Chef Interview: Sasha Sonnenberg - Nathalie Mat

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The hardest part of a journey is often the first step and that’s a little how I felt about asking a chef if they’d be interviewed for a blog that hadn’t gone live yet…

Lucky for me, I chose my chef wisely as Sasha Sonnenberg was happy to test run the process.

I approached Sasha after I had been to a product launch and tasted her food. Sasha runs a catering company called Prep’ed by Sasha. She focuses on producing fresh, high quality foods that are mostly locally sourced.

I asked Sasha about her food philosophy: “Be true to yourself and eat things you like eating” was her answer. She does not believe in force feeding people food they do not enjoy and encourages her clients to eat food they want to eat. Sasha says she personally imparts a lot of what she enjoys into her food. She uses an abundance of fresh herbs as well as onions and garlic as a base. In terms of flavours, she does not use a lot of salt but enjoys slightly sweet, Asian flavours. One of her current flavours favourites is a good Moroccan rub – she says you do not need a sauce when you’ve used a great rub.

Sasha does not believe the saying “Never trust a skinny chef”. Part of the reason that some chefs successfully stay thin is because they do not want to eat when surrounded by food all day. This is their work, after all. In her kitchen, food is prepared with very little oil and salt, meaning that when they do have staff meals together, their food is healthy and always balanced with a good portion of vegetables.

I must interject here and say that Sasha has a great approach to food and loves healthy eating – if you are new on your journey to health, it takes time to “reprogram” your palate away from super processed foods to start really noticing the real flavours of fresh and healthy foods. You can use some of her kitchen inspiration listed at the end to get your palate on the right track.

When asked what foods to steer clear of simply because she knows the amount of salt, sugar or fat in the recipe, Sasha recommends steering clear of many Indian dishes. While they are not full of unhealthy ingredients, there just tends to be a lot of fat. One of the current food trends crossing South Africa is American foods – this food is really high in sugars, salt and added fats. Even though it’s delicious, Sasha does not think it’s the healthiest phase we’re going through. Sasha tries to steer her food in a healthy direction by making sure that there is always a good balance between vegetables, protein-rich foods, carbohydrates and healthy fats.

I was curious what Sasha’s favourite work is and she says she loves wedding catering. The food is an important part of the celebration and often central to the day.

Catering by Prepd by Sasha

Work that she has found challenging over time was adapting to fads. At a point, she really found banting to be a serious thorn in her side. She would make a special meal to accommodate banters only for them to eat the normal food. Sasha also finds some of the requests that she gets sometimes stretch her creativity when people refuse to eat a variety of foods. As a dietitian, I know that variety is important to get the vitamins and minerals. I imagine that limiting the foods Sasha can cook with is a bit like telling a painter they can only paint with 15 of their 20 paints colours.

In terms of vegetables Sasha’s fallen in love with aubergines, a vegetable she never used to like. She’s been trying to incorporate it in a lot of dishes. Her go-to recipe involves cutting the aubergine in half, scoring it, using some olive oil and a flavour, wrapping it up and then cooking it on a braai or in the oven. She says it’s incredibly moreish…I think I feel some recipe inspiration coming along.

Sasha Sonneberg

Sasha loves salad. She loves a meal with a crunch element and salad is so crunchy, it really makes her smile. She makes salad exciting by creating layers so that it’s easy to pick a mix of flavours and textures as the salad is eaten.

Her current favourite dressing for vegetables sounds amazing: she roasts vine or cherry tomatoes in the oven. The tomatoes explode and she uses the roasted, salty juice as the base of salad dressing.  Sasha did not train as a chef, she says food found her. When I hear about the things she’s doing with vegetables, I am so glad food found her so she can share her creativity and showcase delicious healthy foods!

Sasha has reduced the amount of salt she uses in dishes by making flavoured salts such as lime salt or truffle salt. Adding flavours reduces the total amount of salt used in the seasoning.

Sasha has recently reduced the amount of added sugar she was using. She says that cutting out sugar was a great health journey for her. She used to crave a lot of food and over eat more but since cutting out sugar she’s found that she feels is much better and doesn’t struggle with cravings any more.

Kitchen inspiration from Sasha

  • A great Moroccan rub is an easy way to impart flavour without having to add sauces or excessive salt.
  • Use yoghurt in place of creams to make dishes lighter.
  • To make fruit pop with flavour: grill it! Cooking anything on a high heat and getting a little char onto it is delicious. Try pineapple or nectarines.
  • Cooking for Sasha is something where you have to follow your gut. You just have to look at the food and watch what it is doing and trust yourself. There are basics that you can follow to get food to its best but she thinks people need to play and experiment.

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