Cheyne Morrisby of the eponymous Cheyne’s, first in Bree Street, Cape Town, in 2010, then in Hout Bay, has had a tough few years. Like many restaurateurs, COVID-19 nearly broke him; later, addiction would take its toll. But he tackled that head on with a stint in a notoriously tough rehabilitation facility, which, he says, is worse than the stories we’ve heard – because he’s Cheyne and has to challenge and push himself. That’s who he is.
Now, five months after leaving there – and returning to service at Cheyne’s the same day – he is in the process of opening his first new restaurant since pre-Covid: Bang K, which will serve modern Thai, in York Road, Muizenberg, set to begin trading by October 2023.
Clear-headed and focused, it’s a new beginning for Cheyne. “It’s the start of me in a more open, confident – I don’t want to say powerful, because that can sound arrogant – position,” he says. “But it’s my personal power. It’s me with an open heart, probably more so than I was before; and I’ve always very much worn my heart on my sleeve. I’m here and I’m present, more than I’ve ever been. I feel like I’m standing on both feet.”
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Being so exposed by the media forced Cheyne to face hard truths, brought about by a culmination of consequences, personal and professional, which left him raw and hurting. “I couldn’t have fried an egg at that point,” he jokes darkly. “I recognised there was a problem, went into rehab… three times. I’ve always said I want to operate out of love – not fear. I think as chefs we can get into this place where there is the fear of failure, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of a bad meal, a bad review. I’ve owned my shit. It was important for my healing to do that, and for people to understand it’s an illness,” he says. “I’m back and I’ve been gaining strength every day.”
Bang K is a passion project with a new creative partner: “It’s going to be modern Thai and by that I mean we all know pad Thai; most people’s perception of Thai is noodles but there’s more to it,” says Cheyne.
He is setting out to change minds as he separates the fundamental ingredients that are the building blocks of Thai cuisine, to focus sharply on each one, whether it’s coconut, green chilli, green papaya, tamarind, garlic, ginger… “But also seeing how those ingredients can just get layered with another and another.”
Bang K is Cheyne’s take on Bangkok street food, moving it into a modern style with small plates and tasters, in his inimitable way. It’s what he did at Shio, which, with its modern Japanese dishes, won the Eat Out award for Best Asian Restaurant two years in a row.
The acquisition of the premises for Bang K, a heritage building, was serendipitous. “This is what is meant to be and I have to make it happen in the most beautiful way,” says Cheyne. “I’m the same old me. I’m the same old full-of-shit-Cheyne, but I’m just a little bit more – I’m a hell of a lot more – confident. I’ve shed all my armour and this is me. I’m so grateful. I’m so happy to wake up in the morning.”
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