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We’re very excited to finally introduce our not-so-new head chef, who is taking our Conservatory Restaurant to one of the best restaurants, Swellendam. It was not an easy task to get this one to sit down for a chat about his career (head chef at Schoone Oordt tends to keep one busy). This Bloemfontein native had big shoes to fill as Chef Wander’s successor but with his international experience and enthusiasm for food we knew he’d be up for the task. Obakeng Mholo, better known as Chef Obie, has come a long way from his humble beginnings growing up in Bloemfontein as the youngest of five children. He remembers how he was always in awe of his brothers skillful cooking for their family even though it was with simple ingredients like potatoes, beef and pap. Obie first discovered his own talent with food at the age of sixteen and by eighteen he decided to pursue a career in the culinary arts.
After graduating from the Central University of Technology’s Free State Hotel School and working as barista and then store supervisor in Bloemfontein (odd start for a wannabe start-up chef) Chef Obie’s path crossed with Schoone Oordt for the first time in 2012 when he was appointed assistant chef to Chef Wander. However it was a short lived appointment since Obie headed for the United States in September 2012 where he worked as trainee in three of the Ritz Carlton’s outlets in Naples, Florida. Although this was an intense job and consisted mostly of preparing ingredients it was an immense learning experience and a wonderful exposure to international cuisine.
During his time in the US he also took up photography as a hobby and immediately combined it with his culinary prowess – thanks to Instagram we can now feast our eyes on Chef Obie’s delicious creations on a weekly basis. After one year in the US Obie returned to Schoone Oordt as Junior Sous Chef but once again the international culinary scene called and Obie left for the Middle East in 2014. Here he worked as demi chef de partie (or junior section chef) in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. “Middle Eastern food has many similarities to Indian cuisine but is also fused with Mediterranean influences”, says Obie. When speaking to Chef Obie about his time overseas it is apparent how enriching these years were however by 2016 the urge to return home struck hard and in June 2016 Obie arrived back in South Africa. In a bitter sweet twist of fate the head chef position opened up at Schoone Oordt and Obie returned to take over as head chef from Chef Wander.
Obie has flourished in his current position and is entirely responsible for the menu creation, inventory and ordering and also competently leads the kitchen staff at Schoone Oordt. He is visually inspired (his food magazine collection takes up almost our entire office storage space) but being the practical planner that he is he starts building his menus around the season it’s for and the ingredients that are available during the time of the year.
So what can our guests expect from Chef Obie’s menus? Obie loves Mediterranean cuisine and will combine these flavours with heftier meat or poultry elements in true South African style. More often than not the protein is the star of Chef Obie’s creations but he dresses it impeccably with vegetables and starches full of flavour. Some of his favourite ingredients to work with range from the simpler and earthier ones such as onions and garlic to the humble carrot and oh-so-beautiful beetroots. Chef Obie also loves rosemary and always finds a way to incorporate rosemary in at least one course whether in a conventional way with lamb or poultry or in a more modern and fresh way in one of his desserts. “Rosemary is hearty and tastes like home to me” he says about his favourite herb that is wholesome but at the same time versatile enough to not make every meal a Bloemfontein beef stew (Chef Obie’s beloved childhood meal).
Chef Obie has sure come a long way both literally, in all of the miles that he has traveled in his international culinary career, and figuratively, from his pap, potato and beef stew childhood days. Although these humble ingredients still inspire many of Chef Obie’s dishes (Obie has even incorporated pap in a few of our main courses) he is packing a lot more flavour to them and creating exciting new combinations. You also won’t find him over indulging in starchy meals anymore since he is quite the body-conscious chef. “It is quite a challenge having to deal with all the temptation on a daily basis; I do love food after all. I’m lucky enough to have the time to make working out a priority and furthermore I stay away from the desserts.”
Its great having a healthy, happy chef in our midst and it’s been exciting to see him make the most of his freedom to experiment as head chef. We look forward to having Chef Obie at the head of things in the kitchen at Schoone Oordt for many years to come.
Here are a few more food facts about Chef Obie:
Favourite meal to prepare for his family: Cape Chicken Curry with jeweled rice from our winter 2017 menu. It’s also his favourite meal from our latest menu.
Favourite junk food: Pizza
Favourite dessert: Even though he is not much of a dessert guy he absolutely loves Malva Pudding
Own meal he is most proud of: Middle Eastern inspired lamb chops with eggplant puree, Harissa and a medley of vegetables
For more of Chef Obie’s fabulous food follow him on Instagram.
Thank you again, Elana van Zyl, for the beautiful pictures.