Meeting Paul van't Hof and Courtney-Ann Lawry is like a proverbial breath of fresh air; or to use a more apt, cooking metaphor, a taste of a rather wonderful seafood bisque…or a lightly salted caramel tart… or a...
This delightful young couple is the face of Devour Chef Works & Eatery, a dynamic new Chef Works - aka a bespoke catering company launched by them in Cape Town in November 2014. If, ultimately, their success matches their dynamism, hard work and commitment to the integrity of their dishes and ingredients, (seasonal, fresh, where possible locally sourced), they will take the local culinary world by storm.
What gives this young team particular credibility is that, unlike a lot of today’s 'designer' chefs, who decide they fancy the idea of doing a 'little bit of cooking' and play at running a restaurant, Paul and Courtney have grafted – learnt their trade the hard way, been mentored, travelled widely and worked as jobbing chefs in pursuit of the best set of skills and expertise they can possibly acquire.
Combined with an admirable work ethic, engaging personalities and creative energy, it is the perfect storm.
Following studies in hospitality, a very overarching course which included a modicum of cookery, Knysna native Paul’s conduit to present day has been a conscientious one. He worked the cruise liners, and then took himself to the UK, where he was employed and also 'staged', (worked for free, effectively), in a number of high ranking London restaurants including Gordon Ramsay’s Maze under Jason Atherton. A spell in Australia followed, during which he worked in eminent Sydney restaurants Quay and Marque, after which the pull of home became too strong. It was at that point that his path converged with Courtney’s as the two were simultaneously employed at Zachary’s, Conrad Pezula Hotel and Spa. Their Executive Chef Geoffrey Murray proved a peerless coach – patient, meticulous, broad based and lacking in tantrum…a world away from the archetype!
Jo'burg born Courtney, for her part, was at Zachary’s undertaking the final practical experience of her highly esteemed Prue Leith training. Her original aspiration had been towards pastry, but she had nonetheless completed the circuit of cold kitchen, (starters), hot kitchen, (mains), and the ubiquitous dessert kitchen, and come to the realisation that her talents and interests lay more broadly.
Paul and Courtney, by now a couple, decided to try their hand in Cape Town. As this beautiful vibrant city has only recently been voted third best culinary city in the WORLD, behind San Sebastian and Paris, (Condé Nast Traveller, April 2015), their decision was prescient! They came at the right time, a time at which people’s taste buds are ever in search of new playgrounds, innovative experiences and challenges. Paul worked with foodie Megan Eloff, Courtney further cut her teeth at the now world famous Test Kitchen and the Pot Luck Club.
Finally, the two were ready to spread their culinary wings and branch out alone. In establishing Devour Chef Works & Eatery, their aspiration is to create a holistic food emporium, which is, in their words, ‘all about the experience ‘ – not just the food, but the atmosphere, the service, the ambiance, the before-and-after care. They adhere to the highest principles – they are not out to make a quick buck, and whilst they do of course charge for their considerable expertise and service, (it is a business, after all), all food and drink is charged to the client at cost. On the subject of comestibles, they use local suppliers and support local business as much as possible – for example, Cape Honey Bee for speciality veg. They work on the sound principle of only committing to do things they know they can do extremely well, rather than compromising and trying to be jack of all trades, master of none. They really do offer a bespoke service… intimate supper for two, dinner parties, birthdays, corporate entertaining… they limit the number to 40 persons, in order not to compromise their standards and integrity. They also offer a consultancy service, and have, for example, worked closely with the team at well known Mexican eatery El Burro.
Working as a couple, they say, has had its challenges inevitably, but the ying and yang is in place. Courtney is an 'organic' chef, (untidy!!), Paul highly organised… Paul worries more, Courtney stresses less… a great working balance has been achieved.
And where do they see themselves five years hence? Adhering to the same principles, continuing to explore the culinary landscape, bringing high quality food and service to their clients, and hopefully with an intimate 'Devour' deli/restaurant to complete the story. We wish them the very best!
Article by Carrie Turner, Communications at Engel & Völkers Cape Town