Upholding the prestigious reputation of The Saxon’s Five Hundred restaurant comes second nature to Head Chef Candice Phillips, who took over the reins from David Higgs last year. Honing her craft while working under Higgs since 2011, Candice brings a wealth of talent and experience, not to mention a passion for food that awakens the senses – a gastronomic experience that five hundred has become synonymous with.

Behind the Chef’s open kitchen, Candice is very focused, yet maintains a calm demeanour even when under pressure. Clearly, she enjoys the challenge and takes pleasure in working closely with an enthusiastic team. Watching them in action, it’s plain to see the pride that goes into making and putting together every dish, which they take turns in presenting – a wonderful and personal way to engage with guests.

Walking with the soft-spoken chef around the hotel’s organic garden, her eyes light up when she talks about a flower, fruit or herb. Based on her vast knowledge of plants, she knows she’s blessed to be able to pick and choose which edible flower, herb or seasonal vegetable goes best with which dish. And they all come together in the four- and six-course menus, which are not just visually stunning – they are full of flavour and texture.

Candice was the only female chef selected to compete in the Global Chefs Challenge, and represented South Africa in last year’s Culinary Olympics in Germany. No doubt, she is moving in the right direction and carving a name for herself.

Tell us about your path to becoming a chef. How did you first become interested in cooking?

I’ve always been interested in cooking, and in the idea of owning and running my own restaurant one day. After High School I was introduced to a chef who recognised my passion and offered me the opportunity of a four-year apprenticeship. This was an amazing opportunity to go through chefs school while also working as a Chef at Gallagher in Johannesburg, a large corporate conferencing and event venue.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I enjoy thinking outside the box and find inspiration in many different things, including The Saxon’s vegetable garden. I try never to imitate but rather put my own interpretation into dishes. My thought process is really an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ kind of scenario.

You have a lovely organic garden. What are your favourite vegetables and fruits? Which ones are indigenous to South Africa?

I enjoy all fresh fruits and vegetables as ingredients. Celeriac and gooseberries are amongst my favourites. Ginger is also a favourite, which is always readily available in my kitchen. I use this in almost most of my dishes. We grow Gooseberries and African Horned Melon in The Saxon vegetable garden, and these are indigenous to South Africa. Butternut is also a vegetable which is uniquely South African and not easily sourced elsewhere.

What makes Five Hundred distinct from other gourmet dining experiences?

Five hundred is experimental and different. The restaurant offers fine dining within a relaxed environment, offering silver service without the pretence. It’s one of the few restaurants that are still rooted in the art of dining, with table interactions from the chefs.

What influence does South Africa’s culinary heritage have on food served at The Saxon’s restaurants?

Most of the ingredients used in our dishes are grown in The Saxon’s organic herb and vegetable garden. Our chefs are committed to promoting local produce, and our menus don’t offer traditional South African dishes. The overall experience which we create offers our guests an inventive culinary experience. The menus are constantly changing and being recreated.

You were the only female chef chosen to compete in the Global Chefs Challenge. What was the experience like?

It’s always great to experience working with people from different countries. As a chef it’s interesting to see how familiar ingredients taste and look once plated in other countries and climates. The experience taught me to improvise and think out of my comfort zone, and this has definitely grown me as a professional in the industry, with the ability to make do with any ingredient in any kitchen.

Where do you see the future of fine dining heading?

I’d say that fine dining is moving towards an increased use of organic and naturally sourced ingredients. Garden-fresh and locally grown ingredients are the future of dining.

How do you see South Africa’s place on the global culinary stage

The comments and reviews which we’ve received from our international guests are testament to the fact that The Saxon’s restaurants are of a global, award-winning standard. South African chefs have carved out a niche for themselves on the international culinary stage and we’ve managed to establish restaurants that offer international guests an authentic experience, but also offerings which locals can enjoy on a regular basis.

Five Hundred at TheSaxon

36 Saxon Road

Sandhurst 2196

Johannesburg

South Africa

+27 11 292 6000

www.saxon.co.za