I have never been a fan of sweet treats but when I had Chef Matt Manning’s mini custard-filled doughnuts I couldn’t resist eating a handful of them. They are frosted with just the right amount of sugar and the dough is soft and flaky.
Manning is a private chef and the creator of One Ingredient a monthly ‘pop up’ interactive dinner held at different venues in Cape Town which showcases the versatility of a single ingredient across five courses.
From the United Kingdom, Manning perfected his trade in some of London’s finest restaurants, such as the Michelin-starred Pétrus and Marcus. He also has worked with of the best in the business, including Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing, Alyn Williams, James Knappet and Bryn Williams. I speak to him about his culinary journey and career highlights
How did you get into cooking? My grandmother was an excellent cook and had a passion for feeding her family. From an early age, I loved helping her in the kitchen. After completing my schooling, I was torn between studying engineering or the culinary arts – and I am glad I chose the latter. I spent some time in a kitchen in Norwich learning the basics before moving to London. There I was fortunate enough to spend time in Michelin-starred kitchens, and work under some of London’s most celebrated chefs. I later moved to South Africa where I spent some time at La Colombe restaurant before I decided to start my own thing – One Ingredient was born and the rest, as they say, is history.
Tell us a little about the “One Ingredient” concept and experience? One Ingredient is an interactive ‘pop up’ monthly dining experience and is designed for those who are as excited about what goes in to creating a beautiful dish, as they are about eating it. Every month I select one ingredient that features across five or six different courses (including canapés on arrival), each carefully paired with a premium wine from a partnering wine estate. The star ingredient is selected based on its versatility and seasonal availability. Only 20 seats are available per dinner, keeping the experience intimate but very festive.
Where do you get your inspiration?
“I am inspired by nature – ingredients that are seasonal and fresh always have the most flavour. There is no such thing as a bad ingredient – only a bad chef”
I always maintain that if you don’t like something, you haven’t yet enjoyed it in a way that resonates with you, and you should keep trying different variations until it does.
I am also inspired by some of our local talent – Cape Town-based chefs such as Neill Anthony and Liam Tomlin are doing fantastic things and pushing boundaries. I eat out a lot as I believe it is important to stay abreast of food trends. I also follow many international chefs on Snapchat and Instagram – be aware of what is happening across the global food scene, while remaining true to your own style.
The to die-for doughnuts. Photo by Cherith Anne Photography
How has the food scene evolved since you started your career? There is definitely an increased emphasis on quality over quantity. People are more conscious of where the food comes from, how it is cultivated, and how it is prepared. There is an emphasis on sustainability. Nose-to-tail and farm-to-fork are dining philosophies we are seeing more of, for this very reason.
“This is inline with a growing global consciousness – we are more aware and concerned about the environment and the world around us, as well as how we nurture our own bodies”
We see a rise in the theatre of food. Boundary-pushing chefs are now offering multi-sensory menus and innovative dining experiences, and we are also see the kitchen become the ‘stage’ of many restaurants – opened right up so it is highly visible to patrons, well-lit and planted in the centre so they become a focal point of the dining experience.
There is also a narrowing of focus. In an era where we are inundated with options, people are wanting their food choices made simple. Restaurants that focus and specialise in a particular dish or ingredient- i.e. a burger or bacon – are springing up everywhere, and menus are slimming down. Some of the top restaurants now offer no more than five or six main course options. I think this is a fantastic thing – I firmly maintain that you are doing your customer a disservice if you offer an extensive menu – which means a pantry full of frozen dishes.
What do you think about the trend for all things organic? Organic produce is a good thing – the more naturally a vegetable or fruit is cultivated, the better for the environment and for us. What puts a lot of people off buying organic produce is the price – they tend to be more expensive. If you are on a budget but want to eat as naturally as possible, choose the organic option for vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, celery – anything where you consume the skin which has direct contact with the soil. Produce such as oranges and bananas have thicker skins which better shields them from chemicals. In a perfect world, we would only farm organically – but that is not yet a reality.
Ingredient obsession? It is hard to go wrong with real butter and Maldon salt flakes. I also love the freshness and zing lemon brings to a dish, so I always have some in my fruit bowl. Willocreek Olive Oil – a have an entire shelf at home filled with about 30 bottles as I have a pathological fear of running out – no jokes.
Do you have advice for young chefs today? Absorb as much as you can from those more experienced – you need to do your time in a decent kitchen and learn the rules. Creative license can only be applied when you know the rules backwards – only then do you have license to break them. You have to know the basics and be able to do them brilliantly before you should start experimenting with fusions and variations.
“Also travel – get as much exposure as possible to the different flavours and cultural traditions from all over the word. Broaden your mind and point of view – this can only help you in your work”
What’s next for you? I would love to own my own spot – not a restaurant, but an innovation lab-type space where I can create, experiment and reinvent. A venue where I can host my dinners, hold private functions, cooking classes, special once off experiences etc. That would be both my dream and my next step.
*For information on the next One Ingredient experience visit:
Facebook: One Ingredient
Pic of Chef Matt Manning credit: Hazel Mathias Photography – Vinwood.
Connect with me on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat: @Nontando58
This piece was published in the Cape Argus on November 2 2016.