Since following his heart to South Africa more than a decade ago, British chef Francis Hegarty has been cooking up a storm in Kimberley, currently as executive Sous Chef at the Flamingo Casino.
The 36-year-old fell into his career by accident, when, as a 16-year-old, a two-week schoolwork experience saw him placed in a hotel kitchen. “I had not even thought about the food industry, but I loved it from day one,” Hegarty said. “The Hotel offered me a job as a trainee chef when I left school.”
Hegarty went on to complete City and Guild’s level one and two in food preparation and cooking and holds an Advanced Diploma in food preparation and cookery supervision from the Birmingham College of Food. He garnered experience in many of the City’s hotels before immigrating to South Africa, where he has worked in most of Kimberley’s larger hospitality establishments over the years, leaving briefly for a stint as head chef at a resort in the Drakensburg for two years. Hegarty was working at an Up-market steak house in the town before he re-joined Flamingo Casino in his current role early last year, shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“We have had to adapt to reduced opening hours, staff reductions and lower occupancies, and smaller menus. With the recent third wave of infections, business was affected with earlier closures, but as a team we have pulled together to get through this difficult time.”
Hegarty said that since Covid-19, many casino guests preferred to order food to take home to eat. “Take-aways have definitely increased,” he said of business at the Casino’s Harvest Grill & Wine Restaurant. The popular steakhouse fits Hegarty’s style of cooking, as he enjoys working with meat.
He describes his signature dinner party dish as Beef Wellington, “it’s always a winner”, while his six-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter’s requests include pancakes, French toast or any of his pasta dishes.
“A food trend in 2021 is experimenting with new oils in cooking, whether for health benefits, flavour benefits or both. Some new ones to try including pumpkin seed oil, sunflower seed oil and avocado oil, also trends will go towards comfort and simplicity. This is due to the pandemic, and everyone looking for a sense of comfort and normalcy.”
In the kitchen, his essential tools are a sharp knife and a good non-stick pan, and he cannot cook without salt and pepper, herbs, spices and butter.
“I had a bad experience with shellfish when I was younger and still don’t eat it. I am a fan of a good braai especially when there’s pap and sauce.” With curry a big favourite in England, it is no surprise that Hegarty enjoys a visit to his favourite Indian restaurant when returning home, which is well overdue.
“Being a chef, we don’t experience the holidays like a normal person, so when I got to spend Christmas lunch with my family two years ago, it was very memorable. I made a three-course meal including stuffed turkey and a leg of lamb with all the trimmings.”
Hegarty’s proudest moment in his career was being asked by a pork supplier to host demos at a food show at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg. “My slots were in-between TV celebrities, which was quite a special experience.”
“Gordon Ramsay is a chef that I really look up to – he is a brilliant chef and I love the way he has so much passion for what he does.”
In his spare time, Hegarty enjoys spending time with family and friends, listening to music and when he has time, loves to travel and also enjoys watching sport especially rugby.