Chef Brian Nasajon visited South Africa, bringing a touch of Miami to the U.S Embassy in South Africa’s Independence Day celebrations. The chef/owner of Miami restaurant Beaker & Gray has a flair for fusion, combining traditional Cuban flavours with Asian ingredients and other South American cuisines, to create delicious, unique dishes.

About Brian Nasajon

Some of his fondest memories included watching his grandfather expertly grill asado, a staple of Uruguayan households. “We had chefs and serious cooks in the family,” says Nasajon of those early years. “Great food was the center of our lives so it became almost instinctual for me as a kid. Later, it seemed obvious that cooking professionally would be my life.” Even though he was born into a  family that had a love and appreciation of food, Chef Brian Nasajon didn’t always want to have a career in the kitchen. It was just after he graduated from a New York university with a degree in philosophy that he decided to return to his first love, the kitchen.

His first stop was a one-year apprenticeship under Chef Joshua Capon at the chef’s Manhattan-based Lure Fishbar, and after one week he knew he’d made the right decision. He returned to his Miami roots to take up his first paying job in the kitchen as a line cook at Wish at The Hotel of South Beach, and this is where he first learnt the skills and techniques of the trade, learning the art and science of flavour development and menu creation. He went on to become the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine, before moving on to SUSHISAMBA, where he explored the fusion of Brazilian, Japanese and Peruvian cuisines, and eventually becoming the group’s Executive Chef.

He’s taken his love for fusion foods to his new role at Beaker & Gray where he has full creative control, and has created a tapas-style menu, driven by global ingredients. Beaker & Gray’s menu is fun and unique, and blurs all the lines between regional cuisine, utilising different ingredients according to their flavour rather than country of origin.

The Experience on the Day

We chatted with Chef Clinton Verhoog from Delectables Catering who catered the affair, about the event, sourcing ingredients and Cuban dishes.

Who was at the event? We catered for 600 people at the Ambassador’s residence event. Guests included other ambassadors and representatives from other diplomatic missions, a host of local government representative and prominent members of business and media.

What kind of catering did you do? We did food stations / buffet. It was a cocktail type event with no formal guest seating. We had to ensure the food was easy to eat whilst standing and mingling.

How was the menu developed and what was on the menu? Every year the Ambassador chooses a specific American city as a theme. The theme for this year was Miami, which has a heavy Latino, Cuban influence. I was lucky enough to go to Miami earlier this year and the food is amazing. I must stress Latino food is not Mexican! For the event we focussed on classic Cuban and Latino dishes such as Ropa Vieja (braised beef), Pollo Asado and of course the Cubano sandwich. We also had a ceviche bar, where we served fresh seabass and salmon dressed in a ceviche dressing then mixed on a Himalayan salt block, this seasoned the fish beautifully.

Were there any challenging ingredients that you had to source? The most challenging ingredients to source was cassava or yuca, as it’s known in America. The other was plantain. Both of these we eventually found in the African Market in Yeoville. I think we cleared Yeoville of all its cassava!

What was the experience like? For us it was a great honour to cater for the USA Embassy in South Africa and for Ambassador Patrick Gaspard. Catering for a large group of people has its own challenges, and menu development is crucial as you have to be able to prepare food in large quantities.  The most important thing was to ensure that the food we prepared was authentic and true to the theme. Security is obviously very important for an event such as this, and security was extremely tight on the day. Beforehand, all staff underwent background checks.

Were there any interesting dishes that you were quite taken by? The Ropa Vieja is amazing if done well. It has a great depth of flavour. Then a great Cuban sandwich can’t be beaten. Think roast pork, cooked ham, swiss cheese, homemade pickles and a great mustard based sauce, all sandwiched between a crusty baguette type bread then toasted. YUM!