It could have been a disaster, changing the venue from the Mistico Equestrian Centre outside Paarl to the SunEvents Centre at GrandWest two days prior to the 17th Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards 2015 today. It turned out to be the best Friday the 13th disaster for New Media Publishing, organizers of the Eat Out Awards, described by many as the best Eat Out Awards ever! Stellenbosch has lost its Gourmet Capital crown to Cape Town.
Eat Out General Manager Aileen Lamb described their Friday the 13th venue change as caused by ‘unmanageable environmental conditions’. On arrival at Mistico on Friday morning, it appears that the Eat Out team found a major fly problem on the horse estate, making the venue unusable for the event. They were lucky to use Rainbow Productions, and MD Alison McCutcheon had to put on her thinking cap quickly, to find a new venue. She was connected to the SunEvents Centre at GrandWest, and it turned out to be eminently suitable to seat 600 guests, to create a big kitchen area visible to the guests, as well as an arrival area where we were served drinks and canapés of fresh-looking greens with tomatoes, sticks of cucumber and chicken rolls, as well as pumpkin fritters. It took an hour from arrival for us to be seated, timing which could have been reduced, but it was lovely to catch up with food friends. For many it was the best Eat Out Restaurant Awards meal ever, especially given the disappointing dinner last year.
The flies were not the only disaster for the Eat Out event. Prior to Friday the support catering company Foodsters, which Eat Out had announced with great drumroll as ‘The Chef’s will be collaborating with Byron de Carvalho of Foodsters to ensure a knockout meal for all guests’, but parted ways with Eat Out, not delivering on promises made when the contract was signed, I have been told. Once again it was a blessing in disguise, and Chef Pete Goffe-Wood took over the management of the food preparation, with five chefs being responsible for one of five courses each. Students from Silwood assisted with the food preparation and plating, and each of the five chefs had brought along their own staff to assist. Even students from the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine had the thrill to assist the chefs in the make-shift kitchen.
I sat at a table with nine other guests, none of whom I had met before – three were from the UK, and Stephen displayed a great love for our local wines, finding additional supplies on a regular basis. On my other side I sat next to the Brazilian Gabi and German Stephan, and we became friends over the seven hour lunch. Our table was one of the more boisterous, none of which had anything to do with me! Due to space constraints the tables were close to each other, and so we sat next to the (sad-looking, lifeless) five hundred table, and we had Finalist Chefs Chantel Dartnall, Gregory Czarnecki, Bertus Basson, David Higgs, Nic van Wyk, and Arno Janse van Rensburg close by. The Master of Ceremonies was vivacious Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp, and it was funny that she and other speakers kept referring to ‘this evening‘. It was the first Restaurant Awards which was held as a Gala Lunch, and the theme was ‘Sunday Lunch’, evoking family memories. The downside of this was that chefs and guests attended wearing shorts, jeans, and very casual dress (Chef George Jardine’s team wore grey kilts), despite the request to dress up in one’s Sunday best!
Before the food was brought to the table, a young lady rode her horse and sang a self-composed song whilst circling the venue perimeter twice, but the meaning was not clear. Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly told me that they did not have the heart to cancel this item, which would have suited the Mistico Equestrian Centre venue. Rosettes decorated a ‘fence’ which separated the kitchen from the dining area, and also reflected the horsey theme.
Jason Lilley of Jason Bakery on Bree Street prepared the bread course, and this was served with Striped Horse Craft Lager, again the equestrian link being understood. Chef Jason encouraged us to break open the bread and to eat it by hand. Each chef introduced his own dish, and showed the plating of the item, with an explanation of the ingredients, to the camera, so that we could all share this.
Headline sponsor Mercedes-Benz was thanked for its support, and its vehicles were displayed inside the venue. Last year Chef Luke Dale-Roberts was given the use of a Mercedes-Benz for a year, when his The Test Kitchen won the Best Restaurant Award. Today he won the usage of a Mercedes-Benz for a further year. Mercedes-Benz Marketing Manager Claudia Walters said that the Finalist chefs seemed very nervous, being ‘like kids going into an exam’. She said that their ‘Best Of’ Awards presented last month took Eat Out to Johannesburg, reflecting the good quality restaurants to be found in the city.
Chef Scot Kirton of La Colombe served a variation on their Amuse Bouche, being Tuna Tataki, avocado, quail egg, a seaweed puff, ponzu gel, radish, and chipotle broth, served in their branded La Colombe can. This course was paired with Nederburg Heritage Heroes The Young Airhawk. For many Chef Scot’s dish was the best of the five.
Chef Nic van Wyk of Bistro 13 served the second starter, which was a substantial crescent-shaped free-range chicken pie, prepared with a white onion sauce, roasted garlic butter, and vegetables. It was the archetype of a Sunday Lunch dish. The dish was paired with Boschendal 1685 Chardonnay.
Glamorous-looking Abigail came onto the stage, and enthused about some of the top dishes she and the other judges (Chefs Jackie Cameron, Benny Masekwameng, and Siba Mtongana) experienced in eating around the country: The Restaurant at Newton Johnson Chef Eric Bulpitt’s soup and sandwich; the vegetable ravioli by Terror, ‘a plate of heaven‘; polenta croquettes by DW Eleven-13; the Alchemist’s Infusion with lobster at Mosaic at The Orient; the Franschhoek-foraged ingredients at Foliage; the tapas selection at Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen; the chocolate buchu sorbet dessert at The Tasting Room; and the Forest Phantom cheese dish at The Restaurant at Waterkloof. Chef John Shuttleworth of Rust en Vrede was due to arrive late, having become a new father, while Chef Richard Carstens of Tokara could not attend as he had broken his shoulder when he fell while watering his vegetable garden. Wine service in restaurants has improved, said Abigail, and she told us that she had to put on wigs on some of her restaurant visits to disguise her appearance.
