An unusual recipe of 14 top South African chefs working together in pairs of two in less than ideal temporary kitchen conditions set up outside the City Hall, supported by a sommelier and restaurant serving staff per chef pair, and serving 36 guests a unique four-course menu each, dreamt up by Opulent Living publisher Barbara Lenhard, saw R1195000 raised for charity on Thursday evening, alongside which the brand new Mercedes-Benz S Class was launched.
The A list event, which was covered by Top Billing and was MCd by Top Billing presenter Bonang Matheba and previous Top Billing and The Dr Mol Show presenter Dr Michael Mol, was first announced in May, and even though the tickets cost R3000, they were snapped up within a very short period of time, leaving many food lovers disappointed that they were missing out on THE food event of the year. Early bird bookers had the advantage of being able to pick their favourite chef pair, most of which had never cooked together before, while the balance had to accept the chef pair they were allocated to, even though the calibre of chefs involved meant that every table was served food of the highest standard. Woolworths sponsored the food that the chefs required to prepare their dishes for the 250 guests. Graham Beck sponsored the glass of MCC served as the welcome drink, whereafter each set of three tables per chef pair were served a unique combination of wines which the sommeliers felt best paired with the dishes. They had assistants too, to keep the wine and water glasses filled. Overall, Mercedes-Benz was the main sponsor, and given the calibre of the ladies’ fashion worn on the evening, it was suggested by Dr Martin Zimmerman, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz South Africa, that the evening could equally have been part of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week! The City of Cape Town sponsored the City Hall, Martin Drotsky of the Cape Grace co-ordinated the food and beverage requirements, Ten of Cups supplied the mobile kitchens for the chefs, and the SA Butler Academy provided the waiters.
The event was held at the City Hall, a building with a tremendous heritage, but not in the best condition. However, Barbara and her team of event co-ordinators transformed the hall into an unrecognisable space, the stage blocked out by massive screens, and 21 tables set up inside, a few in the higher level back section, and the balance in the front lower section. Lush did the table decorations, made from fruit and vegetables. Ten works of art donated by top South African artists were hung in the meeting hall and in the passages, with a background description of the artist, and the estimated value of the artwork, none valued less than R25000, and most averaging R50000. A Nespresso coffee bar was placed at the back of the hall, from which the guests could collect complimentary coffee. Each guest received a ‘Chefs who Share’ commemorative book, with an introduction to each artist and his/her work and to each chef and sommelier, a bidder number for the art auction, and a card offering additional sponsorship of R1000 vegetable boxes to be distributed to township school children via the Amy Biehl Foundation. What created intrigue is how Mercedes-Benz managed to get its new S Class, initially hidden by a cloth until it was officially launched during the evening, into the foyer of the City Hall!
The teams that served the guests were the following:
* Margot Janse, David Higgs & sommelier Francis Krone
* Bertus Basson, Peter Tempelhoff & sommelier Higgo Jacobs
* Rudi Liebenberg, Christiaan Campbell & sommelier Carl Habel
* Jackie Cameron, Reuben Riffel & sommelier Neil Grant
* Darren Badenhorst, Chris Erasmus & sommelier Pierre Theron
* Harald Bresselschmidt, Chantel Dartnall & sommelier Germain Lehodey
I sat at a table with artist Russel Travers and his partner Ingrid, the Riedel representative who had sponsored the glassware, a Van Ryn’s brandy representative, Bienne Huisman from City Press, Johannesburg visitors Makere Thekiso and Jobie Bakama, and PR consultancy for the event GC Communications’ owner Gudrun Clark. We were looked after by Mosaic at The Orient sommelier Germain Lehody, and his assistant for the evening Charles Pohl, the menu providing the details about the wine pairing for each of our four dishes, as there was not an opportunity for each of the wines to be introduced to us at our table. Our chef pairing was an interesting one, both not well known to us, especially Chef Chantel of Mosaic at the Orient, who is based near the Hartebeespoort Dam outside Johannesburg, a regular on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list, and who received fantastic coverage for her seafood dish served in natural sea vessels, and for her plating and use of flowers in this when MasterChef SA Finalist Herman Cloete came to visit her in episode 8 as a prize for winning the best dish in episode 7. Chef Harald of Aubergine in Cape Town has been a top chef in Cape Town for many years, and was a regular on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list, last having made the list in 2010. It appeared that each chef took responsibility for two of the four courses, and the differing personality and food styles were evident, making the dinner even more interesting with contrasting conservative dishes (Chef Harald) and innovative and fresh dishes (Chef Chantel). I appreciated the assistance from Charles and Aubergine’s Catherine in allowing me to photograph the dishes in the preparation passage, not always easy to organise as some dishes were interactive, given the very low (blue) lighting inside the hall.
