Chef's Profile: Marshall Petla of Gorah Elephant Camp

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Gorah Elephant Camp head chef Marshall Petla. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

HE STARTED out his culinary career in a round-about way – but former barman turned gourmet chef Marshall Petla has never looked back.

Marshall’s entry into the fabulous world of food came when, while working as a barman at a Knysna restaurant in 1998, he had to stand in for a colleague in the kitchen who called in sick one day.

“I immediately took to it and realised this was where I wanted to be, so I requested a move to the kitchen and worked my way up from there,” says Marshall, 35, who is originally from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga and today is head chef at the award-winning, five-star Gorah Elephant Camp in the Greater Addo Elephant National Park.

Marshall first joined Gorah  as a sous chef in December 2000 after steadily working his way through the ranks in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. He was part of Gorah’s opening kitchen team and after just under three years decided to spread his wings to gain further experience and exposure in the industry.

He headed back to Plettenberg Bay where he spent the next three-and-a-half years, including at another of Hunter Hotels’ elite properties, Tsala Treetop Lodge.

The next part of Marshall’s journey would take him back to the Eastern Cape to where his wife, Nokuzola, and two children, daughter Ntokozo and son Mbonisi, now aged 11 and 6 respectively, had settled.

He worked in the area until an opportunity arose for him to return to Gorah Elephant Camp in July 2008 as senior sous.

After much passion, hard work and dedication he finally achieved his goal of becoming head chef at Gorah.

As the pioneering first concession to open in the Addo Elephant National Park 10 years ago, Gorah on Monday night beat hundreds of members of international body Relais & Chateaux – which is known for its extremely strict standards – to claim the association’s coveted Welcome Trophy. This annual award relates specifically to a property’s service levels – an area in which Marshall and his kitchen staff have clearly made their own very special contribution.

On The Global Table blog today, Marshall is sharing his recipes for two top courses – first, a main course of loin of kudu wrapped in cured ham and accompanied by fondant potato, a selection of vegetables and a peppery port jus; then his dessert of set lemon custard with raspberry ice-cream, served with lemon curd and shortbread.

This is fine dining at its best, but thanks to Marshall’s guidance, even home cooks should be able to recreate his beautiful dishes in their own kitchens.

Scroll down for a Q&A with Marshall, including some useful advice to aspiring or upcoming chefs who want to get to the top of their career.

* Don’t miss Weekend Post’s My Weekend supplement next Saturday for a travel feature on Gorah Elephant Camp, which is part of the exclusive, family-operated Hunter Hotels Group. You’ll also stand the chance to win a luxury tented safari experience for two at Gorah. – Louise Liebenberg

Q&A with Marshall Petla

1. Which person or persons taught you the most about cooking and being a chef?

I don’t have any one particular influence. I respect any chef as long as they please the people they cook for.

2. Where does your culinary inspiration come from?

I draw inspiration from all around and watch what the latest trends are. I also following cooking programmes like those done by the BBC.

3. Are there any international or celebrity chefs that you admire?

Internationally I look up to the greats like Britain’s Jamie Oliver. I enjoy his simple rustic styles that promote home-style cooking that is rich with flavours and textures and healthy at the same time.

4. What is the most satisfying part of cooking at Gorah?

Watching guests enjoying the food we have so passionately prepared, hearing comments from guests such as “this is the best meal I have had in a long time” and “how do you manage to prepare such wonderful cuisine in the middle of the bush”…these can inspire any chef.

5. Have you cooked for any famous names?

Television personality Colin Moss and rugby great Francois Pienaar, to name a few.

6. What are the five ingredients you can’t run your kitchen without?

Tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions and well-made stocks.

7. Which kitchen tool or gadget can’t you live without?

My Robo coup/mixer is indispensible.

8. Most chefs confess that when it comes to cooking for themselves, they often enjoy very simple dishes. Is this the case with you, and do you enjoy cooking at home for your own family?

Home-made food is the best; it’s more affordable and the healthier option, especially when you have a young family like I do.  The added bonus for me is that I love spending time in my own kitchen at home.