A Woolworths Sustainability Award was announced, the first restaurant recipient being awarded next year. Chef Carmen Muller of Rupert & Rothschild was named the Nederburg Rising Star, a complete surprise to her. She was described as having talent, oozing passion and energy, and cooking with care and generosity. The Boschendal Style Award Top 5 finalists were announced, being The Boiler Room Café, Greenhouse, Old Town Italy, View Restaurant, and the Test Kitchen. It was the Greenhouse which won the award, in recognition of the complete design overhaul of the restaurant! The Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded posthumously to the late Mrs Liz McGrath, who passed away earlier this year. She was described as generous, and a role model, who started her hotel career at the age of 60.
The main course was prepared by Chef Michael Broughton and his team from Terroir, being slow-roasted Karoo lamb shoulder, with jus, confit tomatoes, peas, pea purée, basil, onions, potato gratin, and coriander. This course was paired with Kevin Arnold Shiraz. Chef George Jardine of Jordan Restaurant prepared the Millionnaire’s Shortbread dessert, consisting of a white
chocolate mousse, Valrhona chocolate, and served with ice cream, Chef George saying ‘Vive la France‘ when he finished his dessert explanation! The dessert was paired with Nederburg Noble Late Harvest.
After a long slow lunch, it was finally time for the Top 10 countdown:
- The Test Kitchen, with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts
- La Colombe, with Chef Scot Kirton
- The Tasting Room, with Chef Margot Janse
- Greenhouse, with Chef Peter Tempelhoff
- Five hundred with Chef David Higgs
- The Restaurant at Waterkloof, with Chef Gregory Czarnecki
- Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient, with Chef Chantel Dartnall
- Terroir, with Chef Michael Broughton
- The Pot Luck Club, with Chef Wesley Randles
- Jordan Restaurant, with Chef George Jardine
The Awards make Cape Town the Gourmet Capital of our country, with 4 Awards, followed by Gauteng (2), Stellenbosch (2), Somerset West (1), and Franschhoek (1).
Additional Award winners were announced:
Wine Service Award : Lloyd Jusa, five hundred
Service Excellence Award: The Tasting Room, Le Quartier Français
S.Pellegrino Chef of the Year: Scot Kirton, La Colombe
The other Top 20 Finalists who did not make Top 10 were Chefs Bertus Basson of Overture, Marthinus Ferreira at DWEleven-13, Chris Erasmus of Foliage, Arno Janse van Rensburg of The Kitchen at Maison, Virgil Kahn of Indochine, Richard Carstens of Tokara, John Shuttleworth of Rust en Vrede, Eric Bulpitt of The Restaurant at Newton Johnson, Michael Cooke of Camphors at Vergelegen, and Liam Tomlin at Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen.
Chef George Jardine was clearly shocked at his 10th spot, and he is known to be outspoken (his best stage speech was against Eat Out using the British reviewer Bruce Palling some years ago). He challenged his team on the stage, and said that they want to be better than 10th! His honesty and creativity was acknowledged by Chef David Higgs. Chef David was very emotional when he accepted the award for five hundred, wishing the team of Head Chef Candice Philip best of luck for Eat Out 2016, hoping to see them on the stage again. He encouraged all chefs to be like Chef George Jardine, being the best chef in our country, in his opinion. Chef David said that he is starting his own restaurant, as he ‘wants to have fun in the kitchen again‘. five hundred Wine Service winner Lloyd Jasu no longer is the five hundred sommelier, having taken on a new role at The Saxon. The Test Kitchen has won the number one slot for the fourth time. The Tasting Room won its 14th Top 10 in the 17 year history of the Awards. Terroir has made the Top 10 list nine times in the eleven years since opening.
We enjoyed the Eat Out Restaurant Awards, the lunch, the afternoon event (giving us far better lighting for photographs), and being able to interact with so many chefs and other restaurant staff and lovers, everyone being very relaxed and enjoying seeing each other again,
Disclosure: We left just before 19h00 with a goodie-bag containing a bottle of Boschendal Brut MCC NV, a container of Frey chocolates, and the 2016 Eat Out magazine, which will be launched in outlets tomorrow.
POSTSCRIPT 16/11: The lady horse rider was Kristi Lowe, sister of the late Jenna Lowe, who wrote the song ‘I need more time’, which Kristi sang whilst riding in the venue.
POSTSCRIPT 16/11: Paging through the Eat Out 2016 magazine, I noticed that Hetta van Deventer, Culinary Director of La Motte and Leopards Leap, and wife of the La Motte winemaker, is a reviewer for Eat Out! This is a conflict of interest, given that Pierneef à La Motte is a Top 10 Restaurant contender (despite not making Top 20 this year), and that she has reviewed close competitor The Kitchen at Maison!
POSTSCRIPT 17/11: The bizarrest thing I have seen is a congratulation from Rossouw’s Restaurants to the Eat Out Restaurant Awards winners. Even more bizarre is that Rossouw’s Restaurants has posted a sponsored link to the Eat Out results! One could say that they are direct competitors!
Eat Out 2016, New Media Publishing. Tel (021) 417-1111 www.eatout.co.za Twitter: @Eat_out
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here