10 Jan People of Jozi – Chef Sylvester from Da Vinci Hotel
In the bustling heart of Sandton, lies the hidden gem that is the Maximillien restaurant. Conveniently located in the da Vinci Hotel, this hot spot is well known by locals and internationals alike for not only its creative and inspired menu, but also for its beautiful, old school New York inspired décor and views out over the hustle and bustle of the Sandton streets below.
The man behind the culinary creativity and menu revolution at The Maximillien is none other than Durban born chef, Sylvester Nair – who has culinary blood in his veins. His father is a well-known chef and Sylvester spent much time in the kitchen at the hotels that his dad worked at when he was a youngster.
What is the most challenging aspect about this industry?
For me, moving from a banqueting kitchen to a five-star kitchen was a massive adjustment, and also moving from French fine dining to a la carte service too, but it doesn’t take long – a few weeks and you are back in the groove.
Another challenge that I, particularly, faced was being so young in the industry and battling to make a name for myself – luckily now that I am slightly older, people know who I am, and my name precedes me now.
By that token, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
It has to be the smile on a guest face when they have the first, or last bite of their meal – they are happy and that makes me happy. I also love to see my staff happy. They cook because they love it, sometimes I just stand back and watch them – they are literally like an orchestra together. It’s beautiful.
Your favourite dish on the menu?
It is always and will always be my butter chicken curry – it’s better than my dad’s!
Tell us about the new menu – what can people expect?
We went from a French bistro style menu to a New York style menu, modelled on the Balthazar in New York, and it’s a very different menu. It includes some typically American items like sticky wings and pork ribs, and then more local dishes like oxtail and a lamb shank done in pastry which is a take of sorts on a Beef Wellington – but always five star in preparation and presentation. The DAVINCI lounge menu has also had a revamp – it’s South African So-Ho – with a very cool local vibe.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Be humble. I got that from my dad, of course. Work hard and treat people with respect – you can’t come straight out of college and behave like Gordon Ramsey, you have to work for your place, like the older chefs above you worked for theirs. I actually have this tattooed on my chest, so that I will never forget.
A word of advice for young chefs?
Listen more and talk less. Get on with others – being a chef is similar to many other industries too, it’s all about team work, and not about “I”.
Do you ever have a day off?
Yes on Sunday – I am on the Morning Show on E-Tv on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, live from 06h00 – 08h00 so I do quite a lot of prep work and I get up really early to be in studio. But I am young, and it’s fun. We laugh a lot and do crazy things.
I also like to create new dishes and play around in the kitchen when I am off, so, always food.
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
I want people to come to the Maximillien? Laughs loudly… No really, it’s the emerald in the Queen’s crown. Oh, and watch my show – it’s on point.
Follow Chef on Instagram: @ChefSylvesterNair
A: Corner Maude and 5th Street, Sandton
T: 011 292 7000