Peachy is a fairly new dine bar located at 44 Stanley, Milpark, Johannesburg serving modern street food in a vibrant and laidback atmosphere. It won the Ethnic Restaurant of the Year award at the third annual Luxe Restaurant Awards. We chatted to Executive chef Jess Doveton about her inventive approach to Thai flavours and what makes Peachy stand out.
How did your culinary journey begin?
My journey began when I started working abroad. I had always loved cooking and was privileged enough to be in a position where my boss at the time allowed me to pursue my cooking career.
What have you learnt from your experience thus far?
I have learned to be resilient and true to myself with the food I want to create. This industry is brutal and competitive and to stay relevant you have to keep pushing your boundaries and keep on creating new food experiences for people.
What is your earliest food memory?
My earliest food memory is sitting at a market in Northern Thailand. I was horrified because they were cooking frogs on kebabs. I grew up with my mum’s cooking (she’s from Thailand) so my childhood consisted of many funky Thai flavours.
What are the revelations of connecting to your heritage and using that knowledge to showcase South Eastern Asian food here in South Africa?
It’s so interesting because when I was younger, I was so embarrassed about my heritage and I remember hiding my school lunches. After school when I started travelling I began to accept who I was and to embrace my heritage. It was during my first trip to Thailand where I went to experience the food and culture that I began to fall in love with the country. I have now tried my best to learn as much as I can about the food, ingredients and the complexity of the flavours of the East as well as their culture of hospitality, and their style of eating which involves many meals all shared with family and friends. Thai people make you feel so warm and welcome.
I still have so much to learn and I think showcasing South East Asian food in a way that is not necessarily authentic, but not westernised either, is a good way to start.
What joys do you derive from tapping into your roots?
I love cooking and creating food for people that they haven’t heard of or even tried. I also love showcasing food from North-East Thailand where things are spicier, more fermented and pungent, to push people’s boundaries on westernised Thai food. It’s always so well received!
The menu at Peachy is simple and sophisticated with flavours that are subtle and also sing. What inspirations went into the development of the menu?
My inspiration for the Peachy menu was to take sharing dishes from all over the world. Food that pairs well with drinking but is also delicious on its own. I adore the idea of hanging out with some friends and ordering a bunch of things to share.
What is the intention and how does that tie in with the Peachy philosophy?
The intention is to create good food which ties in with the good music and good vibes that Peachy creates. Peachy is a wonderful space for people to hang out, socialise and even meet new people in a light, warm and feminine space.
The vegetarian options are comparatively extensive. What motivated that decision?
I feel that so many people are leaning towards becoming vegetarian and vegan and it’s something to be excited about! There are so many wonderful and delicious things you can do with vegetables without using meat substitutes and I wanted to celebrate that.
Who are your food role models?
Andy Ricker from Pok Pok restaurant. He is an incredible chef and has showcased true Northern Thai food in America. David Chang is also someone who inspires me to push boundaries, to defy the norm and to shake things up.
What goals do you still want to achieve in your career?
I want to become a restaurateur. I think it’s important to have chef-owned restaurants in the city.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I try to keep motivated by being on top of all my projects, challenging myself with different cuisines, as well as trying my best to stay inspired (by doing lots of reading research and experimenting with different ingredients). I am excited to be in the food scene in Johannesburg. It’s an incredible city with a melting pot of creative energy and culture. I hope to see more chef-owned restaurants in the future and more support for young chefs, I hope this industry can allow space for young chefs to be creative and I hope chefs can be more empowered by restauranteurs to get involved and have their creative expressions valued in the kitchen.
I am so excited to watch this city grow in the food scene in South Africa and to watch restaurants develop while collaborating with young chefs killing the game!