Originally from South Africa and having come to us from The Delaunay, Dalmaine Blignaut was appointed Head Chef at Bellanger in April this year. We thought you may like to know a little more about him, so we’ve gone ‘Behind the Scenes’ to uncover how he got into cooking, the challenges faced by chefs today and what he considers to be the best culinary city in the world.
Did you always want to become a chef?
I actually wanted to become an architect, like my Grandfather, and I studied all the subjects I would have needed for it. I then took a year out, which turned into 17 years… I came to England and started work in a restaurant as a waiter. After a few months I realised it wasn’t for me and asked if I could be moved into the kitchen. I started doing pastry and took a liking to it. I guess there’s a link between pastry and architecture – the precision, the technicality… it sometimes feels like I’m doing architecture but in a different way.
Why did you want to come and work for Corbin & King?
I met Mac (Head Chef at The Delaunay) at a private catering event and got on really well with him. He saw an opportunity for me to work with the company and suggested I come and see how it went. At the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I did my research and realised how prestigious Corbin & King was and saw it as an opportunity to learn. I started at The Delaunay as a Senior Sous – so a step away from pastry and what I’d been doing, but it was a chance to refresh my memory on how a main kitchen was run.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Teaching… I love passing on knowledge. I’ve had experiences in the past with head chefs who were reluctant to pass on their knowledge and so I decided, after my first full time pastry job, that I would always try to share my love of food and cooking.
What’s the biggest challenge chefs face today?
I would say it’s keeping everyone motivated. At Corbin & King, there is a lot of scope and support for developing chefs and our kitchens have a really good reputation, but of course being in a busy kitchen can be stressful at times and so maintaining a positive atmosphere is the main aim.
Are you always thinking of ways to innovate?
Always. It’s really nice to be innovative and it’s important for the younger members of the team, too. With smaller restaurants, there’s the opportunity to change things every now and again and get everyone more involved in the daily specials, new ideas and so on.
One of the first things I told the team at Bellanger is that when I do menu changes, it’s about involving everyone. It’s not just about what I want, it’s more of a case of cooking together, tasting together and then talking about it together.
In your opinion, what makes Bellanger so special?
I remember the first time I walked into Bellanger and thinking it was a touch of elegance in the neighbourhood. I can only assume that guests to this day get that same feeling, especially when they’re greeted, shown to their seats and served the way we do – there aren’t many other places in the area that match it.
Which other chefs/restaurants are you particularly impressed by?
Chef-wise, John Lawson. He’s a good friend of mine and owns a restaurant now in Leigh-on-Sea, called ‘Food by John Lawson’. He was diagnosed with brain cancer aged 34, had the operation and as a result changed his whole outlook on food. He now cooks for the body, everything he does is health-focused – giving the body what it needs at Michelin-star level. Other than that, Robin Gill, whose restaurants (The Dairy and Sorella) are amazing. And then from the very brief time I worked with him at The Delaunay, Regis Negrier (Group Executive Pastry Chef at C&K) became someone I looked up to very quickly.
Is London one of the best culinary cities in the world?
Yes. Is it the top? Probably not… I think right now, I would say London is up there with New York, Paris, Melbourne and Sydney. And then of course there are all the restaurants in Asia, but London, New York, Paris, Melbourne and Sydney would probably be my top five. I’d love to say Cape Town but it’s not quite there yet. Though the difference between now and what it was like five years ago is incredible.
What advice would you give to budding young chefs?
It’s very tough industry and I would just say work hard. In the beginning of your career if you really work hard it’ll get you places. Some see it as a job that’s fun and easy but if you really push at it, you give yourself the opportunity to grow. And of course… you need to be in love with food.