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Chef Catherine John, pure energy

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When you ask Catherine John, station chef at the Canonnier Beachcomber, where she gets her energy, her immediate answer is, “It’s just there. At the hotel, all is pure energy and movement. I love that!”

Is there a particular taste you find fascinating?

What I love is Mauritian cuisine. And is its blends, the way it mixes the sacred, the cultural, Hindu, Christian, etc. It’s a cuisine that can fit in anywhere; it’s just as good at home as in a grand restaurant.


Is there a taste you find off-putting?

No. Cooking is precisely that: playing on what might sometimes seem a little too sour, or too acidic. It’s the chef’s job to work from there. They are even the most important flavours in making up a dish. For example, I like beginning with acidic starter to sharpen the taste buds.


What sparked off your vocation?

I was probably about 8 or 10 when I saw a TV programme with an international cookery competition. There was a Mauritian woman competing, and I thought, that’s what I want to do, I want to be a cook, I want to work as a chef, too!


Who has helped you develop professionally?

The Beachcomber group has helped me enormously. After working in a few jobs, and then attending cooking classes, I was at last able to apply to the Canonnier. And here the chef Mooroogun Coopen gave me self-confidence and especially the means I needed to hone my skills. He helped me to develop personally.


What do you like best in this job?

First of all, I enjoy it. I’m in my rightful place, I’m respected. My job is fulfilling and the atmosphere is terrific.

I like to taste the dishes and improve them.


Isn’t it more difficult for a woman?

In the fifteen years I’ve been in this job, I have proved that I deserved the trust placed in me. When you have passion, when you love a job well done, there are no problems. And of course, now, there are more and more women, I’m not the only female in the kitchen!


What is your favourite dish?

I like cod in all its forms, especially in rougail. One of my favourites is fish stock, or braised fish with garlic, onions, pommes d’amour, tomatoes, and thyme flowers. For this dish, the fish has to be moist. I use local fish, like grouper, and always remember to add a pinch of clove and cinnamon.

How would you define your cuisine?

If there is indeed a personal touch, it would rather be in the Mauritian dimension of the dishes. At the moment I’m in charge of the cold buffet and starters, so I introduce my own touches like Passion fruit vinaigrette, braised palm hearts, panissa, etc.


What do you really enjoy about cooking?

The good relationships between colleagues and the chefs, which is not far off a family atmosphere. I feel good because this has made one of my dreams come true: to have my own home! And I have enjoyed it for 5 years now.


What is your favourite task?

Well, usually I follow the chef’s recommendations, and I adapt to everything: from meat to desserts.

I enjoy cutting and I really appreciate it when everything around me is perfectly clean. That’s one of my favourite tasks: making sure everything is spic and span!

By François Simon
Photographs Vincent Leroux