Chefs Charmaine Lehabe and Thandeka Nhlapo are the founders of the recently established The Squared Experience – a private fine dining company based in Gauteng. The two, who recently got engaged, met at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Pretoria, where they spent all their free time discussing and planning a business that they could run together after their graduation.
“I already had a background in the industry,” says Lehabe. “I started my career as a Commis Chef at ASH Restaurant in Cape Town (which later became Riverine Rabbit), but I wanted to seal the deal with a qualification to further myself and get more knowledge and experience.”
After graduating, Lehabe and Nhlapo, both fans of fine dining and molecular gastronomy, set their plans in motion and started The Squared Experience, offering a private fine dining service to individuals and companies keen to impress their guests with a gastronomic experience.
Starters include Burrata Caprese Salad (burrata sphere, tomato jam, basil tuile, dehydrated onions, tomato skins and balsamic dressing) a Lemon & Herb Chicken for mains (herb pasta, chicken, poultry crackling, lemon chilli butter aioli and ginger foam) and a Rooibos & Lavender Creme Brûlée to round things off (served with rooibos caviar, a thyme sugar disc, dehydrated orange slices and honey crumble).
So what is it like working together? “It’s amazing,” says Lehabe, “Somehow we always have the same thoughts when it comes to the food and the plating of it. We bring different strengths to the table which always works out and we are both perfectionists in our craft. We are always willing to learn more and try out new things and we are both business oriented which is really useful.”
While Lehabe and Nhlapo clearly work well together, they do have some different tastes – here, they chat about their culinary preferences:
What three things are always in your fridge at home?
Lehabe: Micro herbs, chicken, tomatoes.
Nhlapo: Fresh herbs, garlic and bacon
If you had to prepare a meal for five people what would it be and who would you invite?
Lehabe: I’d make mogodu (tripe), pig trotters and chicken feet and turn it into a fine dining meal, something the guests wouldn’t expect. I want to put South African food on the map and get it well known and appreciated, just as is the case with French, Italian or Asian cuisine. As far as guests go, I would invite Chef Eoin Shiell (although he would dislike the tripe), Chef Ash Heeger, Chef Luke Dale Roberts, Chef JT Mulry and Chef Vusi Ndlovu.
Nhlapo: I would make my black and blue dessert which has a squid ink espuma sponge, a black sesame tile, black salt and blue lavender ice cream with a blueberry crème patisserie, and I’d share it with Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay, Rihanna, Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian West.
What do you not like to eat?
Lehabe: I don’t like beetroot and pumpkin. I know they are great vegetables but they’re not for me. I am also allergic to some nuts, especially hazelnuts.
Nhlapo: I am not a big fan of coconut.