Not your average cook: Joburg cooks and chefs worth shouting about

07 Feb 2024

We are often asked to name our favourite Joburg restaurants, and most times we are drawn to a place because of the person at the kitchen's helm. However, the ones to watch in Joburg don't always have restaurants in the most prominent places. They also did not all emerge from chef school.

From a rooftop in Yeoville to a historic prison, we took the opportunity to talk to some of Joburg's unique, dynamic, and innovative cooks and chefs, so you can get to know them better. Many have taken unusual paths to the kitchen, and, in true Joburg form, rising despite adversity. If you love good food, these are some of our favourite names to add to your where-to-eat list (bookmark this page now). 

Corvin Pietersen

Master breadmaker Corvin Pietersen. Photo: Karabo Mdluli.

After completing his studies as a chef and gaining work experience in hotel kitchens, Corvin Pietersen moved abroad, working in Dubai, travelling the world, and eventually landing up in a fine-dining kitchen in Mexico. Here, he fell in love with and learnt to make sourdough. Pietersen explains, "I fell in love with the process; it’s a craft, you’re constantly working at it, and it becomes an obsession." He brought his knowledge back home and spent the next three years testing different methods with every type of local flour and salt he could find to eventually create his perfect South African sourdough. 

Pieterson's sourdough uses a combination of flour sourced from the Drakensberg and red sorghum, giving it a uniquely South African flavour. The red sorghum gives it a hint of 'Maltabella', evoking childhood memories for so many who grew up with steaming bowls for breakfast. He started selling the loaves out of the back of his mother’s kitchen before working on opening Broodkop Bakery in Braamfontein. Pieterson strives to celebrate all that is local; "to celebrate everything familiar and rooted in my DNA, to offer it out to the world". While he is looking for a new home for Broodkop Bakery, you can catch him heading up the kitchen at Parktown North's Neighbarhood serving up wood-fired pizzas with local flavour influences.

Follow Broodkop's Instagram page to see what Corvin Pietersen is up to next. 

Jes Doveton

Jes at work in the Acid Food & Wine Bar kitchen. Photo: Elsa Young.

Jes Doveton spent her early twenties working overseas, travelling, and getting stuck into the occasional cooking course. She then began working on yachts and, thanks to her culinary know-how, soon became an on-board chef. On returning to Joburg she worked as a private chef and did some consulting work, but things quickly shifted when she met Jemma Styer, her now-business partner and the woman who helped bring Parktown North's Acid Food & Wine Bar to life.

Doveton's mom is Thai and worked as a chef, so she grew up learning from the best, and she took her knowledge of Thai cuisine and combined it with her love of street food to create the gobsmackingly good menu at Acid. Doveton is always trying to push boundaries with dishes that are unconventional but approachable. Her ethos is about encouraging people to try new things, educating a South African audience about the immensely different facets of Asian cuisines, and that you can't box 'Asian cuisine' as one style of food, either. She's inspired by the work of chefs like David Chang and Lucas Sin, and she is a devourer of cookbooks. She dreams of opening a breakfast café offering Thai noodle soups, Thai fried omelettes, Japanese sandos, Singapore kaya toast, and Vietnamese bánh mì. We can taste it already!

Follow the Acid Food & Wine Bar Instagram Page to see what Jes Doveton is up to next.

Mpho Phalane

The kind of food and smile that will always brighten your day. Photo: Food I Love You.

With a background in advertising, Mpho Phalane has always seen every job opportunity as a creative brief; she thinks about food in colours, and the act of eating as an opportunity for a nurturing experience rather than just a necessity. Everything about what she does is tactile and immersive, creating spaces that make you feel welcome and food that yearns to be shared.

Her kitchen at Victoria Yards was where her famous harvest table wowed and wooed Joburg crowds. Phalane created a food offering that she felt reflected the creativity flowing through the space, a bounty that spoke to everyone, and a vehicle through which strangers could meet by simply breaking the same bread in the same space. And that’s become her ethos: to bring people together through food. She works hand in hand with local farmers to source her produce and creates relatable and familiar dishes, "food that makes you feel embraced". Her restaurant space, Food I Love You in Braamfontein, is now at Constitution Hill where she serves weekday lunches and, on request, curates private functions at night, often in the prison kitchen.

Follow the Food I Love You Instagram page to see what Mpho Phalane is up to next. 

Nick Scott

Nick Scott is a man of many talents and food just happens to be one of them. Photo: Nick Scott.

