The meteoric rise of Chef Geoffrey Abrahams

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Cape Town chef Geoffrey Abrahams has a CV many would be envious of – time spent working in Dubai, stints at award-winning restaurants such as La Colombe and Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia and now co-Head Chef of Mazza at LOCAL.

So it comes as a surprise that even though Abrahams’ interest in food started at a young age, he had no real interest in getting into the hospitality industry and instead opted to study photography.

It was only after graduating from photography school in 2013 that the 28-year-old Abrahams, who hails from Ottery in Cape Town, decided to change career paths and enrolled at Capsicum Culinary Studio for a Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking.

“I was always curious what chefs do and what their lives are like,” he says, “so I decided to find out by getting involved.”

“I was very eager to learn and get into the industry as fast as possible. Capsicum was great, the lecturers were very informative and I studied under Chef Ashton Robertson who has a wealth of knowledge.”

Since graduating at the end of 2014, Abrahams has not looked back and his rise in the industry has been nothing short of meteoric.

While at Capsicum, his placement was under Chef Dane Newton at Warwick Wine Estate which he says was a huge learning experience of how to prep high numbers and work fast. After Warwick he moved to the President Hotel which he recalls “was challenging as I had to navigate an entire dinner grill section on my own, with very little prior experience. That was where I really learned to run and just go.”

A 12-month stint at La Colombe followed and marked Abrahams’ introduction to the world of fine dining.

“Realising how behind I was in the fine dining experience; I was forced to push myself to survive which I relished doing. It definitely stands out as a highlight in my journey.”

At the start of 2016, Abrahams moved to Dubai to open Chef Virgilio Martinez’s Peruvian restaurant Lima Dubai, an opportunity which he relished as it not only gave him the chance to work in a new country, but also presented him with an entirely new culinary experience.

“Learning about Peruvian culture and food gave me a great appreciation for fresh, vibrant flavours, and is something that has influenced the way I eat and cook today,” he says.

In 2018 he moved back to South Africa and started working at Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia under Head Chef Ivor Jones, formerly of The Test Kitchen.

“I grew a huge amount at Beau and really come into my own by understanding senior roles in the kitchen. Chef Ivor pushed me incredibly hard, which I am so grateful for as it forced me to be better and accept better.”

In August last year, acclaimed restaurateur Liam Tomlin offered Abrahams – along with Durban chef Teenola Govender – the opportunity to open Mazza at LOCAL, which he grabbed with both hands.

Says Abrahams: “We were given the task of opening a modern Middle Eastern restaurant that would pay homage and respect to an ancient and proud culture as well as being affordable to everyone as we were still suffering under COVID-19 restrictions.”

Due to open in Beirut in 2020, events of that year meant launching the eatery upstairs in LOCAL at Heritage Square instead.

“We opened our doors on 18 December, 2020 and it’s been a great success so far. We offer a range of dishes with an aromatic melange of authentic flavours, that can be ordered to share or individually from our menu,” he says.

A glance at Mazza’s short but exotic menu shows a range of mouth-watering dishes such as raw beef kibbeh, with toum, barberries and curry leaf oil; mussels with citrus tea, Baharat oil, apricots and pine nuts and Turkish lamb kofta with mint labneh. Being Middle Eastern, there’s also a good range of vegetarian and vegan dishes such as roasted aubergine with hawaij, whipped tahini and raisin puree and smoked cauliflower with bastourma, pistachio and yoghurt. A small selection of desserts rounds off the menu.

Where does Abrahams see himself in five years’ time?

“Hopefully Mazza grows in strength and we’re able to expand but, to be honest, this opportunity has come to me earlier than expected in my life so right now I am just focusing on Mazza and growing it to the best it can be.”

Before Abrahams can rush off back to the kitchen to prepare for service, he answered a few quick-fire questions and shared a quick, simple recipe.

Name five things always in your fridge or pantry

Olive oil. Garlic. Red Chillies. Whiskey. Thyme.

What would be your last meal?

Traditional Peruvian ceviche.

If you had to cook dinner for five famous people (dead or alive), who would they be and what would you make them?

Marco Pierre-White – my mom’s chicken curry; Sir Alex Ferguson – lamb tagine; Angus Young – egg fried rice; Anthony Bourdain – snoek braai; Stan Lee – southern fried spicy chicken sando.

Finally – can you share with us an easy-to-make recipe

Here’s my recipe for a quick, delicious Spicy Garlic Chicken Wings Sauce

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

Blend all ingredients together and simmer in a pot for 20-30mins before drenching over a dish of hot, cooked chicken wings.

Mazza is located at Heritage Square, Shortmarket St., Cape Town and is open 12:00-21:00 Monday to Saturday. No reservations