Meet the powerhouse teamat the helm of Joburg’s hottest new eatery aurum

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Managing director of Aurum Restaurant

Tell me about your job? I am the managing director and co-owner of Aurum Restaurant. I’d say my true title is “fixer of things”. One is never really ready to open a restaurant, the reason being we’re always trying to achieve some sort of perfection in everything we do. It’s just about consistently pushing one step closer to what we deem perfection and then, when we finally get there, pushing further. So, that’s what I’ve been doing the last few weeks: fixing, refining, moderating, inspiring, guiding – and then paying the bills.

First and foremost you’re known as a chef, tell us about your passion for food. I come from a very humble Portuguese family, I’m first generation born in South Africa and grew up in a very typical Portuguese household where everything is made from scratch, super traditional and super tasty as a result of that.

Paulo Santo.

Paulo Santo.
Image: Annalize Nel / Food & Home Entertaining

My mother was an amazing cook and slowly but surely she developed my palate without me even realising it would be something I could use later in life. To be honest, I still use some of her techniques and recipes even though she just cooked by touch and memory. I remember waking up on a Saturday morning and the smell of fresh yeast wafting through the house because, by hand, she had whipped up about 10kg of dough to make varying loaves and breads for family and for Sunday lunch. I loved her sense of hospitality and I’ve turned out to have exactly the same character. I run around to make everyone happy but don’t sit down and enjoy it myself. I think it’s a pretty good trait for a restaurateur to have. She encouraged me to formalise it, and do a bit of cooking after school, and the rest is history.

What should people take away from Aurum? Above all else, we try to create moments. People choose beautiful spaces to celebrate special occasions and it’s always nice to see people sticking around a bit longer — it means they’re comfortable here. That’s our job — to almost make people not want to go home — if nothing else to create the desire to return, to want to explore the entire menu. Whether it be a quiet business lunch that’s perhaps a bit low-key, or putting on a cocktail dress and coming out for a beautiful dinner, the memories need to be distinctively different but similarly significant. That’s what we’re all about. We have some fun things we do too. Some evenings, I run around with a Polaroid camera. We’re all so good at filtering things, and taking 100 photos, so it’s nice to have that moment captured spontaneously. It’s not about being too austere or too stiff and pretentious, it’s not about that at all.

Head chef

Darren O'Donovan.

Darren O’Donovan.
Image: Aurum

Tell me about your job? I am the head chef. Anything food related is passed by my hands

Tell us about the food at Aurum… A refined, small menu, it’s a collaboration of many minds. We all get involved in its development. It’s refined, contemporary European with local spins and local flare.

What’s your favourite ingredient? Butter, the more the better. Then also salt and good quality olive oil.

What do you eat at home? [Sous chef] Lisa [de Beer] and I cook like we’re feeding the customers. On any given off day, we do a lot on the braai: short rib, prime rib, pork belly, fillet, fish, vegetables – all on the fire and then we make it as gastronomic an experience as possible.

What excites you most about Aurum? I’m excited to offer Joburg another great experience and, hopefully, elevate the standard of Joburg’s food scene. Give Joburg something else to look forward to, something else to be excited about.

Executive sous chef and sommelier

Lisa de Beer.

Lisa de Beer.
Image: Aurum

Tell me about your job? I am the executive sous chef and sommelier. It’s an unusual title to have because you’re in two different sections of the restaurant. I do a lot of the design and conceptualisation of the dishes and menus. On a nightly basis, I’m on the floor running the wine programme. It’s cool because I can answer questions on both sides.

Favourite ingredients? I love anything toasted or smoked – toasted nuts, smoked duck. I love smoke as an ingredient. It’s such a fascinating and unique flavour profile and it’s amazing what it can do to an ingredient. A more conventional answer would be carrots and celeriac. Carrots and Malay flavours – at the moment I absolutely love that combination.

What do you do to unwind? I’m busy doing my Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma, so that’s taking up a lot of time at the moment. However, any chance I get, I do love horse riding, so I do ride as much as I can.

General manager

Derick Kunene.

Derick Kunene.
Image: Aurum

Tell me about your job? I am the general manager; I oversee front of house from the waiters’ perspective, making sure we deliver the best standard of service. For me, it’s all about creating an experience more than anything else. The guests aren’t here for food alone, they’re here to have as memorable an experience as possible.

What do you love about hospitality? I love interacting with people. Whatever I can do to put a smile on a guest’s face, that is my job done. Even if it’s just a coffee, that coffee should be memorable.

What’s the one thing people should leave Aurum with? It’s all about the experience. We’re in this iconic building, with a beautiful space, and have so much to offer. I want people to leave feeling like they’ve been treated like a king or queen.

 Aurum Restaurant is situated on the 7th floor of The Leonardo Building on Maude Street, Sandton. BL

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