‘Kokkedoor’ chef Pieter is thriving in West Africa

Henry

By Leonie Bezuidenhout

Pieter Malan, the Lowveld chef who gained fame as a participant in the TV food programme cook doorshowed his mettle behind the food pots at the international culinary Olympics earlier this month, walking away with the bronze medal.

Earlier this year, he embarked on a solo trip to Messe Stuttgart, a food festival in Germany, where he participated in the 26th annual IKA (Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung) culinary Olympics.

He is extremely excited about this prestigious award and it means so much to him on a personal and professional level, he says.

“For me, this is something for which I have been working and preparing for a long time as a chef, just like an athlete, and I think such an award brings with it a lot of responsibility,” says Pieter.

He has previously also won prestigious awards in the hospitality industry and has been the executive chef at the prestigious Fiesta Hotels and Residences in Accra, Ghana since February last year.

“I am ready to grow with Africa and help where I can to keep our cuisine at an excellent level. I have been competing as a chef for years and it took courage to embark on the journey independently. Now I’m ready to go for the gold in 2028!”

According to Pieter, it was initially a big adjustment to work in Ghana, as the climate and the native ingredients are so different from those in South Africa.

“We are privileged in South Africa with so many things that we don’t see every day. Ghana is a hot, tropical country and I had to learn to get used to the heat.

“I also had to learn how to work with tropical foods such as plantains and hibiscus. As maroleas fall from the trees in the Lowveld, coconuts fall from the trees here. The people are warm and friendly and immediately made me feel welcome.”

Pieter’s wife, Michélle, and their three young sons, Zion, Samuel and Albertus, stayed behind in South Africa while he did his contract work in Ghana.

“They are still all the way in Nellies (Mbombela, Nelspruit), which will always remain home. I miss the house and my people a lot, and a good braai and farmer’s food remain close to my heart,” says Pieter.

Pieter is an influential figure in the South African culinary industry and is still the regional chairman for the South African chefs association in Mpumalanga.

He currently has a long list of responsibilities in his kitchen in West Africa where he is the leader of a large team of people.

“As a result, one is something of everything – from a doctor or a psychologist to a shoulder for someone to cry on. You have to remember that you work with people behind the scenes and I always start the day by thinking where we can improve, not only for ourselves but also for our customers.”

At the hotel, he is in charge of two large kitchens: a reception kitchen that prepares an international buffet for around 600 people daily, and a kitchen where dishes for connoisseurs are created.

“This is the place where we test the boundaries with innovative African dishes, for which we also received two world awards last year. One kitchen is controlled with military precision and in the other we think outside the box.

“Every day is different and I often have to think on my feet to remain adaptable and to be able to carry out sudden requests immediately.”

In the buffet restaurant, a large variety of dishes from West Africa are served, as well as a range of international dishes such as offal, Japanese sushi and there is even a whole American comfort food section.

“In Grill Room, my ‘fine dining’ baby, we make modern food and often use Heston Blumenthal’s research to play with dishes.

“I really want to see how we can serve dishes from West and Southern Africa on a global level.”