“The restaurant industry in the city centre is an explosion of people with talent. Whether or not it is sustainable remains to be seen, but it is amazing to wake up and see new restaurants popping up everywhere,” said Mardia Swartz.
Mardia, who lives in the CBD, is the head chef at Burrata Restaurant in the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock.
And although she sees herself in “the perfect position” right now, it took some time for her to discover that she was destined for a career in the kitchen.
Mardia grew up on a farm in Heidelberg. “I had an amazing life, and part of my life was the fact that my parents believed in living organic. So they grew their own vegetables. We had an orchard and it was great. That is what I would like for myself.”
She then studied industrial psychology, which she said was a helpful tool to learn how to work with people. “It made me realise that what people expect and what people give are two different things.”
She then managed a restaurant in Johannesburg. “I suddenly felt myself more allured by the kitchen than the front of house, and I ended up spending more time in the kitchen than the restaurant.”
She took a position as a kitchen manager in a restaurant in Zanzibar, and ended up becoming a full-time chef. ” After my time in Tanzania and Zanzibar, I travelled to Holland,and I could not get a proper job because I was not fully qualified so I came back to South Africa and I studied at the Prue Leith Chef’s Academy. I released that my future is in the kitchen and I did not want to be anywhere else.” Since then, she has been head chef at a number of restaurants, including some in the city centre. “I don’t always believe in business strategies or personal strategies of employers, so I bounced from place to place because of that. Eventually I had some time to wait for the perfect position, which I am currently in at Burrata.”
Mardia said she enjoys living in the city centre. “The CCID (City Central Improvement District) has been a bonus, it’s just a pity that we should have something like the CCID looking after one of the greatest cities in the world. I wake up in the morning to an amazing view and clean streets, apart from the fact that it’s accessible and transport is efficient. She said at the moment, Cape Town has the highest turnover of restaurants in the world. “Whether it’s exciting or scary, I don’t know, but it’s good – it’s good to be able to experience different things. We are a food capital, and that makes us as chefs very happy.”
Asked what her favourite meal is, Mardia said: “It’s the question of ,if you are on death row, what’s the last thing that you will ever want to eat? For me, it will be a piece of steak, potato chips or a good mash with gravy, but definitely not chicken and sauce.”
And being a professional chef, she has eaten many strange dishes too. “The weirdest thing I’ve ever ate is probably coelacanth, which is an ancient fish that was thought to be extinct for hundreds of years and they discovered they still live, and one washed up, and I ate it.
“I’ve also had dolphin and python. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t eat, except dogs and cats, but I’ve had turtle and other weird things. I have to admit that most of what I had was not as good as it should have been, so I will never have it again.”
And although cooking a meal might seem as easy as throwing together some ingredients and putting it on a plate, Mardia says a lot of passion goes into making a dish what it is. “Chefs work way too hard. Everything associated with food is about passion. And it’s very hard work, and it’s hard to deal with people that judge you all the time, and we live a very high stress life. But that’s what we choose and we will continue doing it because we love it.”