Fusion's Chef's Success

Fusion's Chef's Success

...a Merger of Tolerance and Cultures

By Alex Walters, Edge

Abel Ncube, master chef at Fusion, one of the hottest new restaurants in Astana, is a living embodiment of the benefits of globalism and the spirit of the new Kazakhstan. At only 29, the South African-born Ncube is already on the way to making his reputation as one of the most brilliant young chefs across the continent of Asia.

His globetrotting edification in the exacting craft of culinary arts has dotted him across Africa, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and now to Asia. In Argentina and England he studied the preparation and grilling of steaks to perfection. And just as the best and brightest MBA students are snagged up by Fortune 500 companies, Ncube was then recruited to one of ritzy Abu Dhabi’s finest restaurants, where he honed his artistry to the highest of international standards. After his time in the Middle East, he spread his wings for a couple of years at a prestigious Almaty restaurant, before being wooed to Astana by the challenge of launching Fusion in February 2010.

Gourmets and food critics in Astana agree that since Ncube opened business with Fusion a year ago, he has raised the culinary standard in the city to a whole new level. For his part, the admiration is mutual. “From as soon as I arrived, I was made to feel at home here,” he says.

The Kazakh people are friendly, warm, hospitable and welcoming. I’m doing well, and I like it here.

Genial, generous and outgoing, there is another key to Ncube’s dynamic impact on Fusion - one that cannot be taught in any culinary school, or indoctrinated by any of the world’s most famous chefs. It’s that Ncube exudes his personal warmth like the South African sun, and after just a few minutes with him, you feel it. There is no fakeness about him, or his salt-of-the-earth pride, minus pretention, that one only finds in Africa. He says he is flourishing now in Astana – a rather fitting time and place for him, as the city is among the worlds youngest and fastest growing capital cities, and in many ways, Kazakhs actually are a lot like him.

“In some restaurants, the chefs won’t talk to the clientele at all, but I love to,” Ncube says. “I’m always out there. I like to learn from my clients. That’s how I learn more! You want something done differently? Tell me! I’ll do it! Feel free! And tomorrow I’ll cook it for you. That way, we’ll both be happy.”

As is his humble nature, Ncube modestly plays down his own artistic genius, although no one else would. He unhesitatingly credits his restaurant’s director, Anatole Danilovich, for Fusion’s stunning success. “We have a great director. Anatole is wonderful,” he says. But it’s clear that for all of Danilovich’s exceptional skill at creating the décor and driving spirit of the place, the excellence of the restaurant and its dishes are riding the wave of Ncube’s remarkable talent and character. Ncube is tirelessly conscientiousness in both the preparation and cooking process, as well as the critical element of training those under him. The latter is no small part of Ncube’s influence on Fusion, as so many famous chefs are notoriously bad teachers, given to rants and destructive eccentricities that prevent them from imparting their knowledge to subordinates.

“I work closely with all my assistants, always. I’m always teaching people how to prepare each and every dish,” he says about training his cadre of capable assistants. “You have to always keep your eye on the quality of what you are preparing at every stage of the process. You can’t let it go. I always work with fresh ingredients and I insist on having them prepared quickly.”

Ncube admits he is the kind of passionate workaholic who does not leave his work behind at the office. In reality, he’s always on the job, as all his hobbies and spare time center around advancing his craft.

“I certainly have to put in the hours here. I work six days a week and I take off a maximum of one month a year. On my holidays I’m always exploring new places to dine, and finding new dishes to prepare. I surf the Web, and I visit restaurants all around Astana.”

Without realizing it, Ncube is on his way to becoming an icon of Astana’s emerging culinary excellence. But there’s more to his story. Another revealing aspect is how Astana’s well-heeled patrons have embraced both him and Fusion. Even during the darkest times of Soviet rule, when Soviet people of various ethnic backgrounds were banished to Kazakhstan with nothing but the clothes on their backs, Kazakhstan – and Kazakhs – have long been known for tolerance and the embracement of diversity. That a young man from Africa has been so embraced as a new standard-bearer for Kazakhstan’s centuries-old culinary culture, is an equally important fascination of Ncube’s remarkable affair with Astana.

For Ncube, it’s that very embracement that both drives him, and makes peace with his decision to come here. ”I came here for a change. I didn’t fear a challenge. And it’s already paid off,” says Ncube, beaming with awareness and introspection. “We know we’ve already made an impact here. We’re a success. We’re the best at what we do, and the clientele loves us. That’s the greatest satisfaction for me. “ Sounds like a simple and logical satisfaction. But the story of Abel Ncube and Kazakhstan is about much more than a great restaurant, and it’s just beginning to be written.