Chef Ryan Smith has earned great respect in the Franschhoek restaurant space. His restaurant, Ryan’s Kitchen is located in the Place Vendôme Lifestyle Centre in Franschhoek and receives great support from both Franschhoek locals and visitors alike. We have met up with Ryan to ask him a few questions about his restaurant…
- When did you move to Franschhoek and what brought you here?
We had arrived back from Russia and Lana was heavily pregnant with our first son. I was fortunate to secure employment at the-then-newly rebuilt and renovated Mont Rochelle hotel, which had burnt down eight months previously.
- How has the move from one end of the Franschhoek Village to the other end of the village impacted on you restaurant?
I feel the new spot is a lot more visible being the first restaurant you encounter entering the village. The building is also a fantastic, larger space with indoor and outdoor seating as well as a lounge bar which we hope to develop further. I am thrilled with the refurbishment and décor job we did with the restaurant. Although now bigger than before we have managed to keep our restaurant’s intimacy and cosiness as well as fabulous vibe when busy. The move has been fantastic from every perspective.
- Why did you move to “the small plate experience?”
There has been a specific focus on becoming a much more approachable, assessable and fun dining experience. The nature of what we always served… customers wanted to try many of our menu’s items. We’ve put this into a format where that is possible to try as many or as little as you like. We’ve tried to find a blend of what we were doing with something more relevant to our new spot. We aren’t a Tapas restaurant; our plates are significantly more generous and complex than what one thinks of when considering “Tapas”. We serve exciting food in a fun format. Maybe not so much your traditional fine dining restaurant, but more “fine food and good time”?
- How would you best describe the restaurant’s new look and décor?
Amazing! I am thrilled the way it has come together and a big thank-you must go to our friends at Ebony who gave us so many pointers and direction. As I have already said, we’ve managed to create a dining room which is calming and chic, but enticing and cosy with fantastic lighting and furniture. Add to this our open kitchen dynamic and Lana and myself are very proud.
- Do you follow food trends and how do you stay on top of them?
I definitely follow new food trends specifically with regards to new techniques and technology on the market. Books and online research is my main study forum these days. With regards to actual ingredients and flavours, I have always had my own unique perspective on that continuing to focus on what I would refer to “inherently and culturally South African influences”.
- When did you know you wanted to become a chef and why?
My family have been in hospitality and restaurants for a long time, so it was an obvious career path for me.
- Who in the food world do you most admire and why?
Personally, Pierre Gagnaire and Heston Blumenthal. Not because of any specific dish, but more with regards to their maverick / technology savvy and fun filled philosophy on cooking and dining.
- What are the biggest challenges you deal with daily?
Probably the same issues worldwide at the moment – a serious shortage of skilled staff.
- Have you ever been a mentor to anyone? Who was it and how did you help them grow professionally?
I would definitely like to think so but wouldn’t want to utilise any names specifically; that would be very presumptuous to name myself a “mentor”. Usually the “mentored”, name you as one of their mentors. I would say however, that many of my junior chefs have gone onto work at famous restaurants in SA and abroad.
- What makes a supplier unique and stand out from the rest?
Primarily the quality of their product and passion for it.
- As Anthony Boudain put it “what would your Death Row Meal be?”
Geez, no idea. Maybe my Mom’s lasagne with layers of shaved white truffle and a double thick milkshake. Check out breaking all the culinary rules and no-no’s?
- Which food do you think would best describe your character?
I proposed chilli, but my wife suggested a mild chilli. Then she suggested a Pork Belly.
- Is there a food you are secretly obsessed with?
Pastry, chocolates and pretty much anything with sugar. Gyming would be so much easier if I was obsessed with green salads.
- If you could cook for anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
Not sure, famous faces in my restaurant don’t impress me? Maybe my late grandmother. I never had a chance to cook for her and I think she would have enjoyed my restaurant.
- In the past couple of years we have seen some amazing chefs transform their countries into food destinations, such as Rene Redzepi with all his Nordic ingredients, Enrique Olvera from Mexico, Gaston Acurio from Lima, and Alex Atala from Brazil. Which country do you think is next?
Well, hopefully South Africa but I can’t help but feel India. They have a cuisine with an established identity; South Africa still struggles and plays second fiddle in this regard.
- If I handed you a knobbly carrot, a dirt-covered beetroot and a 2 kg turnip what would you do with it?
Give it to my wife; she’ll knock out a Borsch of sorts. Personally I’d put the turnips in the bin or feed them to the rabbits. I can’t stand turnips.
- In your opinion what is the world’s most overrated food?
My wife says meat, especially pork. I’m not sure there is a food done well that could be considered overrated. Except Philippine cuisine, of all the excellent cuisines in Asia… heaven only knows what happened there.
- What personal quirks do your kitchen team tease you about?
None, well… maybe one. I support the Blue Bulls.
Snow Pudding recipe by Pierneef à La Motte, featured in the Cape Winelands Cuisine cookbook (Page 19