Curious to meet the elusive man responsible for the culinary creations behind the scenes of the Galley Restaurant, I meet up with its head chef one afternoon. We sit down in his office, located in a far corner behind the kitchen. Obviously, he prefers not being in the spotlight. An air of quiet authority and industriousness surrounds him, and I almost feel guilty to distract him from his work.
Asked how he came to work at the Royal Cape Yacht Club’s Galley Restaurant, Chef Fagan Basson, laughing, says, “Well there was an ad on Gumtree saying ‘Looking for sous-chef’ and I applied!” And was it a good decision? “Certainly, yes. I love my job.” Working as a sous-chef under head chef Paul Harding for a year, Chef Fagan has taken over his position since July 2014. He currently works alongside sous-chef Justin Zietsman, and the two of them share a great passion for good food. “I really trust Justin. I can always rely on him. If one of us isn’t around, things tend to go wrong in the kitchen.” Chef Fagan usually starts working at 6 am, and he often ends up working extremely long hours, especially when there are big events, but his dedication to continuously improve the quality of the food keeps him going.
His love for cooking and baking was born watching his mother and grandmother (“Both fabulous cooks!”) preparing food for friends and family at their home in Tafelsig, Mitchell’s Plain, while growing up. Especially on Sundays, they conjured up marvelous confectionery together – a highlight of little Fagan’s childhood, I can tell, by the way his eyes light up as he recounts the story.
Gathering experience both in South Africa as well as overseas, Chef Fagan worked his way up since he was 17 (working for his local Pick ‘n Pay’s bakery and confectionery), driven by an insatiable desire to be the best at what he does and ultimately by his love of preparing beautiful, good, fresh food. In June 2014, he obtained a Culinary Arts diploma from the SA Chef’s Association, finishing top of his class, something he is very proud of.
He admits to being a strict chef and, though being an introvert, he does not shy away from applying discipline where it is needed in the kitchen. “The staff know me – they are sometimes even scared of me I think. But I cannot stress the importance of teamwork and discipline in the kitchen enough. If I don’t see to it, the food going out of this kitchen will reflect that.”
Having worked locally for places such as the CTICC’s Marimba restaurant, the Lord Charles Hotel, Asara wine estate, the Picnic Company and internationally for Royal Carribbean International as well as Sea Dream Yacht Club International – both 6* luxury cruise companies – he has literally been around the world.
Pride in what he does, his strive for excellence, hard work and discipline have helped him turn the Galley restaurant into a premier banqueting facility. He is very passionate when it comes to ideas for improvement. His vision for the restaurant? “I would love to focus more on improving basic issues like health and safety, uniform and basic kitchen skills. But I don’t have the time or the support to realise these goals at the moment. Also, we would need a different kitchen format, in order to be able to cater more effectively for greater numbers of guests during big events. My wish would be to have more skilled kitchen staff and possibly another sous-chef to take the pressure off myself and Justin. My vision is that everybody that handles food shares the love of food, has pride in their job and comes to work with enthusiasm and excitement. If everybody involved could run their own section, independently, we could focus on the important things. I firmly believe that this would greatly benefit the quality of the Galley experience.”
It seems the Royal Cape Yacht Club has found itself a real (hidden) gem heading its kitchen. A chef with the caliber of Fagan Basson is surely something any restaurant would dream of. I have a feeling that this passionate yet humble man has the potential to take the Galley to new heights, and I hope that his relentless energy and strive for perfection will keep inspiring everyone around him to make continual improvement a definite priority – Marie Stinnes