Someone once said that the way to a happy workforce is through their stomachs, and the Atterbury family is lucky enough to have a world class canteen to keep hunger pangs at bay. We spoke to Mia Lategan, who leads the dream canteen team…
How long have you been working for Atterbury and how did your paths cross originally?
This year is my sixth year! I met Louis [Van der Watt, the CEO] at an event and he mentioned that he had the idea to establish a canteen in the new Atterbury building… and voilà, Atterbury Canteen was born!
Who is Mia when she’s at home?
I live in Olympus with a striped cat named Picatso. I travel a lot when I get the chance, always with a camera in hand. Photography is my real passion.
Have you always been a star chef? How did you learn to cook?
Cooking only found me around 15 years ago, totally unexpected and unplanned. Up until then I was totally satisfied with fish fingers! We bought a restaurant and at that stage I was recovering after a bad accident. For almost two years I couldn’t use my right hand, so I hid in the kitchen and just observed operations. Eventually I started helping and the bug bit me! I am not one for front of house, I’ve always loved being behind the scenes in the kitchen with my staff. And I love serving beautifully presented food; that’s what really thrills me. The best compliment is when someone takes a picture of their meal. We experimented and tested and composed new recipes. I was thrown into the deep end and learnt to swim very fast. Dinnah Baloyi and Lerato Nyomande who now work alongside me in the canteen were there when we bought the restaurant, so we go way back. We’re family… their kids grew up on my hip! And yes, we still test each other. I was privileged to learn from and work with Nataniël, Topsi Venter, Mariëtte Crafford and many other interesting characters, including Achim von Arnim.
What’s your favourite meal to prepare at the canteen, and what is the most popular dish on your menu?
I like food that you can display and serve raw, and fresh. Colourful veggies and fruit. The most popular meal we serve is probably the build your own wrap. Or vetkoek, or Thai Green Curry. I’m spoilt actually, the guys like almost everything… although we’re still working on Brussel Sprouts.
At at home? What do you cook when you want to spoil your special people? What are you famous for?
Italian platter food… Parma ham, charcuterie, cheeses, fruit, dips, herbs, fresh ciabatta – I can go on and on. I do like to cook an eight-hour lamb shank, but I’ll also braai any day just to justify ‘n braaibroodjie.
What is the first thing you do when you arrive at work in the morning?
I start at 05:30 and cook 42 eggs, every morning!
What was your best day at work the past year?
One of the most magical days was when we did a lunch at Mall of Africa, while the mall was still under construction; that was special. And also the day when a lion cub came to visit us in the kitchen – it was more than a year ago but it’s still a favourite memory.
You feed 70+ people every single day, twice a day. What is your biggest challenge?
Shopping! I buy all our ingredients fresh, daily, and getting up at 4am isn’t always easy…
If you could bring in a guest chef to help you at work with a special meal, who would it be?
Nataniël is welcome any day! He is a dear friend and one of my favourite people… I’d love to keep him and Erik captive in my kitchen for a whole day! Although we’ll probably have such a ball that we’d never get to cooking, and we’d have to order pizza!