Scottish-born George Jardine is an award-winning chef working in South Africa where he ran his critically acclaimed restaurant, Jardine, in Cape Town, before opening his current eaterie at Jordan wine farm in Stellenbosch. He speaks to Kerstin Kühn
What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place?
Adventure, change and a search for enlightenment. I started working straight from school, just before my 16th birthday, and like so many chefs, every couple of years I would move on to learn from a different chef. I guess once I had worked my way across, up and down the UK, the next move had to be overseas.
At that time, I was in London working for Jean-Christophe Novelli, who was opening Novelli at the Cellars-Hohenort hotel in Cape Town. I jumped at the chance and moved to Cape Town to open his venture.
What do you dislike about working in South Africa?
I don't dislike anything about working in South Africa, although I do miss a few ingredients. But with the help of a few passionate farmers and producers, that is changing. There are a few chefs here who are working with producers to get them to grow the baby vegetables or types of potatoes we want, or particular styles of cheeses. Some producers are even starting with rare breed pigs, sheep and different types of cattle.
It starts small but soon gets big, as through the media coverage of what chefs are doing, the supermarkets pick up on it and you start to see things on their shelves.
How does hospitality in South Africa differ from that in the UK?
The industry is pretty similar but on a smaller scale. I guess the similarities are relative - the cost structure is the same, one out of every 10 or 15 commis chefs turns out good, waiters break plates, the guests either complain the food took too long or enjoy their meal so much they want you to sign their menu.
What makes a difference in the hospitality industry has nothing to do with nationality but with the right people who have passion, do things for the right reason and go the extra mile because they love what they do.
What could UK hospitality learn from South Africa, with regards to people management?
In South Africa, we have to be a bit more flexible, learn to bend, duck and dive without compromise or a negative effect on your product. We have to be more flexible because of many reasons, transportation is difficult as there is little public transport, and communication - we have 11 official languages - is challenging.
What has surprised you most about hospitality in South Africa?
South Africa is an example that no matter how difficult your personal circumstance, people are passionate about what they do. They see the real value in making themselves more valuable.
My pot washer comes from Zimbabwe and, on his days off, works in our veg patch or does the restaurant books - any opportunity he gets to make extra money he takes and sends it home for his family. When our wine waiter's house burnt down a couple of days ago and she lost everything, or another waiter's car broke down and he had to walk 5km to get to work, our guests were still greeted with a big smile by people who are hospitable by nature, not just because they earn a living from it.
What advice would you give to anyone wishing to work abroad?
The hospitality industry gives you an opportunity to work anywhere in the world, but you need the right attitude, drive and desire to make it work for you. It's challenging taking over a team who cannot speak English, but it is also exciting and an adventure to learn something new, somebody's culture, what they eat and how they socialise. Make an effort and learn some of the language and you will be rewarded with a life full of adventure.
CV: George Jardine
Opens Novelli at the Cellars-Hohenort hotel, Cape Town, South Africa
â- 2001-02 Chef de cuisine, Sriwijaya restaurant, Dharmawangsa hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia
â- 2002-04 Chef de cuisine, Lafite restaurant, Shangri-La hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
â- 2004-06 Executive chef Shangri-La hotel, Sydney, Australia
â- 2006 Opens Jardine, Cape Town
â- 2007 Opens Jardine bakery, Cape Town
â- 2009 Opens Jordan restaurant, Stellenbosch, South Africa
â- 2011 Closes Jardine, Cape Town