school holidays, I was always busy in the kitchen baking cakes and cookies for my grandmother. Even as I grew older, I was always making something for dinner before my mom came home from work. I’ve always loved exploring food and different tastes and textures. By the time I went to high school, I knew that cooking was the only thing I wanted to pursue,” she recalls.
Reach for the Stars
After graduating from the Prue Leith Chef’s Academy in Centurion, she contacted overseas chefs whom she admired, including Nico Ladenis, for career guidance. Something in her letter appealed to the Michelin-star chef, who offered her a position as commis chef in the kitchen of his restaurant, Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane, in London, before moving on to Gidleigh Park with Michael Caines in Devon. She spent 18 months working in the United Kingdom and learning from these chefs whom she admired. “I had a wonderful time getting the necessary hands-on training that is required to run your own restaurant,” she admits.
Upon her return to South Africa, Cobus du Plessis saw the potential in her, and helped her realise her dream of establishing a restaurant – thanks to his unconditional financial and creative support. She opened Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient Boutique Hotel in the Francolin Conservancy just west of Pretoria in 2006, and hasn’t looked back since.
Restaurant Mosaic was one of the Eat Out Top Ten Restaurants 2008 and Dine Top Ten Restaurants 2008, and has gone on to win several other awards annually. “I am proud of what we have achieved at Restaurant Mosaic in such a short period of time.” Chantel describes her cuisine as modern European with nuances of the East. “My roots remain French, as this is an approach to cooking that has appealed to me from the start.”
Clarity of Vision
During the two-year period that Cobus was busy with the building, renovating and décor of the Orient and Restaurant Mosaic, Chantel says she had ample time to work through all the business plans. “I had exact strategies and year-to-year planning in place for the opening of the restaurant, which we were able to implement with the necessary rewards within the first few months of opening,” she reveals.
As Head Chef of Restaurant Mosaic, she was in a position to create a dining experience that would involve all the senses in an environment where guests could escape from everyday reality. “From the inception of Mosaic, art, architecture and tranquil, well-kept surroundings have played an equal role to food and wine in our complete dining experience. For me, it is important to captivate my patrons with not only the flavours, texture, beauty and elegance of the food and the wine we carefully select to complement the dish, but also to focus on the environment in which the patron sits down to enjoy the meal. This is one of the reasons we chose the name ‘Mosaic’. Besides, I have always been a great admirer of artist Gustav Klimt and his mosaic works of art,” she explains.
Chantel says that, as a businesswoman, it is vital to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and to be sure that your team knows what that vision is – your vision must also be their vision. “Don’t look for instant successes or rewards – building a reputation takes a lot of passion, hard work and time,” she notes. To this day, Chantel works a six-day week, Tuesdays through Sundays, only taking Mondays off.
“In any working environment, it is important to be surrounded by people who share your passion, which I am, but, more importantly, I have a phenomenal support system and a team that has worked hard to make Restaurant Mosaic the success it is today. I strongly believe that innovation, quality, consistency, and being true to my personal vision of what we want to create at Mosaic are the cornerstones of our success,” she notes.
Besides the success of the restaurant, Chantel believes that it is very important to find a balance in life, and she ensures that, when she has time off, she spends quality time with her loved ones. “I am in the fortunate position of being able to travel abroad at least once a year during our annual breaks and of finding new inspiration in the markets, restaurants and cultures of the countries I explore.”
Last year Chantel had the privilege to visit Lyon, in France, and study at the feet of great Master Chef Paul Bocuse at his Institute of Culinary Arts. She made the most of her trip, not only frequenting some of the top Michelin restaurants, but also getting to cook with other well-known chefs, including Guy Lassausaie, the two-star Michelin Chef.
“I passionately envision the future of Restaurant Mosaic as growing into an ever-evolving gastronomic experience. I have been invited by some of the most prominent wine makers and chateau owners of Bordeaux to pair up with acclaimed chef Francois Adamski during the prestigious Taste of Bordeaux event to be held in June, where we will be cooking a degustation menu for their high-profile guests. I will also be travelling to Spain and Hungary for more inspiration. I am so excited about these trips and hope to return brimming with fresh ideas for the next few years,” she enthuses.
Recipe for Success
In 2009, at the tender age of 28, Chantel Dartnall became the youngest chef ever to claim the Prudential Eat Out Chef of the Year Award. This year sees her award-winning Restaurant Mosaic celebrate its fifth anniversary. The secret ingredient in her recipe for success? Passion, a clear vision and hard work.
Chantel had always dreamt of having a restaurant of her own where she could have complete creative freedom to live out her passion for cuisine. “My great-grandfather was a chef, and so I maintain that cooking is in my veins and that it has always come quite naturally to me,” she explains.
Her earliest memory of being in the kitchen goes back to being a small girl in Grade 1 and volunteering to pack the family’s lunchboxes, which she then did with great excitement. “During
by Laura Franz-Kamissoko