We love meeting chefs and we love traveling. Our interview with Timothy Bruyns is our way of combining the two.
Tim grew up in South Africa and was close to completing a degree at UCT before he switched to cooking. After qualifying as a chef and training in various 5 star kitchens, he worked at various luxury destinations. It’s his love of travel and his passion for food that led to Tim opening Tiger’s Eye in Cambodia.
Grab a cup of coffee and join us as we get to know Tim better.
Q) How did you end up in the industry?
A) I matriculated from a school where success was seen as going to university and getting a degree. As much as I always had the desire to express myself and a love for food, it was always something that I was led to believe was something you did when you couldn’t cut it at university or for those who weren’t capable of more and so I started studying at UCT and after almost one year of hating every second I decided to take some time off to travel and ended up working around Europe as a waiter and ended up meeting passionate professional people pushing what they do. I went back to UCT to study again and again after not being able to sit still or study and being in a position I felt unable to express myself I decided on my 22nd birthday to follow my dream and enrolled at The Hurst Campus, then still The Culinary Academy. From there I have been in kitchens for the past 13 years.
Q) What’s your favourite dish to cook?
I don’t have a favourite dish to cook so much as my favourite thing to make fresh pasta. Most of the dishes I prepare these days are combinations of components all with their own ideas, recipes and processes. Making pasta from scratch is almost meditative, working through the processes, of combining raw ingredients, to rolling through trying to make it better every time. Most of what I love about cooking is starting off with raw ingredients refining each time I make something striving to make it better than the time.
Q) And your favourite dish to eat?
Confit duck leg. I could eat kgs of it. One chef I worked under refused to let me work with it because I would end up eating most of it.
Q) What’s the one ingredient you could never live without?
Eggs. One of my favourite cook books is by Michel Roux and is titled simply Eggs. Over a hundred recipes from sweet to savoury incorporating eggs. Such a versatile ingredient, from the yolk to the white to the shell, sweet or savoury. As the star of the show or the glue that holds a dish together.
Q) Tell us about a day in your life
I generally wake up around 5 in the morning and take my dog for a jog through the parks close to where I live. Get home and showered to be at the restaurant around 6:30 – 6:45 where I have my first cup of coffee… our coffee beans are sourced locally and my guys make the best coffee in Phnom Penh. This give me the time to go through the sales from the previous day and to outline any changes to the menu or new dishes to try. Around 7:30 I take one of my guys and go to the fresh markets to get most of our vegetables and proteins for the day and to look what I can find that is a little different to start working through. After going to the same markets for 3 years now I feel I have built up a solid relationship with most of the stall owners and anytime I need something different they are happy to source for me. Also it helps now that I am not charged foreigner prices. By 8:30 – 9:00 we are back at the restaurant and I work through till around 14:00 when I take a break for the afternoon. I am back at the restaurant around 16:30 to set up for dinner service which usually ends around 21:30 – 22:00 when I go home. On quieter nights my guys usually kick me out a little earlier because according to them I am getting old and need the rest. We are closed on Sundays
Q) Who is your chef mentor?
That is a tough question. I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with some amazing chefs and the right people at the right stages of my career to help push me forward
My grandmother and father while I was growing up who instilled a love of food and cooking in me.
Rebecca Hurst and Grant Kennedy at The Hurst Campus who gave me my introduction into what is required to be a chef and the basic skills required to start my career
Under Chef Edgar Osojnick at Buitenverwachting in Constantia where I spent my first 2 years in a kitchen who beat discipline, pride, determination and most importantly technique into me. He is still one of the most technically proficient chefs I have worked under and having had the opportunity to have worked through every section it is the foundation of what I do and how I see food and kitchens and what it means to be a chef.
Clinton Drake who gave me an opportunity and believed in me when I didn’t and gave me the confidence to believe in myself and push forward with my own vision.
And the last major influence is Neil Wager who I worked with in the Seychelles and in Cambodia opening up a high end boutique island resort. After years of working on techniques and ideas Neil helped me distill everything down into a coherent philosophy. I have never met a chef with as delicate a touch and the ability to look at things from a different perspective to work through problems and achieve solutions. I feel that working with him was almost a finishing school, helping to polish myself and my food.
Q) How would you describe your cooking style?
The majority of what I cook at The Tigers Eye is probably best described as Progressive Asian. Although it might be described as contextually relevant produce driven cuisine. I believe that the best quality and freshest produce will always be that found in the area surrounding where you are, the aspect of everything around is what has led to certain crops thriving in certain areas and as I am in South East Asia and more specifically Cambodia the produce here; lemongrass, fresh coconut milk, fresh green peppercorns, white cardamom, the banana plant from which we use the stem and blossoms in salads and soups, the fruit for a variety of applications, the leaves to wrap and bbq. Rice from Cambodia has won for last year best rice in the world. The list goes on. Also important for me is the idea of methods of preparation and technique to best be able to promote and highlight the produce and dishes as a whole. I try not to limit myself and on one plate there are classical European techniques, modernist methods and traditional Asian preparations. All as long as it adds value to the final product and helps to put forward a plate of food with integrity and deliciousness. If you can satisfy emotionally and engage intellectually you are winning.
Q) Do you have any tips for the foodie who loves to cook for friends?
There are so many things I could say but probably to make sure that you enjoy the experience of eating with your friends is to make sure that looking at the menu that you want to put forward for you friends is balanced in terms of dishes that can be prepared ahead of time (salads, or slow cooked dishes, the dessert) to make sure that you can enjoy the evening by only having a small amount of cooking and time in the kitchen. The worst thing is having to hide away from your guests throwing everything together at once.
Q) What’s the biggest kitchen disaster you’ve had to face?
Defrosted walk-in fridges and freezers due to power failures on islands and in the middle of the bush. When your ordering is limited to every two weeks and you have to deal with managing stock in a rapidly heating fridge and freezer is a nightmare. Especially in that in those types of locations you are feeding all of the staff as well as guests. Its only happened to me twice but I still remember those being the most trying of times
Next week we’ll share Part 2.
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