Being a father can be accomplished by almost any man, but being a father in a child’s life is a special experience. In the eyes of Martin Claassen and Hugo Pienaar, fatherhood is a feeling that no words can ever describe and that nobody will truly comprehend until they hold their own child in their hands.
We get to know two of Alberton’s well-known chefs, Martin Claassen and Hugo Pienaar, whose paths crossed again after several years of knowing each other after attending the same hotel school.
They now share a kitchen at Martin and Hugo chat about their careers, friendship and how they manage to be husbands and fathers and still pursue their dreams.
Martin is living his dream
He was born and bred in Bethal in Mpumalanga where he went to Laerskool HM Swart Primary in Bethal and matriculated from Middelburg High.
Martin then went from studying French Terminology to cooking at HTA Capital Hotel School where he qualified.
‘I studied under Stephen Bellingham and qualified in 2004. Over the years I have worked with amazing chefs in different places across the country, from convention centres to five-star hotels,’ he said.
Martin has always had a passion for food and creating things in the world that people can enjoy. ‘Creating dishes and moments that bring people together is my passion.’Today he is an owner of two restaurants, Dros New Redruth and Dros Kyalami, with 20 years of experience behind him. He loves making dishes that include bread, pastries and meats.
‘Every day brings new challenges and that is my favourite dish. If I need to choose, it is different sauces, it’s like getting dressed for your wedding. Sauces just light up different meals and bring the best out of different dishes.’
He is always up for a challenge so there has not been a meal he doesn’t enjoy cooking.
Some of his proudest moments as a chef were being able to be part of local cooking shows on TV. ‘I am the happiest at work when I need to rush, when everyone comes out to eat there is just something about that.’
One of the challenges he faces as a chef is dealing with the country’s load-shedding. ‘Other challenges are finding the correct products. Sometimes your main ingredient can be out of stock and then you have to make a plan,’ Martin explained.
The chefs he admires are Gordon Ramsey as he is a real go-getter and he never gives up.
He said that the best cooking tips he ever received were at family gatherings. ‘Once again food brings people together, if there is any tip that would be to spend time making food for your family. Get everyone in the kitchen.’
It is all about family
Martin met the love of his life Jackie 27 years ago in Bethal. They have three beautiful children, two girls and a boy.
‘We all have different love stories and timing of doing things in life, but our love story is my favourite. We went to the same school and then I moved away. Seven years ago in October, I found Jackie on Facebook, and I decided to send her a message. We met up for coffee, and we just never looked back,’ he said.
The couple tied the knot on March 19 this year.
Martin loves being a father and to him, fatherhood means the world and beyond. ‘I never had sisters and now I have two daughters. It amazes me to see them grow and become someone or something you prayed for. My ‘laaitie’ is just the most adorable thing in the world. He is very fond of his mother and his grandfather.’
He added that he felt that a father plays an important role in life because, at the end of the day, your father needs to make something out of you.
‘A father will separate the earth for his children. My father, Charles, always tried his best and I will try to do the same if not better. I think a father makes or breaks you and in my life my father made me.’
Being able to accomplish what he and his wife started is the best part of being a father. ‘To see their faces enjoying moments in life with you and to spoil them or surprise them with something they wanted badly.’ he said.
‘Whatever they become or whatever they do in life, just enjoy it. I will always love them, and that will never change. You are entitled to do whatever you want to, as long as you are happy and take the responsibility,’ is his message to his children
Off the cuff:
- Do you prefer food, travel or art? Travel and food.
- Braai or cooking? Braai.
- Rain vs sunshine? Rain.
- City life vs outdoors? Outdoors.
- Your ultimate spoil Going on holiday.
- What’s your regular comfort meal? Peanut butter sandwich.
- Favourite drink? Olof Bergh and coke.
- Your best movie ever? Pearl Harbour
- Currently on your playlist? Afrikaans music, music from Riaan Benade.
- Your motto in life? Be all you can be.
- If you could do one thing before you die, what would that be? Tour the world.
- What do you like to eat when you’re at home? My ma se kos and braai.
- You’re stranded on a desert island. What five foods would you want with you? What would you make? Fruits, meat, veggies – a full buffet
Hugo makes chaos look beautiful
Hugo was raised by Collette and Hugo Pienaar and grew up with his younger sister in Brakpan in the East Rand. Hugo’s fondest childhood memory was when he was 13-years-old.
‘I went hunting with my father for the first time, and as a young boy to get the opportunity to provide for your family while having respect for mother nature is one of the best memories,’ said Hugo.
He matriculated at Hoërskool Die Anker in 2012 before leaving for hotel school to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. ‘When my parents got divorced in 2008, my dad moved and I lived with my mother and my sister. When I got home from school, I would help my sister with her homework and prepare dinner for us.
