Chef Ash Heeger on Cape Town (and starring in ‘The Final Table’)

Chef Ash Heeger on Cape Town (and starring in ‘The Final Table’) James Puttick

The chef-owner of Riverine Rabbit, 29, talks about living in Cape Town, how she spends her downtime, and starring in Netflix’s The Final Table.

I was born in the Transkei and raised in Cape Town.

I love pretty much everything about living in Cape Town: the people, the scenery, the produce, the food, and my family is here, too.

I’m inspired by travel mostly. Having time to decompress and think about new directions and changes on a long plane ride normally goes down well. Eating new cuisines and gathering thoughts on new flavour profiles and meeting other chefs. Seeing how they think differently about food and their philosophies. I mean even eating a taco on the side of the road at 4am can be inspiring, can’t it?

I try not to take myself too seriously and I hope this shows in our food. My style is quite laidback, a little whimsical sometimes (most times).

Guests, I think, are more interested in a delicious plate of food than a dish that comes with garnishes, foams, unicorn horns, quagga tails and a single micro herb flown in from the Swiss Alps.

Being conscious about where your food comes from is most certainly a step in the right direction. I definitely think diners and chefs are thinking more about the provenance of their food.

The one food I’ll never eat? Nope, I’ll try anything once.

If I could cook for any famous historical figure, it would be Anthony Bourdain. I’d make our leek dish.

My dream lunch date? That’s a tough one! Barack and Michelle Obama.

My favourite dish that I’ve created? That’s also a tricky one! Probably my parsnip parfait. A vegetable dessert is a strange one but it works so well.

Gordon Ramsay once said he’d ban his own mother from his restaurant if he ever saw her adding salt to food without tasting it first. Any similar pet peeves? Fake allergies.

On competing in The Final Table

Ash Heeger: The Final Table

Chef Ash Heeger was one of 24 chefs handpicked from around the world to compete in the Netflix production The Final Table. The chefs were divided into 12 teams of two (Ash partnered up with her friend Alex Haupt, the Australian-born chef-owner of 101 Gowrie in Amsterdam), and each round focused on a country, requiring the chefs to recreate an iconic dish representing that nation for a panel of judges.

The production was filmed in one of the biggest Los Angeles studios, where chefs had to cook in front of 180 cameras. Ash, who was one of the youngest participating chefs (and the only one from Africa), talks a little bit about her time on the show, which was released on Netflix in November 2018.

Preparing for each round was very tricky, as you have to create a dish you’ve never tasted before. A lot of the prep is reaching into your own personal repertoire and coming up with a dish that’s reminiscent, or as close to the traditional version, of the national dish you’ve been tasked with making.

Out of my fellow contestants, the one who impressed me the most (aside from my partner, of course) was Monique Fiso – one of the most talented chefs I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet.
[Ed: New-Zealand-born chef Monique Fiso worked at various Michelin-starred restaurants in New York before returning home and launching Hiakai, a pop-up dining series devoted to exploring Māori cuisine that eventually opened as a bricks-and-mortar restaurant in Te Whanganui a Tara – the Māori name for Wellington]

If there was a South African round in the competition, the national dish would have been a traditional braai. All South Africans have their own version of what a braai is, and even Heritage Day is celebrated with a braai.

Out of the countries I missed out on, the one I would definitely have nailed is France.

The cuisine I just can’t wrap my head around is Brazilian.

One of my strengths as a chef, that actually worked against me in the competition, is my creative approach to cooking.

Other Netflix shows I recommend are Chefs Table, Ugly Delicious, The Mind of a Chef, Top Chef.

Has anyone ever injured themselves while cooking an octopus? Seems like it would be kind of tricky, what with all the tentacles. Not that I know of.

On living in Cape Town, and what she does when she’s not cooking

My favourite beach in Cape Town is Oudekraal.

The best hike in Cape Town is Kloof Corner. A quick little hike with a rad trail to run at the top. I do it about twice a week. The views are just incredible and it’s quick.

My favourite weekend getaway is Greyton. My folks have a place there that I shamelessly use whenever I can. It’s so beautiful and quiet. Betty’s Bay is another pearler. So is Paternoster.

If I could live anywhere in the world, I’d choose Cape Town. I don’t think I could ever leave this place again. It’s just too good here. I’ve travelled to most of the countries on my bucket list but I think if I had to pick, it would be somewhere like Copenhagen. It’s got it all. Wonderful people, amazing culture and a good mix of low- and high-brow food.

If I had the power to annihilate all recordings of one song, it would be “Despacito”. Absolutely awful.

I’d sing a duet with my girlfriend. I’m literally the worst singer in the world, but she’s magic. Unfortunately she never sings for anyone. So it’s highly unlikely that it would actually happen. Took a few months for her to sing for me even!

My favourite annual event is the Whiskey Festival. I feel inclined to say something food-based, but I have to go with that…

Her favourite restaurants in Cape Town

The most memorable restaurant meal I’ve eaten recently was at Greenhouse. Wow. Twelve courses of incredible food, wine and service. I honestly can’t recommend it enough for a special occasion.

The best restaurant for a casual meal in Cape Town is Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room. I suppose it helps that it’s a hundred metres from work, but I love it. Good food. I normally have the omelette for brekkie (best in Cape Town) and the baby burger with twice-fried fries for lunch. The cocktails are awesome too!

The best restaurant for a winelands experience is Gåte at Quoin Rock. I had the pleasure of experiencing the beauty of Quoin Rock about a month ago and it was a mind-blowing experience. The scenery and architecture is second to none. The food procured by Rikku [Ò’Donnchü] and Warwick [King] is just sublime. The wine pairings from the estate are on point and the service is personable and attentive.

The best restaurant for authentic cuisine is Hesheng Chinese Restaurant in Sea Point. Proper authentic dumplings and all. Order the pig’s ear salad and pickled cucumber to go along with your dumplings!

The best restaurant for a guilty pleasure is The Dairy Den in Seapoint. Those doughnuts are my kryptonite.

The best restaurant that is an “oldie but goodie” would be Den Anker. Somewhat of a classic in my eyes. I have a set order that I do not deviate from: Mussels. Frites. Beer. The service is fantastic and the view is pretty great too.

The best pizza in Cape Town is from Hail Pizza, down the road from us on Bree Street. I’m there at least twice a week. Best pizzas in South Africa. Hands down. If I’m not at the restaurant, that’s a good place to look for me. I’m probably knee-deep in pizza crusts.

The best burger in Cape Town is from Stacked Diner. I’ll tell you what, I have an absolute addiction to them. Good Lord. They’re something else. I’m a big fan, maybe even the biggest fan. Shout out to Stacked Diner!

The best bar in Cape Town is The House of Machines.

Ash Heeger is the chef-patron of The Riverine Rabbit.

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Time of publication: 08 March 2019

2 Responses to “Chef Ash Heeger on Cape Town (and starring in ‘The Final Table’)”

  1. Avatar

    Patrick Desjardins

    Hi Ash. I’m a chef in Beamsville, Ontario, Canada. What is the most difficult ingredient you’ve ever worked with? And have you integrated it into any of your recipes in your restaurants? Hope you get a chance to visit Canada.

  2. Avatar

    Zand Heim

    I love you girl, seen you come through the ranks and your style of cuisine is epic, this is a girl that defies what is happening around her and goes with her own gut feeling which is very rare and should be welcomed with open arms especially as there are SO many foodies in CT ?, coming from a person that has done this for a long time, watch this beaut of a human, cause she’s gonna do special things!!!!!! Love u girl