More often than not, the people behind the scenes don’t get the credit they deserve for their work, but we like to celebrate all our hard-working, loyal staff members who help make Damhuis Restaurant one of the most popular eateries along the West Coast. This time around, we get to know 28-year-old Sous Chef Jacques du Toit, who is Executive Chef Stèfan Meintjies’, right-hand man.
Born and raised in Gauteng, Jacques initially took an interest in food in high school after realising that Science and Biology correlated to the origin and preparation of food.
In 2009, he officially started his culinary journey at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town under Chef Rudi Liebenberg, but it was Chef Dion Vengatass, the hotel’s Sous Chef, who taught him about the finer details of the industry and stirred up his passion for preparing dishes. After brief stints at the South African Chef Academy and a game lodge in the Northern Cape, his path ultimately led to Damhuis Restaurant in Melkbosstrand. Here, Jacques credits Stefan for genuinely mentoring him and turning him into the man he is today.
Getting to know Sous Chef Jacques du Toit a little better…
1. Can you remember your first inspirational encounter with food?
It’s tough to say, but I remember as a 4- or 5- year- old preserving tons of oranges on my grandparents’ farm. My brother and I covered head to toe in sugar syrup. The smell of freshly baked croissants and pastries at the local supermarket. Peeling potatoes and frying chips at my parent’s restaurant as a 9-year-old. Cooking potjiekos at my dad’s at 11 years old. There are just too many to mention here. I was fascinated from a young age but never thought food would be my profession.
2. What inspired you to become a chef?
There are a few reasons, but what stands out most for me was when I was 17 or 18, my uncle gave me Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. Before reading it I had a complete misconception of the industry and what a chef’s life really is like, but then again it seemed like a punk’s lifestyle, which I was into then. So you could say I became a chef for all the wrong reasons and made a bunch of wrong choices, but that’s just part of the journey. I think a lot of chefs from the age of 25 to 45 can relate to his book and we are all very sad about his passing because he was an ambassador for being a cook, so thank you, Tony.
3. What’s your philosophy when it comes to food?
As a Chef, it’s essential to know that without great produce we would be nothing! When working with meat remember that an animal died, so treat it with respect and love and be humble. Also, when you start calling food “art” is the moment you delve into pretention, and you do it more for your ego. Our job is to make sure the guest has a fantastic time: it’s about them, not us.
4. What is your guilty pleasure when it comes to food and why?
I love eating so I never feel guilty….
5. What characteristics should a good sous chef have?
Good question! You have to understand your role as a leader within the team and also develop the leadership qualities of individuals within it. You have to nurture talent and always be willing to impart knowledge and skills. Set an example in the kitchen, but also outside of it. You also have to be a good communicator between different sections, have empathy but not be weak. You also have to be willing to make sacrifices because it’s about the greater good. The hardest thing for me, in the beginning, was dealing with stress, but I learned to rely on the team and delegate responsibilities, so they learn.
6. What do you love about Melkbosstrand?
I like that it’s a developing community with lots of potential, much like most of the West Coast. I see it becoming an even more important food hub than the Winelands or Cape Town in the next 10-15 years. On a more personal note, I like that the cashiers at OK know what brands of cigarettes I smoke. I love that the barman knows my name and what I drink. When going shopping, you stop and have a chat with someone you know. I also enjoy the fact that kids still play in the streets until late at night, since it is relatively safe. I am very excited about the future.
7. What do you appreciate the most about Damhuis Restaurant?
I appreciate that I was given a chance to grow and prove to myself. Also, having someone like Stefan to guide and mentor me. I am very proud to be a part of the family and love watching people hone their skill and excel. The non-judgemental, unpretentious vibe is great as well. There is a real sense of family.
8. Happiness is…
…Being off on a Monday when everyone else has to go to work.
Enjoying getting to know Damhuis Restaurant and our brilliant team? Read more about our Head Pastry Chef, Benja de Villiers.