A Chef's Profile
By Jeremy Bense
For Chris Smit, the magic of a meal goes far beyond a fleeting pleasure of the palate. He holds a deep conviction that food can succeed where words fail, and that a shared meal can stimulate a convivial flow of conversation and companionship while satisfying the stomach’s appetite.
This passion for food as a means of expression has its roots in a bucolic childhood, with many happy hours spent among the simple yet tasty delights of a farm-style kitchen. Family secrets in the form of tried-and-trusted recipes for corned beef, pastries, sweet biscuits, preserved fruits and seasonal jams and curds were passed down from his grandmother to his mother – and later to an utterly fascinated Chris.
By now it was clear that a culinary career was marked in his stars but no-one could have guessed that he would scarcely double his age when he could count international celebrities among the multitudes of satisfied diners seated at his tables.
As steep as his career path would be, it was by no means an easy ride, and Chris followed the time-honoured path from waiter to restaurant manager to general manager for a small hotel – but all the while his love of cooking increased in ardour. Having established a solid foundation for his general catering and managerial skills, he decided to broaden his horizons while focusing on the kitchen as the centre of his creativity. The African bush beckoned – and Chris settled in at the Royal Malewane. Here he was introduced to the art of up-market African cuisine, with the additional challenge of catering for the tastes and preferences of discerning guests from all over the world. John Jackson became his mentor and a source of immense inspiration, and encouraged him to pursue his passion for baking. Chris experimented with various bread recipes and baking methods – but always treasured his childhood memories of the aroma of a freshly-baked loaf emerging from a clay oven.
The next major milestone in his career saw Chris being appointed as the executive chef at La Residence – a premier chateau-style property set among the estates of the Franschhoek Valley. Regional produce, seasonal ingredients and traditional recipes all form part of the daily dining experience at La Residence, with menus featuring an imaginative blend of local and international cuisine.
Chris extends the same hospitality to each and every guest who sits at his table, but some of the diners who have enjoyed his fare deserve particular mention – including show business celebrities such as Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar, Sir Elton John and David Furnish, and Embeth Davies. Ron Dennis of Formula One fame slowed down the pace to savour the flavour, while Prince and Princess Michael of Kent added a royal cachet. Former and current heads of state include President Thabo Mbeki, former President Bill Clinton, (former) Prime Minister (Junichiro Koizumi / Shinzo Abe) Yasuo Fukuda of Japan and our beloved Madiba.
This distinguished guest list would be a source of justifiable pride for many a chef, but Chris remains supremely modest. He still believes that the true satisfaction of cooking lies not only in the preparation of the meal but in the social chord that it strikes – uniting diners in the shared joy of each delicious dish.