David Higgs is one of the most diverse and exciting chefs in Cape Town with a career that’s seen him work in everything from fine dining restaurants to industrial catering, culinary competitions and even culinary education with his own cooking school.
Starting his career in 1990, Higgs is a chef who has honed his skill over many years, constantly evolving and accepting new challenges along the way.
At the moment he’s the chef at Restaurant 500 inside the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he serves what he describes as a contemporary take on classic dishes packed with South African flavours.
On top of numerous projects, Higgs has also found time to be one of 20 mentors for S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015, helping Angelo Scirocco with his dish called ‘Milk is Thicker Than Water’.
We caught up with Higgs before the Grand Final to discuss his own career as a chef and hear what advise he’ll be offering to his mentee.
Who was your most important mentor for your profession and why?
Bill Stafford, UK chef of the year 1986/87, he really understood the importance of mastering the basics of cuisine... and drummed it into me... made me a better cook and when i look at the lack of basic skills in the kitchen, I’m forever grateful.
What’s the best advice you were ever given when you were training?
Stay humble and don’t take anything for granted. Also be patient with yourself and definitely never get involved with the politics in a kitchen... it will prevent you from growing. Focus on the work at hand and move quickly but thoroughly.
Do you remember one of the big mistakes you made in a kitchen when you were training?
I made many mistakes, some funny some less so, but the one i learnt from the 'most was always to ask for help when you know you going down before service, and don’t leave it till its to late... many tears have been shed being constantly in the shit as we call it... so the lesson is the importance of mise en place and not being afraid to ask for help... one of the more funny stories is that in the very first fine dining restaurant i work in i had am avocado mousse on the menu. after i had made it i would check it every hour to see wether it had discoloured, but i could be sure that when the first order came in, it would be brown.... it reacted with the aluminium containers i made them in... took me a few days to figure that out.
Is there one mistake you see young chefs making very often?
As mentioned before, they love the politics, you should really be focussing on perfecting your section and moving up to the next position that comes available and so constantly learn... also, forget all the shortcuts, they are for cowboys, as we call them in the kitchen. do things properly the first time.
What are the best characteristics a young chef can have?
Dont’ be afraid of work... full stop... clock watching is the worst characteristic you can have... you are young and you have the energy. Learn what you can and progress but this takes time... don’t be afraid of the extra effort... this is within reason and not in an inferior environment where your eagerness is abused.
What’s your main focus in advising the S.Pellegrino Young Chef candidate of your region?
It’s your dish, cook it they way you see it. Myself and his chef, Liam Tomlin, have given small bits of advice but enjoy the incredible experience and watch what is going on around you. Look and learn, and listen to the feedback the judges give you. It’s an incredible panel.
What’s your message to all the finalists of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 worldwide?
What an absolute privilege it is to cook for such an esteemed panel of judges. You have worked hard to get here... focus, get the job done perfectly and enjoy the experience.