9. What is the most rewarding part of being a chef? And the least enjoyable?

For me personally the sky is the limit with cooking; you always use your imagination and creativity. There is no monotony in cooking and every day should be viewed as a new beginning.  The least enjoyable part has to be the admin that goes with it.

10. If you could give aspiring chefs just one piece of good advice, what would it be?

Cooking is a tough career but very rewarding. If you put your mind to it you can achieve great things whilst taking people on a gastronomic experience.  It takes many years of consistent hard work and determination, and you need to love and cherish what you do.

11. If you had to choose one last meal on earth, what would it be?

A platter of prawns and crème brulee!

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Kudu loin wrapped in cured ham. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Marshall’s Kudu loin wrapped in Cured Ham

This dish, which serves 6, is accompanied by fondant potato and a selection of vegetables and complimented with a port jus.

Ingredients

1kg kudu loin (with fat and sinew trimmed); 300g parma ham; 1kg venison bones; Mirepoix vegetables (carrots, onions and bouquet garni); 6 large potatoes; 1 litre red wine; 300ml port; vegetables of your choice for serving

Method

In a large casserole pan, place the trimmed kudu loin, mirepoix vegetables and red wine, allow them to marinade overnight.

Roast the bones in the oven until brown. Place bones in a stock pot together with the Mirepoiz vegetables and wine from the marinade and simmer until reduced by half. Strain twice, then add the port and reduce to the desired consistency. Place to one side.

Meanwhile, season the loin to taste and wrap it with the parma ham. In a frying pan, sear the kudu until brown and set aside to rest.

Peel and trim the potatoes into a good sized fondant and roast in the oven with chopped herbs and garlic until cooked but still firm.

Cook the kudu loin in an oven which has been pre-heated to 180C for 5-6 minutes, or until pink. Remove from the oven and cut in diagonal portions, allowing two per person.

Arrange the fondant on a plate and place the meat sections upright next to it with the sautéed vegetables of your choice. Drizzle with the sauce and serve immediately.

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Set lemon custard with raspberry ice-cream. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Set lemon custard with raspberry ice-cream

This recipe is sufficient for 6 people and is served with lemon curd and shortbread on the side. It plates up beautifully.

Set Lemon Custard

Ingredients and Method

85ml lemon juice; 30ml orange juice; 3 whole eggs; 2 egg yolks; 125g castor sugar; 175ml double cream

Mix the 3 eggs and additional egg yolks with the sugar. Infuse the juices with the cream and pour over the egg mixture. Whisk until all the sugar has dissolved. Divide into ramekins or small cups and bake in a bain marie for 25-30 minutes at 110C (gas mark 3) or until set. When ready to serve you can crystalise the top with sugar and a kitchen blow torch.

Lemon Curd

Ingredients and Method

380ml lemon juice; 12 egg yolks; 6 eggs; 300g castor sugar; 250g butter (cubed); shortbread biscuits for serving; strawberries and gooseberries for garnishing as desired

Bring the sugar and lemon juice to the boil, while whisking the eggs and adding to the syrup mixture. Put back on to the heat and whisk until mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the cubed butter. Leave to cool, and place in the fridge to set. When plating, layer some curd between two shortbread biscuits per person (refer to the picture above for guideline); garnish with halved strawberries or gooseberries.

Raspberry Ice-Cream

Ingredients and Method

250ml milk; 250ml double cream; 150g castor sugar; 8 egg yolks; 500g raspberry coulis; 200ml crème de cassis liqueur; tuille baskets and sprigs of mint for serving

Bring the milk, cream and 50g of the sugar to boil.  Whisk the egg yolks and the remaining sugar together and add into the cream mixture. Fold in the coulis and the liqueur and freeze overnight. Serve in a tuille basket and garnish with mint. The three elements of the dessert can now be plated together as per the picture above; you can also decorate the plate with some left-over raspberry coulis.

Check out the blog next Saturday for a stunning picture gallery of Gorah Elephant Camp. And don’t miss Weekend Post’s My Weekend supplement next Saturday either, for a full travel feature on Gorah – including the opportunity for one lucky reader and their partner to win a luxury one-night tented safari stay at Gorah, including meals, non-alcoholic drinks and a game drive!

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