Radisson Red is well known for bringing young, fresh energy to all aspects of its business. The new Lead Kitchen (head chef), Naseer Abdullah, is no exception. He grew up in Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats, and never suspected that food would be his calling. When he dropped out of school at grade 11, he found himself at a culinary arts college in Tygerberg, and he’s never looked back. Cape Town Tourism sat down with him to chat about his life, his dreams, and koesisters.
Some answers have been edited for length or clarity.
How did you go from where you grew up to get into the Radisson Red? Tell us where your love of cooking comes from.
I won’t say I was a “naughty child”… but I was one of those introverts that actually didn’t know what they want in life — they didn’t know what they wanted to do with themselves. And you know, you go through your young stages in life when there’s peer pressure and you’re confused…. Do you want to be big, or you want to be small? And it was a very trendy thing to have college or varsity behind your name. And when I went to college… it was just unfortunate; I failed my first year. And then in my second year I was like, “you know what, you need to do something with your life”. From there I just grew.
You didn’t grow up in the kitchen, cooking things, and…?
Not at all! It was the total opposite. It’s actually… how I got to start loving food was basically when I went to the culinary arts [college], where I learnt the basics, and got to know the catering side and got to know people. And the platform that’s given to work with people… that’s a reflection of my personality in a massive way. Connecting with people through food.
So does your mother cook? Is she a good cook?
My mother’s a terrible cook!
So we can’t even ask you what your favourite dish of hers is?
So, that’s not something that I got from mom. It’s not something I got from watching TV, or something like that. Complete opposite. I got it from… just being my personality. And that’s what I see in the kitchen, is basically personality. Young, easy, simple food. I’m not gonna be complicated.
Which flavours from your childhood did you bring with you into the Radisson kitchens?
I always tell the chefs and I try to maintain that there’s one thing that we need to understand in this industry: just stick to the basics. And if you get the basics right — like if you’re going to start a curry, if you’re going to start a stew, if you’re gonna start a sauce — you’re always going to use onion. So that is the basic thing. So for me, what I’ve brought from home, what I’ve brought to Radisson Red: an onion’s most important.
And do you take any of what you eat at work to your home life now?
Most definitely. Because, if I think about it, in life we normally try to make food complicated to get perfection. But the simpler you keep your food, the fresher it’s gonna taste. So if you get a steak, a good quality steak, you’re going to get home and you’ll seal it off in a pan, it’s obviously going to taste of the quality of the meat.
We’re going to give you a choice of two foods, the one you choose, there’ll be a constant supply of always. The other one will cease to exist. Never be heard of again. Samoosas or koesisters?
Both! I want both!
No, you have to choose one.
Uh…. koesisters. I can live without the samoosa.
If you were a classic South African dish, what would you be and why?
If I was any classic dish in South Africa, I’d be chakalaka for the mere fact that it’s spicy. I love spice…
If you could choose your last meal what would you ask for?
If you could invite anyone, dead or alive, to your dinner table who would it be?
My parents. I do not have the pleasure of eating with them a lot, because of the space that I work in. So it’s always after hours or before hours, or I have to rush off to work. So I can’t make them lunch. So that would be something heart desires, is to actually just cook a meal for them where they can sit down and they can get the pleasure of my culinary arts. Because I think they deserve that.
What’s the key to a good malva pudding?
I think it’s the Crème Anglaise that goes in there to soak up the sauce. A dry malva pudding is not going to be nice. But to make the classic, the key would be the Crème Anglaise; the sugar and cream ratio. And a good thin sugar syrup to go through it, ya. To get it more sticky and soak it all up.
What would you tell 12 year old Naseer?
It’s very hard out there but you will get there!
Here are some of Chef Naseer’s top picks off the Radisson Red menus:
Planning a trip to Cape Town? Book flights, browse accommodation, and rent a car now to get the best rates. The Cape Town City Pass gives you access to over 70 of the top Cape Town attractions, tours, and things to see and do, including the popular hop on hop off City Sightseeing bus.
For inspiration and insider tips, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Tag #lovecapetown to share your pics with us, or subscribe to our newsletter to get the best Cape Town has to offer sent direct to your mailbox.