Our starter was a cauliflower soup with truffle creme, each poured separately onto a soup plate base with a petit variation of cauliflower and truffle, a dish by Chef Harald and beautifully decorated on the plate edge by Chef Chantel. This dish was paired with Waterkloof Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009. The most unusual and creative dish of the evening was the composition named ‘Shellfish of the Cape seas, individually prepared to share (picked off the beach)‘, created by Chef Chantel, which consisted of a wild oyster, a stuffed periwinkle (added to the plate at the table after the photograph was taken), a smear representing a slug, seaweed, and sea urchin, which contained a liquid to be enjoyed with a straw. This dish was the talking point at our table, and a number of the guests seemed a little uncertain about eating it, not having interacted with these seafoods so directly. It was served with Vin d’Orrance Chardonnay 2011.
Chef Harald’s second dish was Guinea fowl and foie gras tortellini, coq au vin of game bird, quail baked with morels and pistachio, accompanied by a melange of vegetables, which was paired with an excellent Creation Reserve Pinot Noir 2012. The fun dessert created by Chef Chantel could not be photographed in its entirety, as it consisted of numerous elements brought to the table individually, to make up a ‘Composition (dialogue) of desserts with the colours purple‘, a misnomer as there was little with that colour in our dessert elements, but then the lighting was so low where we sat that we may not have seen the colour! The dessert consisted of a triple crème brûlèe, served flavoured with vanilla, lavender, and saffron; pineapple blini popsicles presented in a wooden box with wood shavings, which created steam when water was added to the dry ice at the base of the box, and a plateful of beetroot and apple sorbet, baked Alaska, and a cheesecake stuffed granadilla, which was served with a Sadie Family Eselshoek 2011, a Muscat d’ Alexandrie natural sweet white straw wine. I left at 0h30, and by then the friandise had just been brought to the table, but the ‘Vintage Rose’ Van Ryn’s brandy cocktail and coffees had not.
After the dinner had been served, the Mercedes S Class had been launched, and Elvis Blue had entertained, the Art Auction was conducted by a most impressive auctioneer Iain Banner, his smooth-talk charming another R625000 out of the pockets of the dinner guests, and we were grateful for our seats for this part of the evening, as the auctioneer would not have seen our bidding hands at the back. Works of art included those by Russel Travers, Anton Smit, Louis Jansen van Vuuren, Jean Doyle, the auction highlight being the Lionel Smit portrait, which achieved the evening’s top bid by far of R140000.
In the words of Francois Pienaar, driving the MAD Foundation, ‘we ate food created by masters and drank wines selected by masters’! The chefs as well as Barbara and her partner Florian Gast received a standing ovation for the work that they had put into making the evening such a success, especially given that some chefs (and some sommeliers) had flown in from Durban and Johannesburg, had to leave their own restaurants back home in good running order, and had to get back home late at night and be back at their cooking stations the next morning. All the chefs had given their services to the evening at no charge. I was grateful to have seen some of the chefs in the passage where I was photographing, as there was little to be seen of them inside the hall during the evening, and they never had a chance to be seated at the tables under their ‘jurisdiction’! A pity too is not seeing the creations of the other six chef teams and their collective 24 dishes, as they were not shown on the TV screens. From the titles alone very creative dishes were presented by the other chef teams too, with equally intriguing titles for the dishes served. The income of the ticket sales as well as of the art auction more than lived up the pay-off line for ‘Chefs Who Share’, being The ART of Giving’, the evening having been a fantastic success and the proceeds going to good causes!
Chef’s Who Share: www.chefswhoshare.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage