Twenty-three-year-old Durban resident Karen Pillay, who today is F&B Manager at Breakers Resort in Umhlanga, first discovered her love for food while working in the US. “My interest in food began during my time as an au pair in the States, where I met and became friends with other au pairs from around the world and got to experience many different cultures.
“Every now and then we would meet up as a group and prepare a traditional dish from our home country and share the meal. This got me cooking a lot more creatively than usual because my access to the same ingredients I would have used back home weren’t always available.”
During her second year of living in the US, Pillay undertook a cooking and catering diploma and, on her return to South Africa, signed up for a food and preparation diploma at Capsicum’s Durban campus.
She was placed in a restaurant called Katmandu in Ballito for her six-month placement training. “After my term was done, I was offered a job as the head pastry chef, which was crazy because I hadn’t studied pastry, and later I was promoted to sous chef and then, a few months later, to executive chef.”
Pillay says that while working in the kitchen, she also spent a lot of time learning and getting more involved in other aspects of the restaurant industry and not just the food part.
Following the unfortunate closure of Katmandu due to COVID-19, Pillay was offered a job as the head chef at Beachwood Country Club, but was not there for long before she was approached by the previous owner of Katmandu who asked her to join him at Breakers Resort as the food and beverage manager.
“This meant a step out of my comfort zone of the kitchen, but I now get to learn so much more that the industry has to offer,” she says. “This industry is not a ‘fake it till you make it’ industry; it is very much a proactive job and requires a lot of time, dedication and passion. I’ve always maintained that if you really have a passion for this and enjoy it, then pursue it.”
So where does this ambitious chef see herself in five years time? “I definitely see myself consulting and creating new establishments and working hand in hand with investors bringing their vision to life in our industry from food to beverage to service and maybe even accommodation,” she says.
What would be your last meal? Anything my mom makes.
What do you not eat? Anchovies and Marmite.
If you had to cook dinner for five famous people, who would they be and what would you make them? Gregory Czarnecki, Luke Dale Roberts, Jordi Roca, Gaggan Anand and Bryson Tiller; and I’d make them a signature pork belly dish of mine.
Favourite kitchen utensil and why? Kitchen Aid mixer – I don’t have enough patience to reach a stiff peak without complaining.
Favourite celebrity cook? Gordon Ramsay of course!