Isla Rechner shares her favourite recipe and more in this interview with JAG Communications.

At the age of three, Isla Rechner was obsessed with a cooking show that featured a “lovely woman with a broad Scottish accent”.

While still in her pre-teens, she started dabbling in the kitchen, gaining more confidence with each passing year, and in her teens and throughout her 20s, she hosted many a dinner party, testing out recipes on friends and family.

Originally from Kloof in KwaZulu Natal, Rechner qualified as a journalist, before embarking on her tertiary qualifications in hospitality at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Durban campus, under Chef Eric Beruiller, from where she gained a patisserie diploma and was awarded graduate of the year in 2010.

She honed her skills even further when she started running a pastry stall at the Shongweni Farmers Market as well as opening a private catering business in the Durban area.

In 2014 with the itch to travel too strong to resist, Rechner made the big move to London, working first at one of acclaimed chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s eateries, before being hired as a pastry chef at the King’s Cross branch of Granger & Co. It was not long before she was promoted to Group Pastry Chef for all four branches of Granger & Co a role which she says she “utterly relished”.

Isla Rechner

The advent of the Covid pandemic and a bad case of homesickness saw Rechner return to South Africa at the end of 2020. She is now engaged, the mother of twins and residing in Sea Point, Cape Town. But her passion for baking and cooking still runs deep and she continues to practice and refine her culinary talent much to the good fortune of the Mother City residents who can now utilise her services and taste her cooking and baking.

JAG Communications managed to ask her a few questions; the interview is as follows:

The last time we spoke was in 2020 when you were Group Pastry Chef for Bill Granger’s Granger & Co restaurants in London. What was your experience there?

My overall experience at Granger & Co was a really positive one, being there for as many years as I was. It truly became a family set up and I developed close bonds with many of the chefs and waiters across all the restaurants. Head office also had an incredible group of people that I am still in contact with. As with any job there were highs and lows. The highs included my ability to have a great amount of creative input with the pastry displays, the people and the buzz you get from a busy service. The lows, understandably, included the advent of Covid that rocked our industry to its core.

When and why did you leave?

The pandemic forced us all to stay at home and this gave me the time to think about what I truly wanted in the long term. As much as I loved London and my job, I felt really homesick, and I left the UK in December 2020 to come back to South Africa. Initially, it was only meant to be for a few months to recalibrate, but three and a half years later I am still here and loving it.

What are three key things you learned during your time in London?

I would say my skill set regarding managing people was a great education; time management, which is vital for a chef is something I picked up due to the high numbers of covers we would do during a shift; also different applications as well as interesting ingredients also had an influence. Before Granger & Co, my knowledge of Asian ingredients was somewhat limited, but it has to be in my top three favourite cuisines now. And finally, the art of simple yet striking plating. Bill really created dishes that were the epitome of sunshine food.

Can you tell us about your journey since leaving Granger & Co

I started my time back home initially in Durban where I was an independent consultant for a few restaurants. I also got involved in food pop-ups at local restaurants, private cheffing in the Durban area and I worked at a private game lodge for a wonderful Danish family. In August 2023, my fiancé and I relocated to Cape Town, where I carried on my culinary journey. I also gave birth to twins at the end of last year.

Apart from the fulltime job of motherhood, how are you keeping busy?

I have continued to do my private cheffing as well as a few other enterprises that are currently in the works, which include freezer meals and desserts. I am also creating content for my Instagram page @islacookscapetown! Cape Town is a foodie hub so there are so many avenues I can go down to flex my culinary muscles. I am also planning a recipe book with meals that have been inspired by my travels and local experiences.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting a career in the hospitality industry?

Be a culinary sponge, read as much material you can lay your hands on regarding food, and delve into cuisine that is totally different to what you are used to. Travel will also help with that because as you immerse yourself in different cultures, food is inevitably tied in with it and you will be become a more rounded chef. Also prepare for hard work! If you love it, it doesn’t really feel like work but sometimes you can have long shifts and that can be very tiring. I think the industry is really striving for more balanced hours, but it will never be a career that is a 9-to-5 from Monday to Friday.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My pastry lecturer at Capsicum, Eric Beruiller, a gregarious Frenchman that really took me under his wing, teaching and nurturing my talent. Second would have to be my first head chef at Granger & Co, Mark Welch. I had never really experienced the fast pace of a service kitchen until I started working for him. He showed me how to lead and how to cope while still keeping a happy demeanour and he became a great friend. It would be remiss of me not to mention the group executive chef at Granger & Co, Anthony Ekizian, another Frenchman. He was a true inspiration and mentor when I was promoted to head office. I really grew in my role and as a chef due to his guidance.

What three famous chefs do you follow and why?

First and foremost, Raymond Blanc. I just love his passion and sense of humour; you can see he really loves what he does. Locally it has to be Jackie Cameron, because she is so passionate about local South African produce which I find inspiring. Lastly but certainly not least would be the late Bill Granger! His style of sunshine food and general demeanour was something he really showcased as a person and in his restaurants.

Do you still watch food shows on TV?

I do watch several food shows on TV and quite varied ones too. Chef’s Table on Netflix is so beautifully shot and showcases the best chefs in the world. The late great Anthony Bourdain’s series Parts Unknown is a hybrid of food and travel and his keen observation of the world around him make each episode you watched an education. MasterChef Australia is another great one, just for the sheer drama more than anything else. Locally, I’m a big fan of My Kitchen Rules. But one show I am yet to remember, despite scouring Google, is the cooking series hosted by the Scottish lady that watched cooked when I was wee girl!

Finally, can you share a favourite recipe with us.

This is a recipe for my Breakfast Panna Cotta. Panna cotta is really an Italian dessert but with a few tweaks it works just as well as the perfect summer breakfast. This recipe serves six.


500ml cream

250ml plain Greek yoghurt

100g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

15g gelatine powder

30ml water

Toasted coconut flakes

Grapefruit segments


Place cream, yoghurt, caster sugar and vanilla essence in a saucepan and slightly heat until hot to the touch and the caster sugar has dissolved. Place the gelatine and water in a small bowl and mix together. Leave for a few minutes, then melt the mixture taking care not to boil it. Add the gelatine mixture to the cream mixture and stir well. Pour the panna cotta into 125ml moulds and leave to set overnight in the fridge

To plate: Garnish each panna cotta with three segments of grapefruit and a small handful of toasted coconut flakes.

For more information and further recipes, visit

Isla's panna cotta