‘This led to the awakening of my passion. I started cooking more and tried out new recipes,’ said Hugo. He added he would sometimes phone his dad to ask him about the next step of the cooking process. ‘This is how my father and I bonded. He taught me cooking over the phone.’
Hugo has been in the industry for the last nine years and he knows many fields in his industry. These days you will see him at the Dros New Redruth, working as the general manager. “Being able to work for Martin and work with him in the kitchen is just priceless. I have so much respect for him and the things he does for others.’
A highlight of his career was when he was placed fourth in a regional Unilever Chef of the Year Competition and became a regional judge for the annual Checkers Boerewors Competition.
‘Passion is not something you teach. It is a warm happy feeling you get when you do something you love. For example, when I competed for Unilever Chef of the Year, which was the penultimate professional cooking competition in South Africa, I didn’t win but I felt so accomplished and that I think that was the passion talking,’ he explained.
Bring on the pressure
Hugo is the happiest working under pressure. ‘When I’m under so much pressure that nothing is going through my head except the plate of food that I’m cooking, that is when I am the happiest.’
He enjoys cooking Beef Wellington. ‘I love a good hearty meal and there is nothing better than soft tender fillet steak rolled in grilled mushrooms and creamy spinach and buttery puff pastry.’
The three ingredients he will always use to cook with are salt, pepper and butter. There are a couple of ingredients which he doesn’t enjoy cooking with, but he will always make a plan to make the best out of the situation.
Hugo is inspired by chefs like Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal, Jan Hendrick, Bertus Basson and Jade van der Spuy.
‘I’m a passionate chef who loves putting a smile on a person’s face. I was a lecturer and teaching is also a big passion of mine Why not share your knowledge with others?’ Hugo added.
On the question about his kitchen disaster stories, he said the scariest moment for him in the kitchen was observing someone who placed a frozen chicken in a deep fryer.
‘Let me tell you I feared for my life,’ he said laughingly.
Nothing beats being a dad
Hugo and Chante Lynn Bailey met while he was doing what you call rounds at the restaurant.
‘I stopped by Chante and her family’s table to see if everything is alright. Afterwards, she went to one of the waiters to ask them for my number. We chatted for three days before going on our first date.
‘It was love at first sight.’
They have been together for two years, and they have a beautiful baby boy, Elijah. Hugo and Chante are getting married later this year on October 8. Chante said she had never met anyone who works harder than Hugo. ‘During difficult times he pushed through, and kept providing for us,’ she said. To juggle his work life and his personal life, Hugo uses proper time management.
‘Chefs have to be somewhat crazy to do what we do. My way of managing my time is by taking each day as it comes, as you never know what will happen. It has happened so many times that we have made plans, but whether they worked or not is a different story.
‘The most important thing is you must make time for your family in your crazy schedule, sometimes even having them at work while I’m working can also be helpful.’
Fatherhood is an opportunity for Hugo to raise the future generations of this world. ‘I am responsible to teach my son the right way, but I am also there to catch him when he falls, to cheer him on and to accept his choices in life,’ he said.
According to him, fathers play a vital role in the lives of their children. ‘There are some things only my dad could teach me and that my mother couldn’t because it made more sense to me coming from him. Things like not digging in a woman’s handbag and opening the car door on your first date.’
Whether it was a good or bad day, he always looks forward to getting home to Chante and Elijah.
‘Seeing my son’s face light up when I walk into the door after work melts my heart. It will be his second Father’s Day this year, and he looks forward to spending it with his family. ‘The advice I want to give Elijah is he must always follow his passion. Do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,’ he concluded.
Off the cuff:
- Do you prefer food, travel or art? For me food is art.
- The one thing nobody or very few people know about you? I cry when I watch sad movies – we are all human.
- Braai or cooking? I’m a fanatic for both.
- What’s your regular comfort meal? Peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I know it’s quite plain, but I love it.
- You’re stranded on a desert island. What five foods would you want with you? What would you make? Traditional food definitely, mielie pap, boerewors, a “lekker” piece of steak, garlic loaf and a good old Black Label to enjoy the moment.
- Rain vs sunshine? Sunshine.
- City life vs outdoors? Outdoors.
- Your ultimate spoil? A TV bar chocolate.
- Your guilty pleasure? Energy drinks.
- Favourite drink? If it’s not obvious yet, Black Label, or one of my own craft beers
- Your best movie ever? 1000 foot journey, Chef, Burnt.
- Currently on your playlist? Appel, Riaan Benade, Jo Black and Refentse.
- Your motto in life? Strive for excellence.
- If you could do one thing before you die, what would that be? Travel through South Africa. We’ve got such a beautiful country that I don’t want to go anywhere else but stay here.
Text: ELZAAN PIENAAR. Photo: ELZAAN PIENAAR