A Tribute to Chef Bruce Robertson

Just a week ago, I wrote on this blog about Bruce Robertson’s seafood dining experience in Simonstown, called the Flagship. Along with many others in the chef, restaurant and foodie community in Cape Town, I was therefore devastated to hear that Bruce had passed away on Monday morning, 3 November 2014. He was diagnosed with leukaemia only a few days before he died, which is why his sudden passing was such a shock to everyone who knew and loved him.

In his role as Cape Grace’s executive chef, Bruce was part of the opening team for One Waterfront. He went on to open The Showroom in downtown Cape Town, achieving two Eat Out Top 10 awards in 2006 and 2007. Before the Flagship project, he ran the Boathouse in Scarborough – a similar private-dining experience focused on fresh, local seafood. In the latter part of his life, he consulted and travelled a lot and also became a father to a gorgeous daughter, Jemima.

Anybody who knew Bruce or worked with him will describe him as a larger-than-life character, always up for a good laugh, a tease or a joke. Once, many years ago, in his office inside the Cape Grace kitchen, he persuaded me – at the time, violently vegetarian – to try haggis served with whisky sauce and mash. I had to admit, it was delicious!

Here, some of the staff who worked with Bruce during the early days at Cape Grace, pay tribute to the man and the chef.

Michael Liffmann, Food & Beverage Manager
Bruce and I worked together during the opening of One.Waterfront. From the get go, Bruce schmoozed and delighted everyone at Cape Grace. During the opening of One.Waterfront, Bruce was always there with the media, food critics and tour operators charming their socks off with not only his amazing skills but his quirky sense of humour. We would often wind each other up, usually around how good we looked and who had the better hair… I used to let him win all the time, otherwise I wouldn’t hear the end of it. On a serious note, Bruce was incredibly inspirational and taught us how to keep a cool head when times were tough. Even today, he is someone that I would call for sound advice. He wasn’t only a work colleague but a friend and mentor.

Emily Ironsi , Junior Sous Chef
Most people used to say that Bruce was a very difficult person to work with, but I don’t think they understood who he really was. He was compassionate, understanding, loving and, above all, a true mentor. I learnt so many things from him which I use every day in what I do. It takes a minute to forgive and a lifetime to forget a person. I will never forget him.

Mama Rose, Chef De Partie
Bruce was everything to me – a father, brother, son and a friend. He was a pillar of strength in my time of need, especially when my daughter passed away. He was there, stood by me through the whole process, helped with funeral arrangements and was just the good-hearted person that he was. He was tough at times, but still the sweetest person ever. I can still hear his voice shouting at me: ‘Come on, mama!!!’

Jacques Thyssen, Guest Experience Manager
Having seen quite a few chefs come and go during my time at Cape Grace, Bruce was the one person who truly inspired me. I remember when he was doing a new dish, he would be very proud and passionate when he presented to us for the first time. We had fun times, but quickly learnt when his jokes were meant to be taken seriously. His footprints can still be seen in the foyer going between the kitchen and GM at the time Tony Romer-Lee’s office as he paced up and down looking for the ‘boss’

Tanya Johnson, Executive Manager, Front of House
‘I remember the first time I met Bruce, it was a busy night and I was on the pass assisting with service. He asked: ‘Do you want to see what it is really like in the kitchen, and how I can go from happy to sad in minutes?’ Then he proceeded to show me… throwing a frying pan into the air, angry then laughing. ‘See, that’s how it is done – I am now happy,’ he said. From that day on, I had an understanding of who Bruce was and how his humour and passion were one and the same. I always kept in touch with him.’

Bruce Robertson’s memorial celebration will take place at 2pm today (Friday 7 November) at False Bay Rugby Club – Constantia Sports Complex, Constantia Main Road, Cape Town.

All are invited to celebrate Bruce’s life together with family and friends.

Blog Post by Jane Broughton


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