Well-known in the Lowveld for anything from running a bush kitchen to a fine dining, molecular gastronomy restaurant, Pieter Malan has been using his delightful and delicious creations to wow the local community for a number of years.
With June including Father’s Day, we decided to catch up with a dad who not only has his own brood to cater for, but also manages to incorporate his kitchen wizardry into delightful creations for many to enjoy with his brand, PappaChef. It hasn’t been all plain sailing to get to this point, though; there have been many ups and downs. Being a dad is the biggest blessing, however, and Pieter realised that keeping things simple is really the key to happiness.
“I try not to overcomplicate things,” he smiles. “The most important factor in my life is my creator, then my wife, Michélle, who is my anchor. Then my beautiful kids: Zion, baby Samuel and baby number three, who we are expecting in September. After that comes my career. Seeing my children grow up every day – their smiles, laughter and little achievements – is the best encouragement you can get as a dad. It keeps you motivated and focused on an end goal.”
Zion was born prematurely, which rapidly changed Pieter’s life in just a few seconds. “I had to give up on lifelong dreams, close doors I worked forever to get open and start over, from the beginning, but now with the added pressure of providing and giving your child the best possible environment to grow, and achieve his goals. I had to shift and change my focus and decide on a new end goal. The trick is to let the past be the past and learn from your mistakes. Listen to God and allow only a few strong voices in your life. Keep it simple, stupid!”
Pieter laughs, but there is an underlying sense of sadness. He had to close the restaurant he had worked so hard for, and end partnerships that were important to him, and start over. “It was a very humbling experience. Giving up a restaurant that had just won the only Eat Out award for Mpumalanga that year was heartbreaking. But the truth is that the smiles and laughter of my baby boy gave me the strength to pick up my head and go forward, which I believe changed me into the person I am today, a father focused on giving the best he can for his kids. It’s about thinking and dreaming larger than life and realising that when you fall, you have to rise from the ashes.”
But life goes on, and soon everything started to fall into place. Pieter was invited to be a motivational speaker for various schools and churches, then was cast for the third season of the Safta-nominated Kokkedoor reality cooking show on kykNET. He and his partner ended third among some of the country’s finest cooks and chefs, and had a blast! “Sometimes, all you have to do is take a chance. Don’t underestimate your value, pick up your shoulders and face the world!” Pieter has indeed done just that, albeit in a different way.
These days, he is facing the world from behind a microphone, and loving every minute of it. His radio show, Die PappaChef Drive, airs weekdays on Radio Laeveld between 3pm and 6pm, and the mornings are usually spent working on production of his radio and TV simulcast show Die PappaChef Show, of which he is executive producer and presenter. Pieter also makes sure to always schedule time for research and development, keeping up with food trends, working on food photography, and analysing gastronomical experiences.
Passionate about radio, getting his show on air was a dream come true for Pieter, who always dreamt of being a presenter.
“My dad was one of the biggest community radio legends in my books, and we basically grew up in radio. My parents divorced at quite a young age, and the separation had some negative impacts on us as a family. I found my passion for food and the restaurant industry when I was 13 years old and started working part-time as an escape for many things. Food and the smile on a guest’s face when they are satisfied with the experience made me go bonkers for the love and passion of producing the best food experiences I could provide one day. By the time I finished matric, I had done everything in a restaurant, from being a cleaner and waiting on tables, to cooking and management!”
Having his chef presence on radio means he gets to connect to a large group of people he wouldn’t ordinarily have reached. “It is extremely important for me to know that guests on my show get the opportunity to showcase something people don’t know about them, an intimate food story that brings back emotional and uplifting memories, or the sharing of a message to inspire others. And working remotely from White River with the team from Tswhane and Gauteng is wonderful! We proudly supply all 16 radio stations that cover the whole of South Africa and Namibia with content from my home office in the beautiful Lowveld,” beams Pieter, clearly in his element.
PappaChef is born out of a concept that is close to his heart. After the birth of his son, he threw himself into his work, so much so that he lost sight of the fact that being a dad is about a lot more than just being a provider. “I was so focused on putting the hours in and making enough money as a breadwinner that I started to lose sight of myself and what was important,” he sighs. “I forgot the basic principle that working for hours on end wouldn’t make my wife or child happy. That was the same as making my career my biggest priority. Being the best provider made sense in my head, but it ended up being a vicious circle and hurting those who I loved most. The age-old story! All they wanted was for me, the dad and chef, to be at home, to be pappa chef, who would look after his house and family the same way he looks after his guests and restaurants.”
