At the young age of 29, La Colombe’s Executive Chef, James Gaag, has already established a strong name for himself in the restaurant industry.
James grew up around food and in a kitchen is where his passion for cooking started. His mother, Gaie Gaag is a cooking, sugar craft and confectionary teacher at Silwood Kitchen which is where his interest started; “I practically used to live at Silwood Kitchen and watched demos or played with the kitchen utensils in the classrooms while my mom taught,” comments James.
Since completing his cooking qualifications, James has worked across South Africa and internationally, before returning to South Africa to take up his role as head chef at La Colombe, an award winning restaurant in Constantia.
We caught up with James, and asked him some pertinent questions about food safety in the restaurant kitchen, and what that looks like.
Food Focus: South Africa had to deal with a number of food safety issues last year including the Listeriosis outbreak and then the Salmonella outbreak alleged from a KZN restaurant. How are your thoughts on food safety in the kitchen? How do you ensure this is also a first priority?
JG: Food Safety is incredibly important in a kitchen. The obvious reason is to keep the food in a safe environment clear of cross contamination etc. and to keep it fresh and in the optimum condition for our customers.
At La Colombe we keep ingredients separate. Seafood is stored in separately.
Meat is stored separately. We make sure that nothing comes into any sort of cross contamination. Dairy is stored separately, nuts are stored separately etc.
The entire kitchen is extensively cleaned twice a day and throughout, and all the relevant chemicals and anti-bacterial sprays are used.
It is incredibly important to look out for these things as at the end of the day, food poisoning can have a negative effect on the restaurant, so you want to avoid that at all costs.
Food Focus: Do you think SA has a food safety culture in its top restaurants compared to some of the international venues you have worked at in your career?
JG: I think the food culture as a whole is very much on par with that of the rest of the world, in every respect.
I have worked in restaurants locally where food safety was not the top priority and restaurants where it was the absolute only thing that mattered. Similarly, abroad you find the exact same.
Food Focus: What tips can you offer other chefs in dealing with this important aspect of business success?
JG: There are no shortcuts when it comes to food safety.
That's a great attitude to have when it comes to food safety in the kitchen,
and the perfect recipe for making fine (and safe) food.