“In our industry there is nothing better than having full restaurants!” declares Gordon Manuel, the newly appointed group executive chef of The Endless Group (which includes Endless Horizons in Durban, Wildekrans and Endless Vineyards in Botriver, Overberg in the Western Cape).
Based at the latter, he will be responsible for “anything food” – from menu design to keeping up standards and training and will travel between the Western Cape and Durban to ensure that only the very best fare is plated.
Having grown up in Durban where he completed his catering management studies at the then Natal Technikon in 1997, he has spent a large portion of his culinary career in the Western Cape and is looking forward to returning to the East Coast regularly.
“At home I enjoy doing simple roasts and fragrant lamb curry – which reminds me of growing up in Durban. My favourite restaurant dish to cook at the moment is Braised Beef Cheek, Smoked Sweet Potato Puree, Pancetta and Tomatillo Salsa,” he muses.
Manuel started out as a Commis Chef at the Hilton Hotel in Durban. Over his two years there, he moved through the ranks until he was appointed Chef de Partie.
“I was part of the Opening Team which was a great experience,” he remembers.
He followed the head chef of this establishment to Cardiff to open the Cardiff Hilton in Wales as a Chef De Partie. After submerging himself in Welsh Culture for a spell, he headed in a completely different direction, joining the six-star Crystal Symphony Cruise Liner, also as a Chef De Partie.
“After two years, I realised that it was time to hang up my sea legs and come home. My next port of call was Cape Town where I took on my first Head Chef position at Villa Belmonte Boutique Hotel, “he recalls.
During the five years he spent there, he again moved through the ranks, eventually becoming Executive Chef and adding the Leinster Hall Restaurants to the hotel’s portfolio.
A massive change followed when, in 2008, he decided to start his own company along with his wife Emma who he describes as his “rock and driving force”.
Gordon Manuel Food Services was born and the couple opened The Venue @ South Hill. Gordon prepared all the dishes in an open plan kitchen while Emma managed the front of house.
“For a chef, opening the doors to your own restaurant is an amazing experience,” he admits.
But, it was the first gourmet restaurant in the Elgin Valley and regarded as a real risk by many.
“Everyone said it will never work but we always knew that it would. Now, 11 years down the line, Elgin has become a destination with lots of great restaurants. I really do think that we were instrumental in the success of the Elgin Valley,” he says.
After five years, the couple moved on to Gordon’s Country Kitchen. Still based in Elgin, they set out to create a restaurant with a French country house feel. Over the next two years, they added gourmet styled catering events to their business model before making the most of another exciting opportunity at the The Pool Room @ Oak Valley.
This added a whole new dimension, Manuel explains. The focus was sustainability with all the beef and pork sourced from the Oak Valley Estate. The menu also showcased locally grown produce from the Overberg area.
Whilst operating The Pool Room, the Manuels worked with the Endless Group on a consulting basis. Then an opportunity to join the group emerged.
“It was too good to pass up. It is such a beautiful estate with so much on offer – from accommodation to events to dinning. Now we are going all in! I am so looking forward to a very long and successful relationship with the Endless Group,” he says.
Looking back, he says his career has been a wonderful journey during which he has learnt, discovered and grown. “I wouldn’t change a single thing.”
Manuel will begin putting his own stamp on the group’s kitchens from May by prioritising both traceability and sustainability as he continues to promote the sourcing of fresh ingredients from local growers in the Elgin and Overberg areas.
He also intends sharing as much knowledge as possible with up and coming young chefs.
Manuel has been married for 12 years and has two daughters – Luci (11) and Mia (8). Although he is adamant that family is a priority, he admits that keeping it that way is not always easy for a couple that is working most weekends. His in laws step in to fill the gap, however.
So, what is the secret of his success? “Waking up every day and trying to be better than the day before. I set out to learn something new every day and try to surround with positive influences,” he replies.