Debbie Diesel

Salt and sweetness in the pursuit of perfection

Considering she’s the up-and-coming pastry chef at Joburg’s trendiest five-star hotel, Debbie Diesel is fresh-faced and humble – with just the right amount of sass.She shuffles around her bustling kitchen with the ease and confidence of baking at home on a Sunday afternoon – even though she’s in the middle of lunch service at The Saxon.

Diesel started her career in some of SA’s most coveted kitchens – beginning at the One&Only in Cape Town. From the chic seaside establishment, she moved to Singapore, where she apprenticed at 2am:dessert bar, under celebrity dessert chef Janice Wong – two-time winner of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef. Under Wong’s guidance, Diesel learnt the delicate and complex art of creating artworks out of desserts. Wong’s contemporary take on sugary treats rubbed off on Diesel, and continues to inspire her dessert creation today. “Working under Janice was unlike any experience I’d had before,” explains Diesel. “Her desserts can only be described as edible art – every plate is a masterpiece. She’s famous for dishes like chocolate H20 rocks and lollipop walls – I still try to use this fine art approach in every dessert I create.”

Diesel was always drawn to the science of baking. “I love the precision of making cakes and pastries,” she explains. “Cooking allows for a lot more flexibility – adding a pinch of this or a dash of that – but baking requires real dedication to measurement and method.” After her whirlwind Singaporean experience, Diesel returned to South Africa to settle in the Saxon’s renowned pastry kitchen. “My day generally starts at around 3 am. The morning involves prepping and baking seven different types of pastries, three types of Danishes, five variations of muffins and a completely gluten-free banquet,” describes Diesel. “It requires a huge amount of energy, but luckily it’s a real passion for me.” Her routine then rolls into prep for a full brunch spread and high tea.

When he met his wife-to-be, Tanzer based himself back in Johannesburg, and opened his own restaurant. “Delicatessen was an extension of my personal cooking and eating style,” says Tanzer. “We had no menu, and served 400 breakfasts every Saturday morning. When I sold Delicatessen, I moved into Braamfontein, which was just burgeoning at the time, and started a catering company.”

Tanzer’s company grew exponentially and, after a few years of intense hard work, he decided to sell the company and move into production. He was lucky enough to produce MasterChef South Africa and Reza Mohammed’s cooking show. But cooking was – and is – where Tanzer’s heart is, and, once again, he decided to open his own full-service catering company, Food on the Move.

Today, Tanzer runs and manages Food on the Move, creating no-fuss menus for any and every kind of event. His food philosophy is grounded in simplicity – he believes a truly talented chef should be able to make an incredible meal with a few carrots, potatoes and onions. Foams and gels aren’t his style, he likes to keep it simple.

Diesel loves experimenting with bread-making and truffles, pairing bold, rich flavours like mango and dark chocolate and constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. She approaches pastry making the same way she approaches life: never standing still and constantly improving on what’s been done before. “The dishes that formed the basis of my childhood – and remain favourites in my home – are simple pleasures like brownies, apple pie and crème brulee,” she says. “I think by mastering the art of the basics, anyone can experiment with unexpected and interesting flavours. That’s what I love about using salt in baking – it’s surprising, but, with the right balance, it’s delicious.”
When she was given the 80s as inspiration for her Seasoned: 70 Years of Cerebos dish, she began imagining unexpected flavours and textures, using salt as the base note for her dessert.
“I did a lot of research about famous 80s dishes, but nothing resonated with me immediately,” explains Diesel. “Until I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about Beignets – and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I’d read somewhere that they were the Louisiana State Doughnut in 1986, and their popularity then quickly spread around the world. I keep a notebook next to my bed to write down recipe inspiration, so I started scribbling ideas, which turned into the final dish.” Diesel knew Beignets would work well, as they’d balance salty elements with their intense sweetness. Diesel wanted to use a complimentary mellow flavour, like a root vegetable, to match the salty-sweetness, and decided to use butternut. “Butternut is a wonderfully nutty base note – it’s enhanced by spices like cinnamon and always needs lots of seasoning to pump up its flavours,” explains Diesel. “I knew the only thing that was missing was a punchy citrus element – which is how I came to incorporate orange into the dish. I also used lots of crunchy rock salt in the crumble topping – it’s essential to use lots of salt when baking with flour and butter.” Diesel describes the dish as something she’d love to eat at home. “Although it might seem ‘cheffy’ in the way it’s presented, this dish is, at its core, a combination of simple, familiar flavours we all know and love – a butternut-flavoured, crisp doughnut rolled in sweet cinnamon sugar, with a side of tart sorbet and rich salted caramel truffles.”

