La Petite Maison Brings Bistro-Style Fine Dining To Melville
At La Petite Maison, fine dining comes to the bohemian streets of 7th Avenue.
There’s a slew of new restaurants opening in Melville, but none have the suburb talking as excitedly as La Petite Maison — which also happens to be one of the smallest spaces on the suburb’s famed 7th Avenue strip. The bistro-style space, which can only seat 20 patrons at a time, embraces the best of European bistro-style cooking and decor, but brings it back home with fine local ingredients from small-scale producers.
La Petite Maison is the brainchild of two brilliant new talents on the local food scene, Tyeya Ngxokola and Timothy Stewart. The duo met during their studies at ALMA in Italy, one of the world’s most prestigious and celebrated cooking schools. Subsequently, they dreamt up the idea of creating a restaurant together while working at two Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, and now they have opened their space inspired by their lessons (and relentless ambitions to be awarded their own Michelin stars). We caught up with them to learn more about this welcome addition to Johannesburg's increasingly busy food scene.
Five Minutes with Tim and Tyeya from La Petite Maison
Did you always want to be chefs?
Tyeya: I have always enjoyed cooking but I never aspired to being a professional chef. It was quite recently, after working at SAA for 11 years and travelling and experiencing different world cuisines, that it struck me how passionate I was about food and how strong my ideas about cooking were.
Tim: I wanted to be an anthropologist when I left school. I went to Rhodes [University] and studied and after completing my undergraduate degree I realised that a career in academia was not going to work for me. I thought to myself, there is a lot I can do with food and history and culture by becoming a chef, so that's what I did.
What are your backgrounds in the food business?
Tyeya: Most of my background comes from my training in Italy and doing work at two different Michelin-starred restaurants.
Tim: I first started waiting tables at a Protea Hotel in Mahikeng! I did the grande diploma at Prue Leith chefs academy and then worked at a couple of South Africa's top kitchens in the Cape. I went over to Italy to ALMA Scuola di Cucina for a year and I also have experience working abroad in Italy under Michelin Starred Chef Massimo Spigaroli.
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What tastes remind you of your childhoods?
Tyeya: Mangoes. I spent a lot of time in Durban as a child, and our vegan mango dish is a direct result of a eating chilli mangoes on a stick on the Durban esplanade.
Tim: My grandfather used to have an orchard on his farm and he would pick me up on his shoulders and we would walk through picking and eating fruit off the trees. Because of that there is nothing as delicious as a ripe plum.
Why did you call your restaurant La Petite Maison?
Tim: The space was as instrumental in picking that name as we were. When we first found it it was a dilapidated hair salon. The landlords were struggling to find tenants, and we took one look and it was just so obvious what the idea and concept was.
How would you describe La Petite Maison’s approach to food?
Tyeya: Our approach is heavily inspired by the concept of rationality that is so prominent is Italian cooking. We take an ingredient and try to recreate its locality on the plate. Everything is built around respecting the ingredient.
What went into the design of the interiors, and what was the inspiration?
Tim: We had amazing help from Justin Silver at Silverline. We had the vision of transporting diners to a tiny hole-in-the-wall bistro and wine bar and we met with Justin and he took that dream and realized it in a way that was totally unexpected. He is a carpenter, an upholsterer, he does metal work and he is also a designer. A lot of the features that make La Petite Maison unique [result from] how we solved spatial problems. It is small, intimate, but also grand, exactly like our food. We sat down with Justin and talked about our ideas for cuisine and how the restaurant needed to be congruent with those ideas and we are very happy with the way everything turned out.
Tyeya: Our landlords were struggling to find tenants and we had just come back from Europe. We took one look at the space and it reminded us of Europe with its street scene, and when you put that next to the vibrancy and life that exists there it was a no-brainer.
What is the most challenging part of starting your own restaurant?
Tim: We are both chefs and we thought that the nuts and bolts stopped in the quality of the food. That is not true, Tyeya and myself have had to double up as managers, accountants, chefs, plumbers and even electricians. It is so multi-faceted!
The best thing about working with each other?
Tyeya: Our work ethic is totally complementary and then also our passion for food. Personality-wise we have a great understanding of each other, so even in difficult times we are able work together.
Tim: I think we have the perfect mix of expertise too. There are many things that I struggle with that Tyeya just makes look so effortless.
Your favourite dish on the menu?
Tyeya: Mine is the Atlantic squid ink risotto. Technically it is the most challenging dish to make on the menu, and it reminds me of the time I spent in Italy.
Tim: I am in love with our Khalahari ostrich tartare.
What is your favourite drink?
Both: Vin de Soif from Magna Carta: it is a white Merlot and it’s truly special.
What's your dream for La Petite Maison?
We want the restaurant to be recognised as something unique in Johannesburg. We want to give diners an experience and tell a story through food. We are still learning how to perfect that story, but its coming together nicely so far.
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