Ralph cooked in 11 countries, including exciting destinations like Hong Kong, Hawaii, Myanmar and London, before coming to South Africa to follow his dream of opening a professional cooking school in Port Elizabeth.
1. When did you realise you wanted to become a chef?
When I was seven I baked my first cake with my neighbour’s daughter. She was nine. We destroyed the kitchen but the cake was fantastic – my dad ate the whole thing.
2. What inspired you to come to South Africa and start The Pastryworks in Port Elizabeth?
Firstly my family, as my wife is from Port Elizabeth. Secondly, the country itself, the climate, the quality of living and the endless opportunities.
3. Why is there a need for this kind of enterprise – and what has the response to it been like?
There are plenty of people out there who would like to learn about all the different food out there. From day one we have done really well. Port Elizabeth has been really good to us and we have made hundreds of new friends.
4. Have you noticed any changes in local foodie trends in recent times?
Like in any other country, demand will come with knowledge. Only after you have been to Paris will you know what a croissant is supposed to look and taste like; the same goes for other products. People need to be more demanding – then products will change.
5. Who is your favourite celebrity chef and why?
There are so many who need to be mentioned. I love Gordon Ramsay – his passion and drive – but not really his way of dealing with people.
6. What kind of food do you cook for your own family at home?
Anything goes, the easier the better, but we make sure the kids and we get our regular veggie intake. We have lots of pasta and we braai a lot.
7. What are your five essential store-cupboard staples?
Good quality dark chocolate, sushi rice, coconut milk, curry paste, dried chillies.
8. What do you consider to be the biggest food myth?
That chocolate is bad for you! In a certain way it’s true, but dark chocolate with at least 60 per cent cocoa butter content brings down your cholesterol and is good for your heart.
9. What is your most indispensable kitchen tool or gadget?
My miniature angle spatula. I use it for wedding cakes, flipping pancakes and many other applications. I’ve never seen one like this again and I love it!
10. Have you cooked for any celebrities?
From Bill Clinton to Oprah, Clint Eastwood, Tiger Woods, Nelson Mandela and many more.
Ralph’s pan-fried chicken breast with sautéed spinach and borlotti beans
4 chicken breasts, skin on; olive oil; sea salt, as needed; black pepper, ground, as needed; 600g baby spinach, washed and drained;1 medium onion, finely chopped; 3 tbsp unsalted butter; 2 cans Italian borlotti beans; 250g shoulder bacon, finely chopped; 100g baby tomatoes, cut in half; 1½ tbsp chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley.
Rub both sides of the chicken breast with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat for two minutes, add 1 tbsp olive oil and wait till oil is very hot. Place chicken breast skin side down into the pan. After three minutes turn and cook for another three minutes on the other side. Remove chicken from pan and place onto absorbent kitchen paper.
Place chicken into a 180C oven (preheated) and cook for about three minutes, until done. Remove chicken and let it rest for five minutes.
In the meantime, bring one medium-sized pot with salted water to a rolling boil. Add the washed spinach and blanch for 30 seconds.
Remove spinach and place in a bowl of ice-cold water. When cold, drain spinach well, then chop roughly.
Heat the butter in saucepan, add onions and cook over medium heat until soft. Add spinach, season with salt and pepper as desired and sauté.
In another saucepan fry he bacon until rendered and a little crispy. Add the drained beans and sauté for three minutes or until hot throughout. Add the halved tomatoes and chopped parsley and sauté for one minute. Season with salt and pepper.
Place a round ring, about 10cm in diameter, in the middle of a large plate. Fill with spinach to the top, place the bean and tomato mixture around the spinach. Place the chicken breast, skin side up, on top of the spinach and garnish with fresh herbs like a sprig of rosemary.