Creativity is at the heart of Marthinus Ferreira’s food. Having worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal in the UK, he has developed a style of cooking that challenges the palate without ever straying beyond the boundaries of good taste. Perhaps it’s the family influence that keeps him grounded at his DW-eleven-13 restaurant in Johannesburg. His mother, father and sister have all played their part in creating one of South Africa’s best restaurants.
Now he brings his nurturing skills to S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018, as he prepares to be a mentor a talented young chef from the Africa & Middle East region. He spoke to Fine Dining Lovers ahead of the competition.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a chef – what inspired you and what obstacles did you overcome to achieve your dream?
Both my parents worked, so in the holidays I had to make my own food for lunch. At the same time, cooking shows were becoming very popular. These programs started giving me ideas and inspiration to use what was in my fridge and pantry. I realised I wanted to know more and that I really enjoyed the cooking, creating and obviously the eating. What really made me excited was the thought of flavour combinations and creating new dishes. Every day I would try something new and also learn as much as possible about chefs and other ways of cooking.
What was your biggest triumph as a young chef, and is there anything you would consider your biggest failure?
My biggest triumph was opening and still running my restaurant D-eleven-13. It’s been over 8 years and I still love what I do every day. My biggest failure would be the fact that I love to please people. I have learned that you can't please everyone.
As a mentor, what do you expect from your young chef, and what do you think you can offer him/her?
Don’t be afraid to fail. You learn more from your failures than you do from your triumphs. Keep tasting. Always think how you can improve. I hope I can offer not just advice but inspiration, and my years of experience and guidance, to hopefully keep the young chef grounded and humble.
What would victory in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition mean for a young chef?
I think winning the S.Pellegrino Young Chef opens so many doors and also gives confidence and a sense of achievement to these young chefs. As a young chef, cooking day in and day out with very little recognition is part of the job. However, knowing you could be on the road to bigger and better things can and should motivate all young chefs.
You like to take risks in the kitchen. Tell us about some of your signature dishes at DW-eleven-13, and the stories behind them.
24-month aged gouda, coffee cream, praline and burnt onion. Not sure the coffee worked with the cheese, but it’s been the most unusual combination and fun dish we have done in years.
DW-eleven-13 is a family affair – what are the pros and cons of working so closely with family members?
My family are involved a lot less in the day-to-day running of DW. They are more there for advice and support these days. My sister works part time for me doing mostly admin. My mother does a bit of maintenance now and then. And my father helps me make big decisions, especially financially. All this gives me great support. The cons are that they don’t really cook. So I’m the only one coming up with new ideas and menu items. Also, none of them work the floor or the kitchen. They have never done service. Sometimes the day-to-day running can be tough, but so far I have managed to do it.
Your food has a very international outlook – which are your favourite world cuisines and why?
It changes weekly. I’m very much into Italian cuisine at the moment, but last week it was Thai and Portuguese. Next week it might be African. The more I read and learn, the more interesting my ideas and thoughts on food are, which keeps me excited and very passionate about cooking.
You’re a well-known celebrity chef in South Africa after your work on The Ultimate Braai Master. Has fame changed you?
I would say it did when I started doing TV. But fame goes away and you realise what you enjoy most. Being in my own restaurant and doing my own food is always my number one priority.
What are you working on at the moment and what are your plans for the future?
I’m working on making the dining experience better every day at DW. The future plans? I can’t say just yet! However, there is something a bit different coming in the New Year…