SOUTH AFRICA – Chef Chantel Dartnall hold’s the current title of World’s Best Female Chef. She was awarded at The Best Chef Awards 2017 in Warsaw, Poland. For many years, Chef Dartnall has received multiple awards across the world which has truly put South Africa on the culinary map. Because of her grit and unique approach to modern fine dining experience at Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient. We had the honor of getting an exclusive interview with Chef to find out where her grit comes from; and inspire us all.
Q & A with Chef Chantel Dartnall
Being a successful Chef, we assume you must have a very busy schedule.
Q: Do you think the world is adjusting to women having the ability to have a career and family life, or is it still considered being less “feminine” to be a career woman?
Thankfully, the world has changed since I was born. I have never been considered less feminine because I work in what has often been a male dominated industry. There’s no getting around it – being a chef and working in a restaurant is tough. And, without losing your femininity, you have to be equally tough. Upfront, you have to understand that the hours are long and must give up a lot. For me, though, it is in my blood. I can’t imagine doing anything else. The kitchen is my happy place so I don’t see it as a sacrifice. Being a woman has influenced the type of chef I am. My style of food is passionate, feminine and botanical.
I am lucky the Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient is situated on our family farm in the Francolin Conservancy, so my home is on the doorstep. My mother, Mari Dartnall is in charge of the front-of-house, so I am blessed to get to work with her every day.
We are aware that no position of leadership is without challenges.
Q: That’s why we celebrate grit. What drives you to have courage and achieve the success that you have?
I arrived in London years ago, after finishing at culinary school in South Africa; as a young inexperienced commis chef to work in the busy Chez Nico kitchen. I was literally chucked in the deep end and had to learn how to swim very quickly. It didn’t take long to learn that the quicker and the more perfectly you performed the tasks you were given; the greater the rest of the team’s respect became for you. Eventually I was one of the team.
This taught me that no matter how hard any task may seem, if you practice and persevere, it all becomes easier in the end. It was an invaluable lesson and one that I have never forgotten.
Q: Your success speaks for itself and you are without a doubt an inspiration. What are some of the qualities that a Chef or career woman must have in order to not only realize her vision, but also lead a team?
You have to know what you want and go for it. At Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient we have a benchmark of where we are now and we always push ourselves to be better. We never rest on our laurels. You also have to be passionate about what you do and truly love it. If I wasn’t driven and totally committed to provide the best food and service we can, then how could I expect my team to be? You lead by example.
Q: Who or what inspires you, especially during tough times?
I have always been inspired by great chefs – they may be well-known but theirs also wasn’t always an easy journey. They only succeeded because of the efforts they put it. People like Michele Bras in France, Chef Raymond Blanc in UK and the late great legend Auguste Escoffier. They were and are all true cuisine visionaries. So, when I’m having a bad day, I think of them and get on with it. I am also inspired by the family – and in this I include not only my immediate family but my staff. We are truly a family at Mosaic. And, I am motivated by their personal stories and what they have done to grow and achieve success. For example, our sommelier at Mosaic is the wonderful Moses Magwaza.
As a black child in a community from KZN, Moses didn’t know anything about wine. He started working at Mosaic as a gardener and progressed to becoming a waiter. And then he was introduced to the wonderful world of wine and the bug bit. Last year he took the coveted Wine Service Award at the 2017 Eat Out Awards, beating out strong competition from sommeliers at South Africa’s top restaurants.
Q: What would you say to someone who’s really struggling to not give up on their vision or goal right now?
There are all the clichés such as ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ but they do have a grain of truth to them. Work hard and persevere but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
You make the most beautiful dishes and we’ve seen your YouTube videos and know that you must truly love what you do. It’s evident that you are living in your purpose every day.
Q: Most people struggle to find success, because they do not know how to identify their purpose. How did you know that you were meant to be a Chef? And, what advice can you share to help people find their purpose in life and therefore success?
I have always wanted to cook – from as early as I can remember and always wanted to run my own restaurant. I want to keep on growing in culinary terms and exploring all facets of food. It is all about passion. I put my heart and soul into every dish I create. So, my advice would be to explore what really makes you happy. Then go for it and give it your all. Sometimes you make mistakes and take a knock but you have to pick yourself up and carry on.
It is International Girl Child Day on 11 October, 2018. You and your mother Mari Dartnall seem to not only have a shared passion but a beautiful supportive relationship.
Q: What role has your mother played in your life that you can advise mothers reading this article to consider implementing when it comes to raising a strong woman like you?
My mother was one of my biggest influences growing up. She always had my back and wanted the best for me. I am her only child but she never suffocated me or has stopped me from living my best life. When I graduated from Prue Leith School in South Africa, she fully supported me when I decided to get experience in the international marketplace.
The lifestyle was such a change for me in the UK; the work was hard and the hours long. I didn’t know anyone at first. It was a challenge for her as well, but she encouraged me to persevere. My family has always supported me and encouraged me to do what I enjoy. And, they have provided me with the opportunities to explore the culinary world that helped develop my palate. Without them I would not be where I am today.
Q: Why should moms encourage their little girls who want to become Chefs one day? What are some of the rewards or benefits of what you do?
I get to earn a living doing what I have always wanted to do. I have been fortunate to meet and work with some of the world’s best chefs who have inspired me in my culinary journey.
There have been some magical highlights. There are the obvious ones like twice being named South African Chef of the Year, first in 2009 and then again in 2014, and last year being named best female chef in the world.
The awards I have won are wonderful and are really appreciated but I am as delighted when a customer is moved by something we have created. However, I am also proud of how Restaurant Mosaic has matured, mentored and grown its staff in the more than a decade the restaurant has been in operation. It is all about passing on the passion and the knowledge.