The Fish River Sun celebrated its 20th birthday this week (March 17) and a big part of its success, certainly on the culinary front, is thanks to staff member Washington Romani. During his 24 years with Sun International, Washington, or Washy as he is affectionately known, has gone from cleaner and waiter at the Amatola Sun to head chef at the Fish River Sun. Washy, who was raised and schooled in Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape, is responsible for the resort’s famous weekend seafood evenings and its week-day breakfast and dinner buffets.
1. Why and when did you decide to become a chef?
In 1987, after I spent a year as a kitchen cleaner watching the chefs at work in the kitchen, I developed an interest in cooking. The head chef, Terry Manns, noticed this and suggested I do a chefs’ course at Durban Hotel School.
2. What’s the best – and worst – part of your job?
I love doing the set-up for functions and organising the preparation and presentation of all the food. The worst part is clearing up after a function!
3. What are the two dishes you most enjoy preparing?
My favourites are Indian chicken curry – which I learnt from an Indian lady in Durban – and Mongolian beef stir-fry.
4. Did you have a mentor who helped put you on the path to being a chef?
Yes, Terry Manns taught me almost everything I know. I was like a child coming out of school, who knew nothing about cooking. He showed me the different ways to make food and taught me to satisfy the guest.
5. Who is your favourite celebrity chef and why?
Conrad Gallagher, the executive chef and restaurant consultant for the Sun International Resorts Group. He is a Michelin Star chef and has cooked for many celebrities like Bono, Mariah Carey, Elton John and Madonna. He’s been in several cooking programmes on TV and has written four best-selling recipe books.
6. What is your favourite comfort food when you’re at home or cooking for your family?
My family loves my lamb stew with samp and beans and vegetables. Our favourite desert is the simplest: ice-cream and chocolate sauce!
7. What are your five essential fridge or store-cupboard ingredients?
Milk, water, seasoning (salt and pepper), herbs, wine (red or white).
8. What is your most indispensable kitchen tool or gadget?
My food processor or food blender, which helps me to become more creative in making many different dishes and sauces.
9. Do you incorporate any traditional South African flavours / elements in your cooking?
Yes, we have a South African braai at the Fish River Sun every Friday evening where we cook on charcoal. I also make mielie cakes, pot-bread, roasted bread, tomato-and-onion gravy and samp and beans. We have a lot of requests for traditional South African food at the functions we cater for.
10. Have you cooked for any celebrities or famous people?
At the Amatola Sun I cooked for Nelson Mandela and Raymond Mhlaba. At the Fish River Sun I’ve cooked for Nosimo Balindlela and Mbulelo Sogoni.
Washy’s Rich Man/Poor Man Curry
Washy says this is a great recipe because if you feel like spoiling yourself you can use tiger prawns, but if you’re on a tight budget you can leave these out entirely – or substitute the prawns with 100g additional chicken, or with smaller, frozen prawns. The curry is served with rice and you can include some julienne vegetables to make it a healthier option.
100g diced chicken breast fillet; 3-4 tiger prawns (OR substitute this these with 100g extra chicken OR smaller, frozen prawns); 1 tomato, diced; 10g mild curry powder; 1 clove garlic, crushed; ½ onion, finely diced; 5ml tomato paste; 10g biryani mix (available at most supermarkets).
For a more cost-effective and extra-healthy meal, add some julienne vegetables.
Fry the diced onion, curry powder and biryani mix until golden brown. Add the cubed chicken breast, and fry until slightly browned. Add garlic, tomato, tomato paste and 50ml water and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peeled prawns (if you’re using them) and simmer for another two to three minutes. Add salt to taste and serve on rice.