The Western Cape’s Logan Leisse is one of seven South Africans who have been chosen for the next round of judging in the globally recognised S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2020 Edition.
The 21-year-old – who was raised in Gordons Bay but now lives on a farm in Somerset West – grew up in the hospitality industry thanks to her mother. Once she had decided to follow in her mom’s footsteps, Logan Leisse studied at The Private Hotel School in Stellenbosch and did her internship at the fine dining establishment Cavalli where she is now employed fulltime.
We spoke to the young chef about the journey ahead, how her hometown of Gordons Bay has inspired her and get her to share her easy cheese biscuit recipe.
Tell us a bit about your background
I grew up in the hospitality industry as my mother used to work in the industry – from restaurants and hotels to wine estates. Whenever I was not at school I would be at my mother’s current place of work, helping out and seeing what people did. That’s where I learned my work ethic and that one has to stay strong in any situation. My mom is a great home cook and she’s even cooked for events and with some celebrity chefs. This sparked my passion for food.
What has been your culinary journey?
It started only when I began my studies at The Private Hotel School in Stellenbosch. I applied to study hospitality so that I could be a flight attendant and make a living while traveling but, as soon as I started with some of the culinary courses, I was hooked on cooking. During this time, I had the opportunity to work with some amazing chefs at events such as Woordfees and the Cheese and Wine Festival. I also worked for Bertus Basson in front of house at Overture for six months. My first culinary placement was at Vergenoegd Estate where I started as a student chef and ended up reopening and running the deli on my own. It was challenging but I learnt a lot. My second and final six-month placement was at Cavalli Estate where I started as a student chef. After six months I was offered a demi chef position, and one month after that I was promoted to CDP of Larder (starters). I still work at Cavalli and love every moment of it as they allow me to let my imagination flow freely and create whatever I want, with the guidance of Executive Chef Michael Deg.
How did it feel to be named as one of the 135 candidates going forward to the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2020 Edition?
It felt amazing! Chef Michael encouraged me to apply for it and I did so without knowing how big a deal this competition is. I’m very happy I did apply and I’m very confident in my dish so I can’t wait to continue on this journey.
What has it been like working at Cavalli with Chef Michael Deg?
Cavalli has been so great to me and I’m so glad I did my internship there. The working environment is like no other restaurant kitchen I’ve worked in; there’s a sense of mutual respect and care that makes you want to work in this industry regardless how tough it gets. There’s no bullying and the kitchen team feels more like a family than colleagues. Chef Michael has been the best to work with; he has the perfect leadership style by balancing being strict with being fair, which is why so many respect him. He loves to work with students because his passion is to teach and help them grow. He is the ultimate mentor.
What was the dish you prepared and where did you get the inspiration from?
The dish is sea bass ceviche and it is a play on complexity in simplicity. The inspiration came from Chef Michael who asked me to create my very first dish to go on the Cavalli menu. It was a very big deal to me and I wanted it to be perfect. To brainstorm, I went to my favourite thinking space, which is Bikini Beach in Gordons Bay. I was sitting with my feet hanging over the edge where the waves are just out of reach, and I was gazing at the little ponds in between the rocks. I found these ponds to be so beautiful and it felt familiar because in some way my hometown is also a little hidden treasure with its amazing sunsets, humble locals, peaceful atmosphere and spectacular scenery. I then realised this is what I wanted to capture in my dish. I spent weeks trying to get every element to work together. The final dish was a massive hit and was the best-selling starter at Cavalli for months.
Would you recommend cheffing and the food industry as a career?
If your passion for food is bigger than long working hours, little sleep and a stressful working environment, then you’ll notice that it becomes fun and that is when you know you belong in this industry.
Who have been your greatest mentors and why?
My mother. As long as I can remember my mom has been teaching me everything about hospitality, food, hard work and dedication. Without that I would not be where I am today. Also, Chef Aviv Liebenburg. When I started at TPHS Chef Aviv was my culinary art lecturer and was ultimately the one that made me excited about going into this as a career.
And finally, Chef Michael Deg who has been pushing me to learn and experience as much as I can and constantly goading me to challenge myself every day with new things. Without him I would have lost my drive and I would have never built my confidence in my abilities the way he taught me to. He is the ultimate mentor which is why TPHS recently recognised him with a mentor award.
What three famous chefs do you follow?
Chef Andrè Steyn (Grande Provence, Cape Grace, La Colombe, Delaire Graff) – his work is just something else and he is able to create these amazing desserts with the most interesting flavours. He even has a mushroom dessert that he created recently. Chef Michel Bras – I find his style and plating very inspiring. Everything this legend of French cuisine creates is so delicate and complex yet looks so elegant and floral. Chef Kobus van der Merwe (Wolfgat) – I love the fact that he is able to make incredible food from veldkos and foraged ingredients. I love to learn about local wild edible ingredients and his food just inspires me to want to find out more.
If you had the opportunity of inviting a celeb to dinner, who would you invite and what would you prepare?
The late Bob Marley and I would serve him freshly baked chocolate brownies.
What do you always avoid ordering on a menu?
What tricks do you use for the perfect fried/scrambled/poached eggs?
For fried and scrambled eggs – low and slow and season afterwards. For poached eggs – put the eggs in a ramekin, bring the water to the boil then reduce heat, add some vinegar and make a slow swirl before dropping your eggs as close to the water as possible. The deeper the pot the better.
What is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
Pairing food with inedible things such as pairing food with music or scenery or even with atmosphere, technology and people.
Logan’s easy cheese biscuit recipe
500g cake flour
500g butter, grated
500g cheese (any kind), grated
Combine all ingredients by using the rub in method till it becomes a crumbly dough.
Roll it out to the thickness you desire (1cm thickness works best).
Cut out the shapes you want and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Put it in the oven on 180°C for 15min or until golden brown. Season with some Maldon salt if needed and enjoy. It’s an easy base for any snacks or canapes.
Read more: S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2020 Edition