Food & Drink

Mandatory Viewing: Chef Ash Heeger on Netflix's The Final Table

The SA chef talks about participating in an international cooking show called The Final Table.
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Award-winning chef Ash Heeger has made a name for herself in South Africa, and is poised for the world culinary stage thanks to her taking part in a reality show streamed via a leading internet entertainment service. Netflix’s The Final Table is an extreme cooking show that sees teams of elite chefs compete in challenges, in which they explore different flavours around the globe. Heeger chats to us about participating in the show, her career and some of the most memorable flavours she’s encountered.

1. Did you always want to be a chef?

Yes. I knew I wanted to be a chef when I was 9. I have never even thought about pursuing any other career.

2. How did you end up participating in The Final Table and how did you prepare for it?

I was headhunted by Netflix.There was no way to prepare without knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. I have some experience doing mystery-basket challenges from my days of doing cooking competitions in South Africa, but that was many moons ago. I guess I just winged it, like with most of the stuff I do.

3. What was it like being on the show?

Hardcore. Myself and Alex (my cooking partner) were the youngest and least experienced chefs there. It was really intimidation cooking alongside the likes of Mark Best etc. That said, we gave it horns. I’m so lucky to have had Alex standing alongside me for the competition. He’s an incredible chef and an even better friend. It was non-stop intensity for every minute of filming. Our call times would be really early in the morning and we would shoot late into the night. The pressure was palpable at all times.

4. Why should people watch the show?

Because if it’s anything like it was when we were filming, the viewers are in for a treat. This is the biggest budget Netflix has ever blown on a ‘non-scripted’ show. Well over 100 cameras catching the blow-by-blow action of our cook-offs, as well as incredibly talented chefs with vastly different styles and personalities. It’s going to be wild.

See the trailer for The Final Table below:

5. Which part of the world should every serious food lover visit?

South Africa!

6. If you were a food or a dish/recipe, what would it be?

A prickly pear.

7. What’s the oddest (or most memorable) dish you’ve ever tasted?

I’ve eaten some pretty weird stuff (I'll try anything once). Reindeer testicles would be one of the oddest, I reckon.The most memorable would be Bo la Lot in Ho Chi Minh City at a little place called Quan An Co Lieng – a food memory for sure.

8. What tastes remind you of your childhood?

I have a LOT of triggers when it comes to smell/ taste memories. I’m very affected by any nostalgic food memory. Anything that my mom cooked for me as a child – mac and cheese, bobotie, mosbolletjies and frikkadels are all triggers. And anything by the seaside – mussels, crayfish, oysters...

9. What do you enjoy most about being a chef?

I just love cooking. I’m at my happiest in the kitchen, cooking my heart out. I don’t really enjoy all the other stuff that comes along with it, to be honest. I hate number-crunching and sitting in my office, but unfortunately that’s a very necessary part of the job.

10 What’s your current favourite drink, and why?

Bourbon. Bit of ice, drop of water. Maker’s Mark does the trick nicely.

11. What would your last meal and last drink be?

Oh wow, I’m not sure! Probably a dozen cheeseburgers from Burger Supreme in NYC. Best burger I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve had quite a few. I’ll stick to Bourbon to help wash them down.

See chef Ash at work in her Cape Town restaurant, Riverine Rabbit. To make a reservation visit ashrestaurant.co.za