What’s More Beautiful Than Making People Happy With Food?

“Food is a beautiful way for people to connect and build relationships. What’s more beautiful than making people happy with food?” These are the words of the new Head Chef at Johannesburg’s AtholPlace Hotel & Villa. A chef whose cuisine we can’t wait to savour. But until then, we’re getting acquainted in another way.

Read more about Omar Koenen in the Q&A below.

Meet Omar – Q&A

You have been cooking professionally for over ten years – how did you get started?

In Holland, I got my first break by securing a weekend job in a restaurant when I was 15 years old! This experience nurtured my interest in food and encouraged me to go to culinary school and work towards my professional qualification which I received when I was 19.

Being a professional chef is very demanding – share some of your experiences with us:

In top rated professional kitchens the hours are long – 17 hour days – six days a week. The work can be physically demanding as I’m on feet all day in a hot kitchen. But having the opportunity to work in Bib Gourmand and Michelin star establishments is really a thrill! As part of a team I was able to learn something new each day. That’s exciting!

Tell us about your journey bringing you to South Africa?

Travel is a great way to rejuvenate one’s soul! I needed a break from Europe and decided to visit Cape Town for a holiday. I fell in love with my wife and South Africa and the rest is history.

What is your favourite part of the job?

Having the opportunity to work in amazing establishments and create my own menus is a real privilege… this is really gives me a chance to express myself in the kitchen. I must say I generate a huge amount of pleasure from serving guests amazing food. Food is a beautiful way for people to connect and build relationships. My motto is, What’s more beautiful than making people happy with food?

Working  in Europe under brilliant chefs, you have a classical training. How do you combine your foundations with new thinking?

I believe nothing beats a brilliant culinary education. This sets the foundation for one’s future career. But new ideas and taste experiences are exciting and I’m always looking for innovation in food. I love Asian food and enjoy exploring all those flavour combinations and since learning about curries from colleagues in Cape Town I’ve become obsessed with creating the perfect curry.

Which ingredients are your favourites?

South Africa has amazing, fresh, local produce available and I believe in seasonal food. I get very excited about fresh local seafood-  like scallops, langoustines and crayfish. I also have a soft spot for micro-greens and edible flowers. They really elevate a dish.

What is your vision for AtholPlace Hotel & Villa?

I’m really excited to be living and working in the biggest city in Africa – Johannesburg has a special energy which I’m tapping into. My goal is to work alongside the established team at AtholPlace and share my food philosophy – which is food and cooking equals love. I’m totally motivated to bring my enthusiasm and experience to this new kitchen and develop new ideas alongside my team. Morukuru is all about family and I’m blessed to be welcomed into this five star family.