Nick Scott is an accidental chef. Originally from the UK, he came to Joburg in 2010 to look after his mother when she was diagnosed with cancer. In London, he’d been making waves in A&R in the film and music industries but was happy to put that on hold to be with his mum. Whilst here, he needed to fill his free time with something creative and stumbled upon a space in Melville that showed promise. He had no clue what he wanted it to become, but he began renovating it, knowing that would become clear at a later stage. And that’s how the Great Eastern Food Bar in Melville came to be. It turned out to be an absolute triumph, and when he felt he'd done enough, he passed the business on, and went to Cape Town for a year, "to sleep", Scott tells us, and to get involved in the occasional kitchen collaboration.

He returned to Joburg to consult for a hotel and created relationships with local farmers growing wonderfully unique produce, commissioning them on the hotel's behalf. Just before opening, the hotel went under, and Scott was left with a ton of produce about to land and no plan for how to use it. His attitude was, "if half the world can cook without water and electricity then so can I" and the Glory pop-up kitchen began. At the time, there were no dark kitchens or pop-ups so people embraced the concept of dining in unconventional spaces. Glory wasn’t meant to have permanence, but lockdown kept Scott in South Africa and, once again, completely unplanned, he joined forces with his lifelong friend and fashion stylist, Caroline Olavarrieta, to take Glory from pop-up to permanent.

They opened their kitchen in Parktown North towards the end of 2023. Scott conceptualises weekly menus and Olavarrieta curates the space. He describes the offering as a very personal form of a private chef in a private kitchen. They recently collaborated with Yardbird to bring a weekend brunch bánh mì sandwich bar extravaganza, and are planning a street feast with an enormous long table that wraps their building with guest chefs and seating for 200 people.

Follow the Glory Instagram page to stay up to date with what Nick Scott is up to next. 

Sanza Sandile 

Sanza Sandile regales his guests with stories about his youth in Yeoville. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

Anthony Bourdain famously featured Sanza Sandile in his Parts Unknown television series, shining a light on Sandile's then-tiny kitchen in Yeoville, and his enticing pan-African cuisine. But it’s Sandile's enthusiasm and dedication to Yeoville, where he hosts his Yeoville Dinner Club, that has kept his business alive and thriving for the past seven years. Sandile thinks of himself as a cook and a storyteller, in his words, "the host with the most," bringing people together to break bread and soak up the history of one of the most fascinating and complex neighbourhoods in Joburg.

Sandile grew up in Yeoville, he's married to it, and sticking through the good, the bad, and the ugly. He’ll tell you straight out that it’s not always easy. Yeoville is an overcrowded, bustling, and beautiful space with lots of challenges, but demand to be at his communal table is thriving, and people book weeks, and even sometimes, months in advance for his unique dining experience. As Sandile puts it, "People will always want to have authentic experiences in authentic spaces." Sandile recently expanded his space on Rocky Street and is going to start curating jazz evenings on the rooftop. He also offers cooking classes and pop-up heritage dinners around the city.

Follow Sanza Sandile's Instagram page for details. 

Su-Yen Thornhill 

Su-Yen Thornhill's wicked sense of humour will have you in stitches and her extravagant tasting menu will have you in awe. Photo: Chez Fong.

Su-Yen Thornhill puts the 'theatre' in 'dinner theatre' at her home in Forest Town where she hosts intimate weekly pop-up dinners in her custom-made patio kitchen, Chez Fong. Thornhill learnt to cook when she was eight after her mother, who was a hypochondriac, threatened to die from an ear infection and warned her that if she didn't learn to feed her father, he'd remarry and she'd inherit an evil stepmother. Her mother didn't die, but Thornhill did teach herself to cook.

She grew up in Hong Kong and the UK where all the schools taught domestic science so cooking was always part of her life growing up and was something she loved. She's actually a medical microbiologist with a master's in science communication and has worked in New York, London, and New Jersey, but when she married a South African and moved to Johannesburg in 2011 she couldn't get a work permit. She loved the idea of a supper club or pop-up restaurant and when she met Michael Fridjhon they decided to collaborate. It was the start of something special, the start of Chez Fong. Thornhill's wicked sense of humour will have you in stitches and her delicious and extravagant tasting menu will have you in awe. The tasting menu is never the same, but she always takes guests on a culinary holiday around Southeast Asia, with each dish from her 10 to 12-course offering inspired by a different location: Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and more. It's a feast and an absolute joy. She also offers cooking demos, and team builds and caters for private functions.
To book Su-Yen Thornhill's classes and stay up to date with her pop-ups follow her Chez Fong Facebook Page.


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