– Danie Keet.

Kyla van Niekerk, who hails from Stellenbosch, is only 22 years old but is already well on her way to becoming a talent to watch in the kitchen.

Now based on a farm in Franschhoek, Van Niekerk graduated from The Private Hotel School in Stellenbosch in 2019 and a year later finds herself working as a commis chef at Protégé restaurant under the leadership of head chef Jess van Dyk.

While on lockdown Van Niekerk spoke about her time at The Private Hotel School (TPHS) and her journey to the kitchen of Protégé.

 What course did you do at TPHS?
I did the AHA International Diploma in Food Preparation with the specialisation in culinary arts, as well as the Higher Certificate and Advanced Certificate in Hospitality Management. I also completed the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation.

What made you choose to study at TPHS?
I visited a lot of establishments and in the end my hospitality teacher in high school recommended it. I saw that TPHS was a smaller establishment which was perfect for me because that meant less students in class which lead to better quality in education. 

Kyla van Niekerk (22) who works as a commis chef at Protégé restaurant.

Kyla van Niekerk (22) who works as a commis chef at Protégé restaurant.

I loved the feel of “home” that the campus projected and everyone on the day of my visit was extremely professional and that impressed me very much. It showed me that I would be taught more than what was projected to us. While being consulted on what to except from the academic year it was very thorough, and I knew what would be expected of me and the work that will be done. 

Tell us about your journey from graduation to today
After graduating I did a six-month internship at Chef’s Warehouse at Maison and was fortunate enough to be asked to stay on as part of the permanent staff. I worked with Chef Dave Schneider for a year and he taught me a lot in that short time. After that I was offered a job at Château de la Creuzette, which is based in Boussac, France, where I was in charge of all the food preparation and menu development. This was an amazing experience and journey that I won’t forget. I got to experience the French culture and learned from chefs and bakers that have lived in the town for years. I was there for three months and then returned to SA and started working at Protégé. Chef Jess van Dyk has really taken me under her wing and the amount of techniques and food knowledge that I have learned from her is phenomenal. She is a very good leader and I am very fortunate to be working under her.

What are you doing to keep yourself occupied during lockdown?
I have been researching a few food techniques and replicate them to train myself in them, something which I think will be beneficial for my future. I also love baking different desserts and old classics that my grandmother used to bake for me. I also go running every morning with my dog, Daisy, to keep fit.

What have you learnt to cook or bake during lockdown?
I am gluten intolerant, so I have been experimenting with recipes on how to make them gluten-free, but still delicious. It is still a work in progress, but some recipes have come out great, such as scones and pancakes. My head chef also loves doing Instagram videos of dishes and I have replicated some of them – like her extremely fluffy pancakes and amazing grilled sandwiches.

Name three things you are going to do once lockdown ends.
I will definitely be having a big braai with my best friends and some of my work friends just to catch up and see them all after all the time missed while being on lockdown.

Going to a fine dining restaurant to experience excellent quality food.

Going back to work with a big smile on my face! I love the restaurant where I work and the people I work with. They are my second family and I have been missing them like crazy.

What would you like to be doing in five years’ time?
I would love to be a sous chef or a head chef of a fine dining restaurant. It will definitely be an Eat Out Top 30 restaurant. I don’t have the urge to open my own restaurant; I love working in restaurants that are already successful and have a good reputation. I would also love to be a private chef for an overseas family or a chef on a yacht.