Durban-born Wesli Jacobs was cooking alongside his mother and grandmother from the age of seven, so it was no surprise when, after school, he opted for studies which would lead to the kitchen.
“I completed a three-year diploma in cookery and kitchen management at the International Hotel School in Durban. It was either that, law, or do business studies to learn how to open my own restaurant one day.”
Demonstrating that he made the correct choice, the 31-year-old is today Executive Sous Chef at Cape Town’s five-star Table Bay hotel, a position usually only achieved later in life.
He joined The Table Bay at the V&A Waterfront in 2019, after two years working as Executive Chef at a hotel and conference centre in the Cape winelands, and several years working in hotels and convention centres in Durban progressing through the ranks.
“I wanted to work in a five-star environment, and what could be better than Cape Town’s Best Address” he said.
Food at The Table Bay is focused on fresh ingredients, locally sourced. “Think great grass-fed beef, free range chicken, sustainably fished seafood.” Jacobs takes pride in having close relationships with his suppliers and trusts them to deliver the freshest of what is available. “This means our menus change daily, we keep it local wherever possible, and many of our vegetables, edible flowers and micro-herbs are grown within a five kilometre radius of the hotel.”
Food and wine are closely linked and Jacobs is working with Sommelier Jonathan Wakefield to design a pairing menu for lunch and dinner, available in the lounge and for in-room dining.
Jacobs describes his style of cooking as “simplistic and contemporary,” but says he also looks for ways of adding new twists to old favourites.
While his early forays in the kitchen included much Italian and Indian cuisine, today Jacobs has a passion for anything Japanese. His favourite ingredients to cook with include lots of aromatics like garlic, ginger and chilli.”
Jacobs’ favourite piece of kitchen equipment is his tweezers, although he laments that as Executive Sous Chef, he is often stuck in his office and doesn’t get to use them frequently enough. “I love plating and the creative process around plating meals. Thought provoking food is where I’m at,” he says.
“My management style is democratic; I am always looking for better ways of doing things, so I am focused on listening to my people. I also believe in empowering my sous chefs so that they in turn can empower their chef de parties and teach them new things.”
Covid-19 has seen stringent new health and safety requirements introduced, changing the way food was presented. Demonstrating their commitment to sustainability which is visible throughout its operations, The Table Bay invested in glass jars with wooden domes to serve individually packed breakfast items in, instead of single-use plastic. “We are still shucking fresh oysters and hand-making items like sushi to order.”
When it comes to food trends, Jacobs samples the wares of his peers at other restaurants and hotels. “Veganism and vegan food are very popular at the moment, and we offer a variety of these options.”