Private chef Yuri Moodley cooks from the heart with no request too big or small

Chef Yuri Moodley. Picture: Supplied

Chef Yuri Moodley. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 1, 2024


With Durban being such a popular foodie destination, securing a table in the very best restaurants can be something of a challenge. But there is another way of enjoying fine dining without even having to step out of your front door.

Since 2019, Pinetown-born business owner and private chef Yuri Moodley has been cooking bespoke, high-quality meals using the best local ingredients in the clients’ private kitchens.

Alongside the private chef business, Moodley also does small-to-medium-catering, gourmet fast food, speciality bread, artisanal biscuits, confectionery products and a range of special sauces and spice mixes.

He spoke to us about his fascinating journey, from working at some of Durban’s best restaurants to joining the private chef industry.

Moodley is a strong-willed individual who is up for any challenge in the culinary world. He is keen to learn and a vibrant and enthusiastic chef who loves the buzz and the “spin” of a busy kitchen.

He said that he has learnt to take criticism and advice with a pinch of salt.

Moodley’s love for food was built on the backbone of his home kitchen. He said his mother has always been his inspiration and has graced him with the privilege of being in the kitchen with her while she cooks.

“It is where I earned my two titles. One of them was as a ‘spice merchant’ as I would run to and from the spice racks for what mom needed. The other was as the ‘chaiwala’ as it was my duty to make and provide hot beverages on ‘tea breaks’.

“This journey started two decades ago. I made my first curry at the age of seven. Not just any curry, it was a mutton-and-potato curry. We had gravy lovers at home. As a kid, I would much rather play with mom's pots, pans and electrical appliances than any toy,” said Moodley.

The established chef’s formative years built the basis for a career in the culinary arts and was further refined and polished at Capsicum Culinary Studio.

He said the one thing that played a big part in his learning was his inquisitive mind asking elders about all the wonderful food and confections they made.

Moodley has worked at a few high-end establishments, café, convention centres, hotels, restaurants and executive lounges over a decade.

He said: “Each place came with its own set of challenges, demands, lessons and successes.”

Now a private chef, Moodley is solely responsible for all choices, mistakes, risks and possible outcomes.

He said being a private chef gives him the freedom he searched for to explore his knowledge and its limitations and exceed them while maintaining a level of standard and professionalism.

“My beautiful late brother was the reason I became a private chef. He found a social media post about a platform looking to expand their outreach and the chefs on their teams of service providers.

“From that fateful day in 2019, I have not looked back,” said Moodley.

Chef Yuri Moodley. Picture: Supplied

“Being in the private chef business is a lot of long hours, and stressful planning as prices of ingredients are always fluctuating and customers do not want to pay inconsistent prices.

“Another challenge faced by private chefs is sourcing produce requested by the client as it may not be available due to season, weather, and other factors.

“Some clients look for the best menu but do not want to pay the price which allows this menu to stand out. You have to mentally, physically and emotionally prepare yourself.

“Always accept the challenge of the unknown as it helps you to push your limits and find pleasure in taking on things that are usually out of your depth,” he said.

When asked about the best part of the job, Moodley said it would have to be seeing an empty plate and satisfied customers after his hands prepared the meal.

He said that brings absolute and sheer joy with a sense of achievement.

Moodley said: “Generally, my menus are based on seasonal availability of produce and what flavour, taste, texture, mouth feel and accompaniments go well together. I determine my main components based on my customer's dietary restrictions and preferences and work from there.

“No menu of mine is cast in stone. It is adjusted according to my individual client’s requirements.”

Moodley is looking into conducting private cooking classes and exclusive dining.

In the long term, he wants to further his studies overseas and thereafter open restaurants of exceptional quality to fit all budgets while maintaining the fine food and fine dining appeal.

“I honestly feel like this took longer than expected to pick up. It is trending which actively allows less wastage and maximises the usage of produce and holistic education on the process behind everything we make use of.

“Farm-to-table and sustainable dining is here to stay hopefully long enough for Durban’s food market to kick up again,” he said.