 minutes, depending on how thick the cut is and make sure it is seasoned well.
After this put it in the oven on 200 degrees Celsius for another 15 minutes or so. It will come out very soft.
You can do all of this in a kettle bbq as well, which will be better.
Fill in the blank: If I weren’t an entrepreneur I’d be… Sport psychologist.
What’s next for you?
We would very much like to open a few more pubs with outdoor spaces where we can cook outdoors during the warmer months.