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Wed Apr 23 17:27:29 SAST 2014

Andrea Burgener re-enters the food fray with The Leopard in Parkhurst

Sue de Groot | 31 October, 2011 00:27
Andrea Burgener and husband Nicholas Gordon are undaunted by the odds stacked against new restaurants in Johannesburg

Restaurateur Andrea Burgener tells Sue de Groot why the food business is scary, and why she loves it

The Leopard in Parkhurst is your fourth restaurant, but you've had a break from the business since you ran Deluxe in Auckland Park. What made you go back to it?

I have no idea. I don't know why anyone would go into the restaurant business unless you are driven to. Call it a compulsion; maybe it's the only way I know how to earn a living, or maybe I just can't help myself. Friends have been calling to congratulate me on The Leopard, and I say to them: "Would you be congratulating someone who managed to give up heroin and then went back on it after being in rehab?" No? Well that's what it's like for me. I wish I loved something else more, but as hard as it is, this is what I love doing most.

You and your husband Nicholas Gordon are working together again: is that a frightening prospect?

Well, maybe in some ways. We met at art school and then again when we were both working for Braam Kruger at Kitchenboy in Troyeville, then we got married and started Superbonbon. Because Nick knew I was desperate to run my own restaurant, he agreed to go in with me. It was different then. We didn't have children. We worked six days a week from 9am till midnight, and on Sundays from 9am to 5pm, and that felt completely normal. All our friends would come to the restaurant, and even though we were running a business, it felt like a big party.

Nick worked in animation after that, and then we decided to do this. He was travelling a lot before, so now we see each other more, which is great. He handles the business side and I do the food, and we take it in turns to be with our children (three, six and eight). The scary thing is the risk, now that we have kids and a bond and adult responsibilities, as well as being responsible for our staff.

What's a restaurateur's biggest fear?

That you won't physically be able to get the food out of the kitchen. I've always worked in big kitchens before and this one is tiny, so I've had to revise the way I cook.

I used to do some preparation before and some during service, but because of space constraints we now have to do all the prep before service, which means a balancing act in terms of stock control, because you don't want to throw loads of stuff away, and we can't keep it. I've had to tweak the menu, because we can't have our deep-fryer and our grill on at the same time. Because we don't have much storage space we have to get more frequent deliveries, and again that means predicting what you will need ... but I have learned that, no matter how well you prepare, you can't control people or food.

What frightening experiences have you had in the food business?

The night Kitchenboy opened, Braam was still playing Frisbee in the road with his dog Tarzan at 7pm and we were having this gala opening at 8pm. Some tables waited four hours for their food. There was an oil fire in the kitchen and there was no extractor fan, there was smoke everywhere ... things don't get much scarier than that. It taught me to think on my feet.

I've also had some catering disasters. When you're cooking off-site so much can go wrong. Once I was serving noodles in individual bowls to 150 guests, and we hadn't brought any colanders to drain the noodles. I sent people off with instructions to bring back colanders, and they came back with a bag of coriander.

Were there any glitches when you were setting up The Leopard?

Many! It was a funny old antique shop that we gutted completely, and putting it back together was a nightmare. The façade was built elsewhere and turned out to be the wrong size so it had to be remade by another craftsman, the first tables had legs of different lengths ... we're still running around buying more plates and things we hadn't anticipated needing.

What's the reward in all this?

It is wonderful when you can serve food you're happy with, made with quality ingredients. I serve the kind of things I like to eat, and I want to offer something that you can't get at a dozen other restaurants. I'm not trying to be funky or trendy - everything I make is based on classics, I don't just dream things up. My menu is small and dictated by what's available from producers.

There have been requests for dishes from my previous restaurants, like quail, which is on the menu at the end of the week, and my home-cured, half-toasted duck is adapted from a recipe of Braam's, but most things are new. The funny thing is that I feel more like a beginner now than I did 10 years ago. I still make some of the same dishes, but the quality of my ingredients is vastly better. The more you learn about food, the more you realise there is to learn.

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Wed Apr 23 17:27:29 SAST 2014 ::