Vusi Ndlovu2017-04-16T12:31:52+00:00

Vusi Ndlovu

The Five Hundred at the Saxon is all about precision. From the crisp white tablecloths, to impeccably curated art, to delicately plated six course dining experiences. Vusi Ndlovu, Chef de Partie under renowned kitchen cowboy David Higgs, is dedicated to the art of precision – even when he was only making eggs.

“When I was 24, I got a job heading up the egg station at a hotel in Pretoria,” explains Ndlovu. “All I did was prepare eggs a myriad ways – but I’d be damned if I didn’t scramble them perfectly.” Ndlovu grew up cooking. From a young age he was a kitchen voyeur, watching as his cousins baked fresh scones and developing a penchant for spicy butternut soup. He devoured flavours and textures. He fed his burgeoning passion with hours of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay cooking shows. But he didn’t think much of professional training.

“I didn’t go to chefs’ school, which surprises many people,” says Ndlovu. “In fact, I found the whole concept a little boring. I wanted to be in the kitchen searing steaks, not reading about how best to do it. After a few years making my way through kitchens in various restaurants, I was lucky enough to meet Peter Templehoff, who became my mentor.” After working at the Greenhouse with Templehoff, Ndlovu would have another fortuitous introduction – to David Higgs, his current Head Chef, who offered him a position at The Saxon. “There’s nothing like the thrill of working in an establishment like Five Hundred,” says Ndlvou. “And it’s not about the celebrities or the impressive facilities, it’s pure dedication to the art of fine dining.”

Ndlovu believes there’s a strong return to simplicity in food – even in top restaurants like the Five Hundred. He explains how the time for exploding foams and liquid-nitrogen-frozen fluffs is almost completely over.
“It’s okay to push the boundaries of cooking, but it’s never okay to take the focus off taste,” he says. “I’ve learnt that, most often, the most robust and pure flavours are what make people happy – not molecular gastronomy. The fundamentals of cooking are the most important – and that’s why salt is so prolific in all kitchens.” The role of salt in Ndlovu’s kitchen is as diverse as it is extensive. He chooses to use salt not only as an ingredient, but as a preservative, a flavour-enhancer and a cooking method. “We’re using salt in new and innovative ways, with ingredients like salted meringues, smoked salt and salted desserts.” When he’s at home? He’s a mince and rice kind of guy. With 12-hour shifts, constantly on his feet, Ndlovu likes to keep it simple in his own time.

Using the 1950s as his inspiration, Ndlovu used Cerebos salt to create Ramen noodles with salt-cured, pan fried duck breast and chargrilled corn. “The 50s was the heyday for convenience food, and Ramen was the most celebrated among them,” he explains. “This dish uses the basics of Ramen – noodles, broth, meat vegetables – and makes them sexier and punchier. This particular dish also works incredibly well with salt, because Ramen often lacks a depth of flavour and acidity – the use of lime and salt to finish the dish is perfection. The salty broth and intense, salt-cured duck are wonderful, round, heavier notes in the dish.”

Cerebos-cured duck Ramen noodles with soft poached egg

For the cured duck breast

  • 2 large duck breasts
  • 600g Cerebos salt
  • 300g brown sugar
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 tablespoons of Rooibos tea
  • 3 sprigs of thyme

Method

  1. Clean the sinew off the back of the duck breast and set aside.
  2. Mix all the remaining ingredients – this should make more than enough to cure the duck.
  3. Lay the breasts skin-side down in a plastic container and cover with curing mixture. Cure for 1 hour.
  4. Once cured, rinse the duck bread and dry well.

For the chicken broth

  • 2kg chicken drumsticks, roasted
  • 10g Kombu (optional)
  • 20ml soy sauce
  • 2cm ginger

Method

  1. Place the roasted drumsticks in a pot with the ginger and garlic. Cover with cold water.
  2. Simmer for 2 hours. Once simmered, add the Kombu and remove from the heat.
  3. Reduce the stock by a third. Season with salt and lime juice.

For the poached egg

  • 2 jumbo eggs
  • Kosher salt

Method

  1. Poach the egg in simmering water until just set (yolk should still be wobbly).

For the corn

  • 1 ear of corn
  • 50g salted butter
  • Salt to taste

Method

  1. Boil the corn for 10 minutes, then chargrill over an open flame. Slice the charred corn off the cob and reserve.

For the vegetables

  • 3 radishes
  • 2 spring onions

To finish

  1. Place the duck breast in a cold pan. Turn on the heat and sear the duck breast for 5 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2 minutes.
  2. Boil the egg noodles in salted boiling water.
  3. Heat the chicken broth to boiling.
  4. Place the noodles in a bowl and top with the sliced seared duck breast. Pour over the chicken broth.
  5. Top with the sliced vegetables and poached egg.
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