By the same token, Pieter’s fellow Kokkedoor contestants gave him the nickname “pappa chef” because contact with his family was what kept him going. He laughs at the memory. “I was the youngest male contestant there, and seeing these chefs who were light years ahead of me career-wise was a challenge, and in the end it was my family who got me through. I hope that there will be a pappa chef in every home, when dads start to realise that the only kitchen and diners that you need to impress are the ones at home. The rest will follow.”
This philosophy fits in well with the current situation, as unpredictable as it is. Pieter’s radio show is his main source of income, and relies heavily on his advertisers, many of which have had to put their budgets on ice for now. This made him stop and think about how he can still work with these partners on smaller budgets, whereby they can still feature their products, albeit with perhaps a smaller production team and with less funding.
“Keeping up a presence is all important, and by adapting your strategy to suit the current situation you can still get your brand out there while at the same time accommodate the needs of your partners. In the past, I MCed at many of SA’s biggest food shows, and this, along with my cooking classes, all came to a halt. I think we need to take what we are used to doing and are proficient at and adapt it to a virtual world. As such, I am almost ready to start hosting my virtual cooking classes. My guests can pre-order their ingredients, then join the class and cook in their own kitchen at their own pace while still interacting with me on a platform such as Zoom.”
So, a busy time lies ahead for this intrepid dad and chef! Father’s Day for Pieter isn’t necessarily a day off, though. While he loves Michélle’s cooking, he may well decide to make his sticky oxtail casserole with sourdough dumplings, finished off with her famous malva pudding, and box custard. “I’m a chef, and I’m telling you there is nothing wrong with a bit of box custard! Actually, Father’s Day isn’t about me as a father; rather it’s about the honour of being a dad. I intend spending every minute with my boys, enjoying a family day in lockdown,” he smiles broadly. An excellent idea indeed; we think that is the best place for a busy dad to spend Father’s Day, and we look forward to keeping an eye on all of Pieter’s plans for the upcoming months.
Catch Pieter on Die PappaChef Drive on Radio Laeveld, 100.5 FM every weekday with co-host Sanette Matheus.
Pieter on 060-907-8833
Pieter’s sticky slow-cooked oxtail
• 2,5kg oxtail, chopped into 4cm chunks • Olive oil • 2 medium leeks
• 2 sticks of celery • 25g smoked paprika • 25 yellow mustard seeds
• 4 medium carrots • A few sprigs of fresh thyme • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary • 4 fresh bay leaves
• 4 cloves • 2 heaped tbs plain flour • 2x 400g tins of plum tomatoes
• 275ml port, you can also use red
grape juice • 1-litre beef stock
• Worcestershire sauce.
1. Preheat the oven to 220ºC. Place a large roasting tray in the oven to preheat.
2. Carefully remove the hot tray from the oven, then add the oxtail. Season and drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat and place in the hot oven for around 20 minutes, or until golden and caramelised.
3. Meanwhile, trim and halve the leeks and celery lengthways, then chop into rough 2cm chunks.
4. Peel and chop the carrots into 2cm pieces, then place into a
large ovenproof casserole pan over medium-low heat with
1 tablespoon of olive oil.
5. Pick, roughly chop and add the thyme and rosemary leaves, then add the bay and cook for around 20 minutes, or until soft and sweet, stirring frequently.
6. Meanwhile, remove the oxtail from the oven and set aside.
Reduce the oven temperature
7. Add the cloves and flour to the veg, stirring well to combine, then pour in the tomatoes and port (or wine, if using). Add the oxtail and any roasting juices, cover with the beef stock or 1 litre of cold water and stir well.
8. Turn the heat up to high and bring to the boil, then pop the lid on and place in the hot oven for around 5 hours, or until the meat falls away from the bone, stirring every hour or so and adding a splash of water to loosen if needed.
9. Add a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce, season to taste and enjoy with creamy mash and seasonal Lowveld vegetables.