Chef Zulu, as he became known in the culinary industry, left the rolling hills of the Newcastle countryside for the hustle and bustle of the city to realise his dreams of becoming a chef.
Phephisani Sangweni’s mother passed away when he was just a boy and he soon had to learn how to cook for his two brothers and sisters.
He admits making pap at the tender age of 10 was not the epitome of modern cooking skills, but his experiments with sauces and meat dishes soon made him the favourite family cook.
“I think it was turning an average dish into something tasty, using the few ingredients we had in a rural countryside, that made me an innovative cook. My stews were legendary and it seemed to attract people from the neighbourhood for dinner, people we hardly even knew.
“The joy everyone experienced from my efforts laid the foundation for my love of food and hospitality,” he said with a smile.
Phephisani left the countryside and settled in the greater Alberton area and kept doing what he loved most – reading food magazines and watching cooking shows on TV, finding inspiration from celebs such as Marco Pierre White, British chef, restaurateur, and television personality.
“I find inspiration from what international chefs do, but I never copy them and always have my own interpretation.”
Climbing the ladder
After his first appointment at McDonald’s, he soon became ‘Chef Zulu’, an endearing name he’s accepted ever since.
From those humble days of scullery service at McDonlad’s, he soon learnt maintenance, cleaning and safety skills. He then applied for a position as griller at the (then) Mike’s Kitchen.
“Not knowing a single thing about grilling,” he said, laughing.
Chef Zulu soon figured out the fine art of grilling and landed a position at the famous Brown’s of Rivonia Restaurant.
Observing and sharing the skills and secrets under the wing of an international chef, his own skills grew.
At the time, Chef Zulu cooked for then Vice-President Cyril Ramaphosa, an event which is entrenched in his mind.
After completing a short course in hospitality through CTIA, he ventured into the culinary world as chef de partie and head chef at a number of restaurants in Pretoria, Newtown (Johannesburg), Heidelberg and today he is head chef at Molly’s Speakeasy Village Restaurant in the historical village of Henley on Klip.
Molly’s Speakeasy is a quaint and cosy restaurant, nestled among the trees in a lovingly restored, 102-year-old cottage.
We asked Phephisani if he’d share the secrets of one of the great meals served at Molly’s Speakeasy.
“I am very proud of the Mansize Rib-Eye Steak we serve at Molly’s. We use perfectly matured rib-eye, with the bone on. Leaving the bone on gives the meat more flavour,” he said.
Tips for making a great pan-fried steak
• Insist on matured meat – we use 22-day wet-aged matured steak only.
• Never let your butcher cut a thin slice of any cut of meat. Make sure it’s at least 3.5
• Get a thick-bottom skillet pan to medium-high heat.
• Make sure your meat is at room temperature before you start.
• Season liberally with coarse salt and cracked black pepper, both sides and on the
• Drop a knob or two of butter in the pan along with fresh thyme – this will allow the
herb fragrance to infuse into the meat.
• Fry one side for 4-5 minutes for a medium-rare steak, occasionally lifting to check if
you’ve achieved that great dark caramelised surface.
• Press the meat gently with your finger to gauge resistance – the more resistance to
the touch, the more it is cooking.
• Never cut into a steak to see if it is done, you will lose valuable juices.
• Fry the other side 4-5 minutes.
• When done, crisp the edge of the steak — the fatty edge – by holding the steak on
its side and pressing down with a pair of tongs.
• Take off the heat and let rest for five minutes while you plate your accompaniments.
• Cut steak with a razor-sharp knife – sawing through meat with a blunt knife is the
easiest way to destroy your beautifully grilled steak.
Food brings people together
“Cooking after a long week in the kitchen is not a challenge, but spending time with family and friends at home, enjoying a meal prepared by someone else, with their own secrets is what makes life interesting.”
If he had to choose his favourite food, it would be a simple starter of prawn cocktail, dusted with fresh bread crumbs, gently deep-fried and served simply with soy sauce on the side, followed by a portion of Norwegian salmon, seasoned with honey-glazed ginger, gently grilled, and served with sautéed Scottish potatoes.
He’d finish it all off with a classic tiramisu and a single espresso.
What’s for dessert?
Chef Zulu is quick to recommend his home-made lemon meringue, made from a freshly crushed biscuit base, made with home-made butter, with a filling made from freshly
pressed lemon juice, and locally sourced fresh farm eggs.
To round of the meal the Mansize Rib-Eye steak pairs exceptionally well with Groenland’s Classic Range ‘Marie Antoinette’, a masterful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, a red gentle enough to enhance the subtle buttery and herb flavours from the gentle seasoning yet bold enough to make the melt-in-your-mouth steak flavours come to life.
For bookings at Molly’s Speakeasy send a WhatsApp to 079 307 2674.
* Text: Carina van der Walt. Photo: TBF Advertising