Butternut, Orange and Salted Caramel Beignets

For the Pate a Choux

  • 500ml water
  • 200g butter, cut into cubes
  • Pinch of Cerebos salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 300g flour
  • 7 eggs


  1. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring the water, butter, Cerebos salt and vanilla to the boil. Add flour and cook until it catches on the sides and bottom.
  2. Transfer the dough to a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix for one minute to cool.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until fully incorporated. Refrigerate until cold.

For the Beignets

  • 2 cups of roasted Butternut
  • ¼ cup castor sugar
  • 5ml Cerebos salt
  • 5ml cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cup Pate a Choux
  • ¾ cup dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 5g cinnamon
  • 250g castor sugar
  • 4 cups canola oil


  1. In a pan over medium heat, combine the roasted butternut, a quarter of the sugar, cinnamon and Cerebos salt. Mix for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Leave the puree to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the butternut puree with the pate a choux. Stir in the chocolate and transfer the mixture into a piping bag.
  3. Line a tray with parchment paper and pipe one tablespoon moulds onto the paper.
  4. Freeze the piped dough until firm but not solid. If the dough is too hard, it may be necessary to allow it to soften before rolling it. Coat the balls in bread crumbs.
  5. Combine the remaining cinnamon and sugar to make cinnamon sugar.
  6. In a large pot, heat the oil to 160°C.
  7. Deep fry the balls for 5 minutes, in batches. Transfer the beignets to paper towels to drain. Roll in cinnamon sugar and serve warm.

For the orange Cerebos Salt

  • 30g Cerebos salt
  • Zest of 1 orange


  1. Blend the orange zest with the Cerebos salt.
  2. Sprinkle a small amount on top of the butternut beignet.

For the butternut salted caramels

  • 500g butternut, cooked
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 10ml ginger, ground
  • 5ml cinnamon
  • 5ml Cerebos salt
  • 500g Dulcey chocolate, melted
  • 10 gelatine leaves, bloomed


  1. Blend the cooked butternut with the brown sugar until smooth and lump free. Add the spices and Cerebos Salt.
  2. Add the chocolate and blend to incorporate.
  3. Divide into piping bags.
  4. Spray and cook small dome moulds before piping in the mixture.
  5. Once set, demould and stick together two halves to form a truffle.

Orange and Cerebos Sea Salt Crumble

  • 125g butter
  • 125g sugar
  • ½ vanilla pod
  • Zest of an orange
  • 375g flour
  • Cerebos Sea Salt


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Cream together the butter and sugar.
  2. Add the vanilla, orange zest and flour. Mix until just combined.
  3. Crumble onto a lined tray and baked until golden brown, for 8-10 minutes.
  4. Cool the dough and crush into a coarse crumble. Add Cerebos Sea Salt Flakes.

For the salted caramel

  • 200g castor sugar
  • 90g butter
  • 125g cream
  • 10g Cerebos Salt


  1. Melt the sugar to form a dry caramel. Once the sugar is completely melted, stir in the butter, a little at a time.
  2. Stir in the cream and finish off with the Cerebos salt.
  3. Allow to cool before transferring to a squeeze bottle

For the butternut rings

  • 1 butternut
  • 500g flour
  • 150g Cerebos Salt
  • 5 egg whites
  • 150g water


  1. Cut the butternut in half and remove the rounded bottom. Peel butternut and set aside.
  2. Prepare salt crust by mixing flour, Cerebos salt, egg whites and water in a blender. Blend until combined.
  3. Wrap the butternut in the salt crust and bake at 170°C for 1½ – 2 hours until soft. Remove the Cerebos salt crust. Leave to cool.
  4. Cut the butternut into strips, 1cm – 10cm. Wrap the butternut strips into rings and place on the plate.

For the orange and cinnamon sorbet

  • 1 litre of orange juice
  • 80g glucose
  • 134g sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 egg whites


  1. Place the orange juice, glucose, sugar and cinnamon in a pot on medium heat. Heat until all combined.
  2. Add the egg whites to mixture.
  3. Strain and pour into ice cream tins. Freeze and churn.

Place all elements together in a bowl and enjoy. If you don’t feel like creating the entire dish, you can make one or two of the elements as a simple dessert – sorbet, Beignets and salted caramel truffles all work well on their own.