He has only been in the job for just over a year, but Christo Pretorius, Executive Chef of Azure Restaurant at The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa in Cape Town, has already garnered plenty of admirers. Recently named Red Carnation’s Chef of the Year 2013/2014, under his guidance Azure Restaurant continues to flourish. Creating lasting memories for his diners and an environment in which they can savour every element of their meal, Pretorius keeps a keen eye on the dining experience. But he also has his sights set on the future – for his support of sustainable seafood practices, he was named by the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative one of their eight ‘trailblazers’. It is a rather fitting title.
A confessed lover of travelling, here Christo Pretorius tells us about the inspirations behind his food, the dynamics of his kitchen, and his vision for Azure Restaurant in 2015:
How does Azure Restaurant at The Twelve Apostles compare to previous restaurants you have worked in?
“The Twelve Apostles is completely different to any place I have worked at before. If you walk into our kitchen you will know what I’m talking about. There is a “vibe”, an atmosphere of a brotherhood, and it makes me unbelievably proud to be part of the Red Carnation family.”
Working in a restaurant such as this, what are the key principles with which you run the kitchen?
“Positivity and creativity. Without those two key factors, a kitchen is bound to fail. We have a very ‘glass half full’ kind of outlook on life, and I try to inspire all my chefs to come up and experiment with new ideas all the time.”
Which dish best sums up your vision for Azure Restaurant and why?
“I would say the dish that sums up the vision of what we do here at Azure is the Prawn Dhal. This dish consists of spicy lentil dhal, three tiger prawns seasoned with my own fish spice mix, which we make here at the hotel, creamy cauliflower and coconut puree, mango chutney, cumin yogurt, compressed cucumber, pickled apple, and toasted coconut flakes. What makes this dish so special is that it takes you on a culinary journey with different textures and flavours all working together as one. It is one of my favourite dishes on the menu at the moment and every season I change different elements, textures and flavours of the dish, but the two ‘hero’ elements of the dish – the dhal and prawns – remain the focus.”
You have spent most of your career in South Africa, but you have worked in England and even on luxury yachts in Miami. What sets South African cuisine apart?
“I love working in Cape Town. It’s difficult not to love driving past Camps Bay, looking at the ocean every day and smiling, knowing this is the view from my ‘office’. Cape Town has a very close-knit community of chefs too, and it’s lovely to share ideas, knowledge and suppliers with neighbouring chefs. The produce is also becoming so much more advanced and we now get produce that, a few years ago, we could have only dreamed of.
The Azure Restaurant serves a mix of ‘local and foreign’ cuisine. What inspiration do you take from the rest of the world?
“I am a traveller in my heart, and my wife and I do a once a year trip to whatever foodie destination tickles our fancy. We are great fans of Asia and generally just go for a month on an eating spree. It is fantastic to learn about new cooking methods and flavour combinations, and my travelling experiences inspire my cooking on a daily basis.”
Under your guidance, Azure Restaurant has featured in the American Express Platinum Fine Dining Awards in both 2013 and 2014, and you yourself were awarded Red Carnation Hotels Chef of the Year 2013/2014. But what is your proudest achievement to date?
“I have had many a proud moment. It came as a big surprise to me to win the Red Carnation Chef of the Year and I feel so honoured to carry this title. Our team’s big dream is to be one of the ‘Eat Out Top 20 Restaurants in South Africa’, so we are always striving to do better and pushing ourselves to new food heights.”
In March this year, you were named one of eight WWF-SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) ‘trailblazers’. Just how important is it for you, and Azure Restaurant, to promote sustainable seafood practices?
“Being a SASSI Trailblazer means a lot to me, as I want to create awareness around our environment. This doesn’t only count for fish, but for many other produce too. If we don’t start looking after our oceans, who knows what will happen to our kids one day? Would they ever be able to taste a saltwater kabeljou or snoek? We need to look after our future as chefs and treat Mother Nature with the utmost respect.”
Header Image: Christo Pretorius – In the Kitchen © The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa
For a taste of Christo’s award-winning food, book at table at Azure Restaurant at The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, Victoria Road, Camps Bay, 8005, CAPE TOWN. Tel: +27 (0) 21 437 9029. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org