This year, we’re announcing nominees for the Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star. (The winner will be announced at the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards on 17 November.) Christina Semczyszyn is the third nominee we’re spending ten minutes with – we find out all about the Tjing Tjing Momiji head chef, who studied special effects makeup before working at restaurants like The Dog’s Bollocks and the now-closed Dear Me. (View all the nominees here.)
What does this nomination mean to you?
It’s incredibly exciting. I’m happy that the style of food we’re serving is being so well received, considering it’s very different from what people are used to.
Your earliest childhood memory of food?
My mom used to buy sachets of full cream milk when full cream really meant full cream. There was always a layer of cream stuck to the inside of the sachet. My mom would cut the bag open, sprinkle a little bit of sugar on the cream and let me lick it off. I was probably about 4, and I remember it so clearly.
Worst rookie mistake you ever made with food?
I’m bad with pastry. I don’t eat a lot of sweet stuff, and pastry is too precise for my personality and patience. I once tried to make [sous chef and head pastry chef] Adri’s Japanese cheesecake and skipped half of her (very pedantic) steps. It was gross.
Which ingredient are you always most excited to work with?
Wagyu tongue! Lots of people are squeamish about it. It’s so nice to change their minds when they try the rich, soft and insanely flavourful tongue.
Do you feel you’re in the right place right now?
Absolutely. I really enjoy feeding people. We have an open-plan kitchen, so I can see customers nodding and sharing bites of food. Watching them lick their lips, fingers and plates (do what you need to do to enjoy your meal!) makes me so, so happy. I go all squishy inside!
Advice to others planning to enter the food industry in South Africa?
Before you spend thousands on culinary school, find a kitchen that will let you work for free for a week to see if you actually like it. It’s not for everyone – and experience is a lot more important than a fancy diploma.
If you could invite one SA celebrity to dinner, who would it be and why?
Trevor Noah is hilarious. I’d cook him my dad’s favourite dish, which is slow-cooked lamb rib and rice.
Biggest guilty culinary pleasure?
Hot chicken wings. From anywhere. I could eat them every damn day.
What saying or motto do you use most often?
Walala wasala (‘You snooze, you lose’ in Zulu).
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Setting goals is great, but things change so often, it’s unrealistic to predict the future. Five years ago, I had just started as a chef de partie at Dear Me (which is now Tjing Tjing House). Seeing myself being head chef at Tjing Tjing, as well as being a mom, would have been unbelievable.
Favourite foodie travel destination?
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