We meet Chef Farzanah Harris, the new Head Chef of the Bombay Brasserie restaurant in Cape Town’s Taj Hotel who brings her own unique spin to the dishes.

Thirty-two-year-old Farzanah first honed her cheffing skills at the South African Chefs Academy before working as a chef and events planner at Oude Wellington, a whiskey and brandy farm in the Cape Winelands, after she qualified. She then shifted her focus to fine dining, taking on a post as sous chef at the Table Bay Hotel, and later was instrumental in bringing to life Siba – The Restaurant, celebrity chef Siba Mtongana’s eatery. This experience stood her in good stead to break industry barriers with her passion for food and people.

Farzanah’s appointment to the Bombay Brasserie is already shaking things up in the restaurant. “I’m a game changer. I refuse to do what’s expected of me,” says Farzanah. The chef will be introducing local elements to the menu, such as a dollop of yoghurt to add tang to lamb rogan josh, with Cape Malay spices creating an element that speaks to the rich local heritage. “It’s still an authentic Indian menu, but now it has an extra dimension that gives our guests a taste of the Cape, too.”

She enjoys adding a theatrical element to any visit to the Bombay Brasserie. “I strive to create very close connections between our waiting staff and those hard at work in the kitchen, so that your waitron is able to convey the chefs’ passion and maybe even tell you a bit of the story behind the dish. It makes your meal that much more memorable.”

Farzanah is well aware that she’s a rarity in kitchens, which continue to be strongly male dominated. That’s why she’s committed to bringing more women on board. For example, as sous chef, she works closely with fellow female banqueting sous chef Alzette, and is working to upskill intern, Lize in the art of pastry.

Bombay Brasserie

Q&A WITH FARZANAH

Can you tell us more about adding Cape Town flavours to the menu?

One of the most significant features of Cape Malay cuisine is the use of masala, a combination of spices. We use it often, in dishes like Cape Malay crayfish curry and bean curry. Of course, there are so many other wonderful Cape Malay dishes, such as our homemade koeksisters and even our interpretation of seafood paella.

How are dishes developed for the menu?

Indian cuisine comprises a careful blend of ingredients, all with completely different flavours. In contrast, a typical western meal usually contains flavours that closely match each other. Indian dishes mix ingredients that don’t overlap in flavour; instead, each must share its space in the dish. Dishes are developed by experimenting with new and old flavours, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and marrying flavours in a fresh way.

As someone who’s worked at Table Bay and now Taj, what do you love about working as a chef in a hotel setting?

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere besides a five-star hotel and in particular the Taj Cape Town, a hotel group that’s passionate about female empowerment. My passion is in the kitchen, creating new things and working to ensure the happiness of our guests. As a chef, it’s critical to keep experimenting with new flavours.

Do you have any menu favourites that no one should miss out on?

Definitely our famous Cape Malay crayfish curry and our beautiful lamb shank breyani.

 

Cape Malay Crayfish Curry

By Farzanah Harris

6-8 whole crayfish tails, deveined

4 onions, finely chopped

6-8 cloves of garlic,peeled and chopped

3½ Tbsp roasted masala

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp paprika

3 cardamompods

2 cinnamon sticks

5 Tbsp vegetableoil

Salt to taste

 

  • In a medium pot, heat oil, add the onions and whole spices and fry on medium heat until golden brown.
  • Add one cup of boiling water, simmer until water has dissolved.
  • Add all your ground spices, garlic and salt.
  • Then, add half a cup of hot water and braise for about 15 minutes.
  • Next, add all the crayfish and stir the pot.
  • Add 2 cups of hot water and cook on medium heat for 20minutes while stirring occasionally.
  • Want to make it more decadent? Add some prawns at the end of the cooking!