By Louise Liebenberg
HE has just returned from Dubai and Abhu Dhabi, and was recently in Jeddah, Jordan and Kuwait. He’ll be in Saudi Arabia and Jordan in September; then there’s Hong Kong and Korea at the end of the year.
It’s been a whirlwind three years for Ralph Gottschalk whose master qualifications and colourful career as chef and pastry chef – as well as being a sought-after trainer in these fields – have taken him to countries like Israel, India, Myanmar, South Korea and the US.
He has worked in the world’s finest hotels and restaurants but Port Elizabeth is where he and his family put down roots to establish their now flourishing artisan bakery and cooking classes under the banner of The Pastryworks.
As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, he is now busy opening a fully accredited chef school and a second bakery.
Ralph was one of our very first guest chefs on The Global Table when we started the food blog about three years ago. Today he is back to share a sumptuous recipe (scroll down below), talk about the challenges of balancing a demanding career with family life, and discuss his vision to change the face of culinary training in the province and country.
Recipe: Rolled chicken breast with braised leg and livers and a shiitake mushroom risotto
Ingredients for the chicken
4 free-range chicken thighs; 4 free-range chicken breasts; 1 litre home-made chicken stock; 2 sprigs thyme; 1 bay leaf; 6 black peppercorns; ½ white onion, chopped; 125g chicken livers; 50ml brandy; 100ml port; 1 sprig thyme, chopped; 1 clove garlic, minced; ½ white onion, finely chopped
Ingredients for the risotto
1 white onion finely chopped; 1 clove garlic minced; 1 sprig thyme chopped; 3 dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in boiling water till soft; 25g parmesan cheese grated; 700ml chicken stock; 150ml white wine; 200g risotto rice; 30ml mascarpone cheese
Method for the chicken:
Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and put them in a small roasting tray with the chicken stock, bay leaf, 1/2 an onion, peppercorns and thyme and place in the oven on 180 degrees C for 40 to 45 minutes until the chicken is cooked and tender.
Sauté the ½ onion in a little butter until golden brown, then add the garlic and thyme and sauté for a further minute, add the chicken livers and cook for 30 seconds, add the brandy and port and simmer until the mixture is almost dry and sticky.
Once the chicken thighs are cooked shred the meat off the bone and mix it into the chicken liver mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and put them between two pieces of cling film and flatten lightly with a rolling pin.
Place 3 Tbsp of the liver mixture in the centre of each breast and roll tightly, then wrap in cling film. Poach the chicken in simmering water for 8 minutes in the cling film, then remove from water and chill.
Pan fry the chicken breasts until golden brown then put them in the oven at 190 degrees for 10 minutes.
Method for the risotto:
Sauté the onion in a little butter until translucent, add the garlic and thyme and sauté for a further minute. Add the wine and reduce down until almost dry, then add the mushrooms and risotto rice and stir to coat the rice.
Slowly add the hot chicken stock little at a time stirring constantly until the liquid has been absorbed before adding more stock. This should take 8 to 10 minutes.
Finish the risotto with the parmesan and mascarpone and season to taste. Plate the dish.
Q&A with Ralph Gottschalk
Where will your new school be based and how will it be different from others?
The school will be at our current training premises in Fernglen. There are only two other chef schools in the Eastern Cape; we want ours to be the premier school of choice for any aspiring pastry or culinary chef in two to three years’ time. Experience, knowledge and being connected to a world-wide industry will set us apart.
What intake and courses will you have?
We’ll offer a Professional Culinary Diploma Course and a Professional Pastry Diploma Course, with a maximum of 10 students per qualification. Courses will run for 12 to 18 months. Our curricula will be based on European apprenticeship, including modern approaches like molecular cuisine, sous vide and chocolate artistic. I will also invite international industry leaders to come to PE to share their expertise. Pastry students will work in our bakery to gain experience in confectionery and bakery; we are also planning to send students for practicals at five-star establishments overseas.
Will there also be part-time courses?
We might offer a part-time evening course for people considering a career change or those who’ve been working in the food industry for years, but have no qualification.
Will you be the main instructor?
Nicole Thompson who is Silwood Kitchen trained and has extensive international experience will teach with me. A specialist cake artist is in the process of joining our team from overseas and we are talking to quite a few other accredited institutions in PE to collaborate on certain subjects.
Will those who do the courses receive accreditation?
The courses will be accredited by City Guilds London and we are in the process of securing accreditation by Food & Bev Seta South Africa.
Why is it important to you to start the school – and in PE of all places?
PE is our city of choice. My wife’s family lives here and we wanted to make sure our boys could live near Granny and Grandpa.
Will you continue doing your cooking classes at The Pastryworks and other initiatives like the bakery in Fernglen and your various training commissions?
Definitely. We have so many regulars: kids, teens, moms, couples and even companies. We’ve also started competitive cooking, Ready Steady Cook style, which is great for team-building.
Any highlights in recent years that stand out?
We’ve had so many functions I’ll never forget, like the time GM came with all their managers from around the world. We also filmed for Top Billing with Okkert Brits.
How long have you had the Fernglen bakery and why did you start it?
We opened the bakery to have more production space. We’d started making 50, then 100, the all of a sudden 500 and more cakes for resale at a major supermarket group in PE. From day one the support was fantastic.
Where and when is your new bakery opening?
We were looking for a second location and Walmer seemed perfect. Our new spot is at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Villiers Road and we are opening next month.
You also do quite a bit of training around SA and overseas?
I’m a consultant for the hospitality industry and help hotels with openings and training around the world. I also consult for the Frey Swiss Chocolate Company and handle recipe development and training for Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
To what extent is your wife Cherilyn involved in the business?
The Pastryworks wouldn’t exist without Cherilyn. She is its backbone, quality inspector and the one who does nearly everything apart from giving classes.
Cherilyn, with the help of her father, built the school when I was in South Korea for two years. When I came back, she gave me a set of keys and I went into the school and kitchen. Everything was just right.
How do you cope as a couple in this industry?
You can only survive as a couple if both have experience in the industry, as it does take its toll. But I am living my dream and lucky to have a partner who is helping me realise that dream.
How do you juggle work and parenting?
We have two wonderful boys, Christopher and Alex. It has been difficult to juggle spending time with them and getting our business off the ground, but we have fantastic support from my in-laws.
What sort of food do you cook in your own home?
People always think we must be eating amazing food all the time! The reality is the opposite, as we are so busy and work long hours. Meals tend to be quick and easy. We always try to include veggies, especially for the boys, but macaroni cheese is a weekly staple.
What are your favourite winter ingredients?
Having lived in India this is easy to answer. I love a good curry, not hot but fragrant and tasty – a real belly warmer. Chillies, Indian spices, coconut milk and curry pastes are among my favourite ingredients.
What is your favourite kitchen tool?
I use my mini spatula, bought in Istanbul three years ago, for everything from pastries to wedding cakes.
How would you describe your approach to food and cooking?
I like classical things – not too much fuss and letting ingredients speak for themselves. The most important thing is quality.
Where do your ideas and inspiration come from for new dishes and classes?
I am still lucky enough to travel quite a bit and be exposed to all things culinary. In terms of classes I always listen to our customers.
What qualities do you need to excel as a chef?
You must be crazy, at least a little bit, and you need passion and lots of it. Too many young people think the life of a chef is like Nigella or Jamie. In general it is not like this. It’s work, work, work, no Christmas and no New Year’s Eve off, and eight hours is a half-day job.
Finally, if you could choose a last meal on earth, what would it be?
My grandmother’s stuffed cabbage roulades with steamed potatoes. I’d have to enjoy it in heaven, as that is where she is currently cooking.