This past week our Jozi foodie Jem Williams spoke with Chef Nikita Zouli and here’s what they got to talking about:
1. J. Rabbit Tequilaria, where you are currently the head chef, offers one of the largest
selections of tequila in South Africa while continually serving delicious South American
food. How do you go about pairing the sharp flavours of tequila with your food?
With regard to to the food at J.Rabbit we went completely traditional, with only one
outlandish dish to be honest. As with the flavours of tequila is not what everybody
thinks. Tequila comes in 3 main variations being blanco/plata:silver, reposado:gold
and anejo: aged(black) with each variation comes a new set of flavours and each
house has different distilling methods so the flavours are quite complex. In relation to
the food south american cuisine relies on absolute freshness and outright flavour
everything accentuates everything there is not one part of your taste that is left
2. You have also worked as the head chef of The Whippet, which has recently
undergone some menu and decor transformations, and is set to open a new branch in
Melville. How do you stay ahead of the ever changing food scene in Jozi? Staying
ahead is not about going with the trent its about setting them, there are so many man
hours and teasing and playing that goes into a simple menu change, weeks upon
weeks of trying cooking methods that are not only new but flavour pairings and design
that, still need to keep the customers happy new and old, and still fit into the aesthetic of
your food haven.
3. You currently work at Septimo, the Whippet, and J. Rabbit Tequilaria. How do you
spread your time between each restaurant to ensure that each restaurant is given
enough attention? Do you find that something has to give? I would love to say i work
all 3 at the same time, but i dont i do however shift my interests around alot and learn
every step of the way. I opened both Septimo and J.Rabbit but i was at The Whippet in
between them. As culinary superheroes we do wear our capes in the front but heading
3 restaurants is a feat of the Gods. In saying that each has their own trails and
personalities. From septimo being a lunch and dinner semi fine dining where hours are
restricted to a mall, and Whippet, being breakfast and lunch more family time
orientated place and J.Rabbit being more bar with food, each has had their own set of
lessons and challenges. When entering this profession you learn there is always
sacrifice but never sacrifice: quality for speed, or speed for quality.
4. One of your restaurants, the Whippet, was named as one of Eat Out’s 500 Best
Restaurants of 2019. What separates ‘award winning’ restaurants from others? I
unfortunately had already left there but when i was with them they were still in the eat
out 500, so i can weigh in on this, the way to be great is constant innovations, its
keeping the regulars coming and for them to bring their friends, its not just about what
you put on the plate its about what gets sent back and what goes with it. 5 senses and
every one of them must be stimulated to be the best.
5. What has been the most exciting part of your culinary career? The most exciting has
been being able to do what i love everyday. I’ve cooked for international superstars like
Foo Fighters, Bruce Springsteen, Sir Richard Branson, to name a few but it doesn’t
matter if you sing to millions or worth billions, what matters is that foodgasm you can
bring people from that first kiss of food that your hands and knowledge has prepared. Its
an exciting career and i love every second of it.
to find out more about Chef Nikita Zoulis follow any of the links below:
If you would like to find out more from our Jozi Foodie you can follow her or visit her website:
About Adventures of A College Foodie
Jemma Williams is a twenty-one-year-old university student balancing psychology,
philosophy, and pastry. Fuelled by caffeine and a love for all things foodie.