The team at Carnival City are excited to welcome Ivan Mkhize on to their culinary team, and we recently got to catch up with Ivan and find out more about the man behind the chef…
How did it all start for you?
Ivan fell in love with cooking as a young farm boy while still at high school. “We were expected to fetch cattle from the veld after school then wash our school uniforms, go to the garden, get cabbage and start cooking dinner,” he tells of his humble beginnings.
“Cabbage was our top meal back then, and meat was reserved for Sunday lunch.” Mkhize now finds himself at an exciting place in his career, as part of the dynamic culinary team at Carnival City.
He remembers how his mom would cook samp, beans and beef bones on icy winter nights and he and his siblings would sit around the fire in their hut and enjoy every mouthful. The smell of oxtail cooking still reminds him of these times, and he aspires to arouse the same excitement and anticipation for his food that his mother’s cooking did for him. “I want people to enjoy every single bit of food I prepare.”
What’s the secret to your success?
Mkhize attributes his great cooking to keeping it simple. “You don’t need a lot to create flavor; you just need to know where to get your flavour from. Keep it simple, less is more,” he says, adding that with just five essential ingredients – thyme, rosemary flavoured oil, garlic, salt and pepper – the possibilities to be creative are endless.
In tenth grade, Mkhize was sent away to study on the South Coast where he shared accommodation with other boys and each one had to buy his own food and cook for himself. “I remember making sweet rice with milk and cinnamon simply because I had nothing else to cook, unaware that I was actually making rice pudding,” this dynamic chef laughs. After school, he went to study catering management at the then ML Sultan Hotel School.
What is the biggest moment of your career thus far?
Mkhize’s highlight of his career as a chef has been, without a doubt, cooking for former president Nelson Mandela in 2006. Being given the opportunity to take the wheel and make his mark in Carnival City’s kitchens is another highlight for him.
This patient chef, who believes you should be smiling when preparing food in order to produce the very best results, likes to take his time and add every bit of care and attention to detail when preparing meals. “I love cooking seafood as it’s a challenging and one cannot cheat cooking fish because it’s delicate.”
This is also his comfort food for gloomy days. His love for seafood resonates with Mkhize’s favourite food destination. “I love Cape Town as a food destination. Both the food and the plating is out of this world.”
What is your favourite dish to eat at home?
When off-duty at home, Mkhize enjoys his wife’s mashed potato; “She has a special talent for making mash. I have never tasted like that elsewhere.”
There is, however, nothing Mkhize will not taste or avoid cooking because he believes that as a chef, it is important to experiment, eat or at least taste everything.
Growing up, he never thought he would have to eat crab, but in hotel school, crab was the least of his worries.
“We had to cook and eat frog’s legs, and they were actually quite nice,” he recalls.
Who do you really look up to in this industry?
Mkhize admires Chef Charmaine Dixon who owns the 1000 hills Hotel School; Sun International Group Executive Chef Ronald Ramsamy and Petrus Madutlela who is now based in the UK.
“But there are a whole lot of local chefs who are very good and amazingly gifted,” he says. Like Charmaine Dixon, Mkhize’s dream to own his own hotel school someday.
Until then, he plans on serving one enticing, mouthwatering dish after the other to all who happen to be on the receiving end of his outstanding cooking at Carnival City.
Hello Joburg was first published in April 1980 as a monthly restaurant and entertainment magazine. Over the years we have developed a network of patriotic Joburgers that love nothing more than sharing their experiences in this beautiful city!