Weltevreden Park’s Franco Buys is a sous chef at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel, The Westcliff in Joburg. We caught up with him to ask a few foodie questions.
Just after landing his dream job in Qatar, Franco mysteriously lost the
use of one of his legs and thought his culinary career might be over, but it turns out this was only the beginning …
You lost the use of your leg while in Qatar – how did that happen and did you think that your food dream was over?
I learnt that your life can change in one moment. I woke up one morning and couldn’t move my leg due to excruciating pain. I had numerous tests over the months that followed. It was only later that an MRI scan found I had necrosis in my hip. By then the damage was done and I needed surgery, which I underwent back home in South Africa. My rehabilitation took two years. I had a lot of time lying flat on my back to think about what to do next. The answer remained the same – I wanted to be a chef. Dreams only end if you give up on them.
Why did you want to become a chef?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved eating. Also, people will always need to eat, so you will always have a job. My childhood on my grandparents’ farm in Polokwane also moulded a lot of my journey.
What is your best food memory?
When I was asked to create a menu for the South African ambassador and 200 of his guests in Qatar for National Day. That was the day I knew that I was on the right path.
How do you believe SA chefs and restaurants compare to those internationally?
We can hold our own and we’ve proved it. South Africa has such an awesome mix of culinary deliciousness; that’s why people always come back for more.
What do you do to stay current on new trends?
I do what every normal chef does. After a long shift in the kitchen, I go home and sit on YouTube and Instagram, following, reading, questioning and soaking up all the culinary knowledge and information. All it takes is one moment, one idea to ignite the fire in your food soul.
What are your favourite current food trends?
I love the current ‘farm to table’ and ‘head to tail’ trends because that’s how I was raised. Spending every summer holiday on my grandparents’ farm, I learnt where food came from and how to harvest it. If we want future generations to enjoy what we have, we must sustain it – I believe it’s vitally important that people know where their food comes from.
What is your favourite dish to cook and why?
Prawns in lemon butter sauce. Why? Because it’s prawns in lemon butter sauce!
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs out there?
Find a chef who is passionate, works hard and is a great teacher. Learn from those who have mastered their craft. The world is your oyster, so shuck that bad boy, deep fry it, and serve it with a lemon butter sauce … yum. For me, my time studying at Capsicum Culinary Studio was invaluable. It was a stepping stone to my future. It showed me exactly what to expect
in the real restaurant world and how to prepare for it.
Which chef (national and international) do you find inspiration from?
Nationally, Keith Frisely from the Monarch Hotel, Jacques Swart from De Hoek Country Hotel and Private Chef Neill Anthony. Internationally it has to be Gordon Ramsey, Michel Roux Jnr and, if anyone remembers, the late Keith Floyd (he is the one who made food fun).
Do you ever get tired of cooking?
I’ll get tired of cooking when Gordon Ramsay stops making television shows!
If you could invite anyone for dinner, who would you invite and what would you prepare for her?
It would be Japanese-born South African television host, actress, dancer and model
Lalla Hirayama. I would serve her salmon prepared three ways – sashimi, seared and enpapillote (in a parcel).
What is your go-to meal when you’re low on time?
Three fried eggs served with white toast and butter. Also known as my happy place!
What would your last meal be and why?
I love this question! A platter of deep-fried calamari, lobster thermidor, rib eye steak (medium rare) and onion rings served with a lemon butter sauce fountain (yes, I said fountain) finished off with a chocolate fondant. And no, I won’t worry about the calories and cholesterol – it’s my last meal!
What is a good simple piece of advice for pairing wine and food?
It’s time to upset some people. I feel you like what you like. If you enjoy your Merlot with your salmon or your fillet with a Chardonnay, then by all means enjoy. When pairing food with wine, do as every chef worth their salt does – taste, taste, taste. You want flavours to complement each other and not overpower.
Funniest kitchen incident?
Note to all future interns – when blending hot green pea stock in a white chef’s uniform, make sure the blender is closed.
CHEF! WE’D LIKE TO KNOW …
If not a chef I’d be a … fisherman!
The kitchen gadget I cannot go without … a cast-iron pan.
For fun I … spend time with friends, MC events, fish and eat.
I would spend R5 000 on … hosting a fine dining dinner experience for my family and friends, because they are my biggest supporters.
On any menu, you won’t catch me ordering … asparagus!
What tricks do you use for perfect fried/ scrambled/ poached eggs?
Fried: Lower the temperature of the pan.
Scrambled: Butter, butter, butter. And if you think eggs should feel like rubber, please unfriend me now.
Poached: The only way a poached egg yolk should be served is soft and oozing.
Text: CHEMÈLLE VAN DER MERWE. Photo: GRANT BUSHBY