COOKING DURING COVID
15 questions with chef Wesley Randles
How an acclaimed 33-year-old South African chef and restaurateur walked away from a hugely successful career for a better family life, then hustled hard under lockdown to cook through the coronavirus pandemic. Wesley Randles carried his chef knives around the globe to learn his craft then had stints at multiple award-winning Cape Town restaurants La Colombe, The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club, before opening The Shortmarket Club and The Commissary. We sat with Wes over a few of his favoured Unfiltered lagers to speak about: his willingness to share recipes, why Gordon Ramsay deserves more respect, where to eat at 3am in Tokyo and why the business model of the restaurant industry will be forced to change.
1. What’s on your playlist when your arrive in the kitchen for prep?
In the morning it’s Interpol, The Smiths and The Cure, and before service it’s a tradition to play Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing – and there’s a terrific cover version by the Hot 8 Brass Band which we alternate with.
2. Who are your chef idols?
I’ve never really been a fan-boy when it comes to our industry. But if I had to single someone out for their contribution to food, and promotion of international cuisine, it would be Anthony Bourdain.
3. Give us your favourite eating experience on each continent you’ve been to?
Fried chicken at 3am in Tokyo from a Lawson! (Japanese convenience store franchise); Central Restaurante (Lima, Peru); Flora Bar (Manhattan, NYC); The Table at De Meye (Cape Winelands, South Africa); and without doubt, Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana (Modena, Italy).
4. What are you favourite bars/beer gardens?
Albatross, within the vast Golden Gai district in Tokyo; The House of Machines (Cape Town, South Africa); a bar on Spring Street in Lower Manhattan (NYC) that I never new the name of, but frequented often [laughs] … and The New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo where Lost in Translation was filmed.
5. Your AND UNION beer of preference?
Unfiltered, which is of course now appropriately named Saturday.
6. What recipe will you never share?
I’m comfortable sharing anything and everything. My belief is that chefs shouldn't hide their recipes. Yes, set the benchmark, but then strive to become better, first for yourself, then your guests.
7. As a chef which is the best holiday to cook for?
Definitely Christmas, because it’s summer in the southern hemisphere which means you can swim and drink ice cold beer while cooking (almost always a barbecue) … and then the leftovers on Boxing Day – highlighted by gammon sandwiches!
8. Where do you go to cool off, detach and escape the kitchen?
Definitely the ocean, I take every opportunity I can to go for a surf. I’ve also been doing jujitsu for almost a year – nothing else will take your mind off the kitchen like another human trying to choke you out!
9. Greatest lesson learnt in the kitchen?
Embrace change and adapt fast.
10. What's the most common question you’re asked as a chef?
I’d rather explain the biggest misconception about the work of a chef. Few people really know the labour of love and amount of work that actually takes place in order for a restaurant to be ready for service on a daily basis. It’s the craft and [really] long hours that doesn’t get recognised enough.
11. Who is the most realistic chef on TV?
There are quite a few that do a good job diversifying from cooking and running a kitchen/restaurant to writing books and starring in TV shows. I quite enjoy Giorgio Locatelli, but the true standout is Gordon Ramsay. He polarises audiences and many people poke fun at him, but facts that can’t be ignored are the standards his restaurants maintain while he does different things. Most notably his eponymous 3-star Michelin restaurant on Royal Hospital Road in London.
12. How did becoming a father change your career path – which ultimately led to the founding of collaborative meal prep service Randles & Son?
People say you become a different person, and that’s true to a degree, but for me – my goals changed. I just felt that there was too much I was going to miss out on by being stuck in a kitchen for countless hours. Work was creating more damage than good for me, life was passing me by and I decided to make a change to have better balance in life for my family. My wife (Juliet, also an accomplished chef) and I both used our skills to set up Randles & Son, a home-run service in Cape Town (South Africa) that went into overdrive when the coronavirus crippled the restaurant industry. We offer freshly-prepared [delivered] meals, private dining, events, consulting and cakes and bakes for special occasions.
13. Let’s expand on that, how do you think the Covid-19 pandemic will alter the hospitality industry?
Honestly, it’ll never be the same again, and it’s shown that [largely] the business model was flawed, especially from my experience in Cape Town – where there is (well, was) a saturated market to begin with. The industry was exposed by something that obviously no one expected, and simply, restaurants won’t be able to reopen under the same style. Absolutely everything will be reevaluated and venues will be forced to store/save money for the future.
14. Choose your most indispensable ingredients?
I could not live, or cook, without Parmesan cheese, good olive oil and decent salt. You can make anything taste good with that trifecta of goodness.
15. What’s your final meal?
Neapolitana pizza from Una Pizza in New York with an And Union Unfiltered Lager, accompanied by a carbonara and deli plate from Roscioli in Rome; and the Family Red by A A Badenhorst Wines.
CHEF RANDLES’ SUGGESTED AND UNION PAIRINGS
Ales: Peri-Peri chicken.
Dark Lager: Oysters.
www.randlesandson.co.za | @randlesandson
Interviewed by Barry Havenga for AND UNION
Photos by Sean Gibson