Kevin Joseph, Executive Chef of the Oysterbox Hotel, recently went on a work experience trip to Europe to assist with the openings of a number of new Red Carnation Hotel Group properties. We chatted with the chef about the experience

What was the purpose of your trip?
The Red Carnation Hotel Group opened two new hotels in Ireland, namely Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle, as well as launching a new river boat cruise ship, the SS Catherine in the South of France. It was decided that I would go over and assist with the opening of these three ventures, as well as bringing through our famous Durban curry. We hosted speciality curry evenings at the Rubens Hotel in London in the form of a week-long popup curry restaurant. I’m happy to say that we were fully booked every evening with an average of 120 pax nightly. I also travelled to Guernsey, to the Old Government House Hotel where the company has an Indian restaurant based at the hotel. There I assisted with the new menu compilation as well as the recipe development for the new menu.

Which restaurants did you visit? I had the privilege of dining in some great restaurants along the way, including Jamie Oliver’s Diner and Dog House. I had high tea at the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, attended a gala dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel, had dinner with chefs from Ireland, Guernsey and the states at a restaurant call Coya in Mayfair London, where we ate the best selection of ceviches that any one of us had ever tried. I had dinner at a French restaurant called Le Boudin Blanc; an adulterated bistro that looks like it is straign out of Paris. On offer was snails in garlic and parsley, neck of lamb on haricot beans, onion soup beneath a layer of Emmental cheese and smoked mackerel and haddock terrine with honey and mustard dressing. I had lunch with Chef Vivek Singh at his restaurant the Cinnamon Club, which was truly an exciting education on Modern Indian Cuisine. I was treated to every dish on his menu and rolled out of his restaurant!

What were some of your best experiences from the trip?
Opening the ship was a new experience for me. I had never worked in the galley of a ship before and seeing what can be accomplished within such a small kitchen was mind boggling. These guys  work long hours in a confined space but they are truly driven to produce the finest cuisine possible. Another was visiting Ireland for the first time and getting to know the people, food and culture as well as staying in a castle that was built in 1228. I also enjoyed visiting the Paul Bocuse food market in Lyon and just walking around to see the selection of fresh produce that is available to the locals, and also to the local chefs. Every morning they would be the first customers at the market buying produce for their restaurants.

And the biggest lessons you learned?
In France people only shop for the day, they don’t buy any fresh produce to pack into the refrigerator, only what they would need for dinner. On the ship I learnt that you don’t need a huge amount of chefs to produce awesome fare, all that is needed are a few dedicated people who care about their guest. Chefs all over the world speak the same language when it comes to food and the freshest ingredients make the best meals.

How do you think we compare with European restaurants?
Europeans have a much larger affinity to eating out, most people will eat out at least once a week as opposed to South Africa where we generally only go out on special occasions. As our restaurants are not as well supported as our European counterparts, we have to charge higher prices on the smaller numbers that we get and we’re also unable to buy good quality ingredients daily. However, on the topic of our food versus theirs, I think we have some of the best produce and chefs locally.

What is one thing that you wish could be brought to SA?
Micro farming. Almost every town has their own locally sourced fish, meat, herbs and vegetables- it was astounding to read the menus and see that most of the chefs only used local produce on their menus and 90% of the time they would state on the menus where the items were from. This gave the menu more credibility and also  showcased the producer.