Cooking up plans
No5 By Mantis’s new head chef learnt his way around a kitchen from his mom, writes Zamandulo Malonde
Unlike the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape does not boast the best hospitality industry status in the country – yet. But that is subject to change if the newly appointed No5 By Mantis head chef gets his way.
Chef Anele Sopeni’s dream is to help make the hotel one of the top boutique hotels in the country and put his home province on the map.
For a man who learnt his way around the kitchen from his mother in his childhood, it comes as no surprise that Sopeni, 34, landed himself the head chef title just three years after joining the hotel in Summerstrand as a junior chef.
“It was a matter of curiosity for me because I wanted to be involved in whatever she was doing and I fell in love with cooking from then,” he said.
Born and raised in Tyutyu Location near Bhisho, Sopeni used to be the boy whose interest in cooking set him aside from his two elder brothers, who could not care less about what happened in the kitchen, while he and his younger sisters learned as much as they could from their mother.
While losing his mother at the age of 12 resulted in difficulties - including separation - for him and his siblings, Sopeni’s interest in cooking never ceased. He left the Eastern Cape in 2004, after matriculating from East London’s Unathi High School in 2003, to search for a job in Cape Town’s booming hospitality industry.
“I started off as a sculler at Dish Food & Social after a friend of mine introduced me to the owner, Andrea Foulkes. “She believed in me so much that she offered me a study bursary within six months of working with her,” Sopeni said.
Cape Town-based Foulkes is a nationally recognised entrepreneur who founded the events catering company and manages the Cucina Labia restaurant with her husband, Oscar.
Due to his inability to balance work and studies, Sopeni dropped out after one year of part-time hospitality management studies at Boston College.
“My boss wanted me to finish school but I told her I couldn’t continue with studying and not be able to support myself.“But I learned so much during that one year of school and I believe it has contributed to where I am today,” he said.
Sopeni worked with Foulkes for about five years before leaving to work at Beluga, Sivuka and several other renowned Cape Town restaurants to broaden his knowledge in the hospitality industry besides catering.
In 2014, while visiting the Eastern Cape during his leave break, he fell in love with his home province again and started job hunting closer to home. He was hired as a junior chef in 2015, promoted to head chef on probation from February and placed as head chef permanently last month.
While he enjoys presenting a versatile menu, he said his heart leaned more towards seafood. But he was not limited by any other preferences, he said.
“I try to accommodate everyone with my food, so we always try our best to give [the guests] what they want.”
No5 By Mantis is smaller than the hotels the chef has worked in during his years in Cape Town, but the reduction in size and numbers has taught valuable lessons.
“I was so used to working with a lot of people shares with whom I shared a lot of responsibilities, but here when you are on shift, you’re on your own and you need to stand up ... so I have learned to carry the job on my own.“PE is less busy than Cape Town and here I have more time to think well and plan my menus, which I consider to be a very good thing for me,” he said.
In addition to its suites, the No5 By Mantis hotel offers facilities for exclusive corporate and private events, family celebrations and more, for which the chef has to be prepared.
He said he hoped to help place the hotel on the map with the help of general manager Tracy Lancaster and the staff, before working on achieving his goal to become Mantis regional executive chef.
Recipe| Pan-seared Cape salmon with creamy garlic mash, cauliflower puree and pea puree served with a carrot and curry emulsion.
2 x 160g Cape Salmon Salted butter, or any cooking oil of your choice
In a small skillet, heat butter or oil on high. Heat until it starts to bubble. Lightly salt Cape salmon fillet and place skin side down in a pan.Leave the temperature on high for about 2 minutes to create a nice golden crust, lower the heat to medium-high and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Using a spatula, gently flip over the fillet and lower heat to medium low. Cook for 2 minutes and remove from heat.
Tip: Be very cautious not to overcook and be aware that the cooking times may vary depending on the fish and quality of your pan.
Carrot and curry emulsion
½ cup of coconut cream
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce or fresh chilli
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
Simply place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Heat up on a low heat in a small saucepan until the fish is ready to serve.
2 x large potatoes for mash
1/2 teaspoon garlic
Boil potato in salted water for about 20 minutes. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 20ml of cream over low heat and add finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon of garlic.Using a potato masher or electric beater, slowly add cream mixture to the potatoes until smooth and creamy.
100g cauliflower 10ml cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
Boil cauliflower on high heat until very tender.Drain water and add cream, olive oil or oil of your choice, a pinch of salt to taste.Blend until smooth, using a blender.
Blanch the peas for 3 minutes. Place peas in a blender along with a little water.Add a pinch of salt and sugar to taste.Tip the puree into a fine sieve and use the back of the ladle to push it through – this method will give you a silky smooth finish.
Watch snippets of the process here.