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10 Questions For: Dion Vengatass
Cape Town-based chef Dion Vengatass was cast into the culinary spotlight after winning the 2011 Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year competition. This humble and down-to-earth chef learnt the tricks of the trade at the Swiss Hotel School, where he studied management, but his love and passion lies with cooking. Drawing inspiration from nature and his surroundings, Dion’s cooking talent landed him the position of resident chef at Cape Town’s illustrious Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.
1. How would you describe what you do for a living?
I am an army general, a psychologist, a mentor, a teacher and a friend. Oh, and I honor ingredients and turn them into masterpiece paintings on plates which explode into flavors.
2. What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I remember these tiny feet drawn into the kitchen by some magical mist of shellfish aromas, lifted by fresh curry leaves, ginger, garlic, green chili and top secret spices every Indian granny keeps hidden in a secret safe. It was always fascinating to watch the elderly women in my family transform simple ingredients into food fit for the Gods. Their understanding of flavours was like spells to a wizard. The respect they had for ingredients was infectious; they treated the vegetables in the back garden like little infants, giving them all the nurture and care to grow up strong and beautiful. Many years later these are the same two morals I live and bred in my kitchen: respect the ingredient and cook from the heart.
3. If you could invite any three people, dead or alive, for dinner, who would they be and why?
Marco Pierre White - He has been an inspiration since I was a teenager. He cooks, cleans, and leads his team from the front like King Leonidas and his 300 men. I simply admire this character and run my kitchen in the same manner.
Francis Mallmann - When I watched this chef cook for the first time, I saw that he cooks what he truly believes in and never follows what is ‘trending’ at the time. He just does what he knows to the fullest. He inspired me to say, "Scrap everything and cook what you know" and today my food is exactly that. I would label my food as ‘Indian fusion’.
My Ouma Violet – Although she has already passed on, she taught me how to understand flavor and respect the ingredients. She is the real foundation of who I am today; I owe the world to her and only hope that she is smiling down on me from haven, proud as ever. Love you Ouma Violet.
4. If you ever found yourself auditioning for a music reality TV show, what song would you sing and why?
AC/DC - 'You Shook Me all Night Long'. I just dig me a bit of rock and roll.
5. How would you complete this sentence? The South African cabinet should include a Minister of ______________________.
6. What would you say is the biggest misconception about you?
That I eat all day, I earn thousands and that I shout at everybody.
7. What is your (honest) opinion of Cape Town?
I love love love it! I moved here almost seven years ago and will never leave in a hurry. This place is just too cool- and I have traveled quite a bit. I can honestly say that when i am in Cape Town it doesn’t feel like I’m in South Africa.
8. What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get where you are today?
Definitely the fear of letting go, sharing the workload and trusting in human potential. Believe me, this was not easy and I still have a long way to go. I'm a perfectionist, but I believe in empowering other people. I allow mistakes and learn from them.
9. What's the one thing you'd like to achieve before you die?
Honestly, I'm one with my consciousness. I know who I am. I could die at any stage in my life and know that I have achieved more then I had set to at that given point. I believe in living life by pushing every moment to its fullest point and never looking back.
10. Which well- known South African personality would you, without a doubt, be able to beat in a street fight and why?
I grew up solving problems with my fists and being up front and dealing with issues head on. My father always told me that, big or small, you never back up from a fight. In saying that, I wouldn't really bring anyone on, although I am more relaxed compared to the Dion that my friends back home knew. Now fight battles with literature and a pen.
CapeTownMagazine.com’s 10 Questions project gets to know some of the Mother City’s most creative and inspiring people. From television personalities and musicians to politicians and entrepreneurs, we find out more about well-known and up-and-coming Capetonians. You can follow #CapeTownMag10Q on Twitter and Facebook to track recent interviews or read more here about our other awesome 10 Questions candidates.
A FEW OF OUR OTHER 10Q CANDIDATES:
10 Questions for Cape Town-based private chef Neill Anthony
10 Questions for Cape Town radio personality Nigel Pierce
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