On Friday I was lucky to bump into Chefs Rikku O’Donnchü and Warwick King in Camps Bay, the two rockstar chefs who masterminded and led Gäte Restaurant at Quoin Rock wine estate outside Stellenbosch until the end of March, and to spend time with them to obtain first details about what they have planned for their new restaurant. I had noticed on Twitter that Chef Rikku’s Twitter handle relates to the ‘SŸN Development Group’, so asked him if the name related to the name of the new restaurant, and what ‘SŸN’ stands for. ‘SŸN’ is a Norwegian word signifying progression, growth, and expansion. Given their experience in setting up Gåte, the name of their company (but not the restaurant name) will build on what they established at Quoin Rock. The Group plans to open a Restaurant, a Bar, as well as cater for specially crafted events.
We went back to the reason for the two chefs leaving Gåte at Quoin Rock, and Chef Rikku explained that they saw changes happening within the business. Both the chefs and owners mutually agreed that the relationship had run its course.
Knowing Chefs Rikku and Warwick a little better since having eaten at Gåte three times since it opened in November 2018, I can only speculate that the declining Service Level, over which the chefs had no control from the kitchen, was a cause for concern, affecting the standing and rating of the restaurant. Since the departure of Head Waiter Rufus Scholtz in January this had become an increasing problem, which I wrote in my Reviews when my Parisian friend and I ate at Gåte for lunch and dinner earlier this year. The appointment of Lance Hambly as Food & Beverage Manager, coming from Karibu restaurant in the Waterfront, and appearing to have little wine knowledge, must have been a further factor, as we experienced too.
It would appear that more chefs are planning to leave the Gåte kitchen, the former La Colombe Chef Josh Crudsen having resigned already, I heard some time ago. I also have heard a rumour that Pastry Chef Izelle De Villiers may be joining one of Bertus Basson’s restaurants. Currently the Gåte kitchen is in the hands of a junior team of chefs, including Josh, Nicole Loubser, and Izelle. It is not known whether a new Executive Chef will be appointed. In addition to Rufus, GM Troy Truter and Commercial Manager Dave Hutton have also left the wine estate.
It will be interesting to see if the owners of Gåte restaurant will see the importance of changing the menu as soon as possible, as it could look like the restaurant is riding the reputation built by a team which no longer exists and has lost its driving force.
Looking at the future of the new restaurant, Chefs Rikku and Warwick revealed the following:
#. Alternative restaurant sites have been identified in the Cape Town city centre, each offering the space required for the chefs to do what they plan for the new restaurant, with space for a chef’s table of eight, and a separate events/function space, with a spacious kitchen. By July a space lease must have been signed, so that the interior building and decor work can commence. Cape Town was selected as the location of the restaurant, given the concern Capetonians have in driving to Stellenbosch for dinner. However, international expansion of the Group is not excluded.
# The chef team has been approached by various investors wishing to back the new restaurant. An international investor would be preferable, ideally a silent partner that supports the concept, Business Plan, and strategy of the restaurant, and allows the chefs to get on with their vision and passion for the new restaurant.
# Rufus Scholtz will play a Front of House and wine role in the new restaurant.
# Chefs Rikku and Warwick will be in their restaurant every day, and will come onto the restaurant floor to interact with restaurant patrons, a rare occurrence in Top restaurants, which are mainly run by multi-restaurant chefs!
# Marketing will play a significant role, Chef Rikku already having demonstrated how on the ball he is with Social Media, replying personally and quickly, often with a wonderful sense of humour. He is certainly our country’s most visible chef on Social Media, with about 6000 Twitter followers, 31000 Instagram followers, and 21000 FaceBook Friends.
# The food offering will be next level ‘immersive and interactive’, Chef Rikku said, adding sounds to the eating experience, not so much created by music, but rather with vibrations, which will release endorphins, enhancing the enjoyment of the dishes. The chefs revealed details of two of their new dishes: ‘It’s Black and White’, with pork fat and soy preserved guinea fowl egg, balsamic caviar, bacon, and white asparagus (right); and ‘That Fokken Prawn’, poached crayfish, pickled grape, egg yolk purée, white balsamic gel, and smoked bisque (left).
# A new ceramic company from France will supply the tableware, the chefs interacting with the company directly, huge creativity adding to the meal experience with the company using ‘inanimate objects to create eating vessels’, Chef Rikku said.
# The Tasting Menu dishes will be paired with the following options:
– local wines
– international wines
– Molecular cocktails
– iconic wines
# Tables will be covered with table cloths, and there will be plants and artworks to soften the interior of the restaurant.
# Last, but not least, the chef team has its sights set right at the top, aiming for number one slot on the local Top 10 Restaurant Awards, eligible in 2020, as well as on making the Top Ten of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant List. Had Chef Rikku stayed on at Gåte, the restaurant should have been likely to have made the World’s 50 Best Restaurant List for 2019. Presence on La Liste is earmarked too. Nominations for Gåte have been received in the World Luxury Awards, presented in Moscow on 25 July.
Chef Rikku will travel to Europe in July, to seek further inspiration for the new restaurant, and top vegetable-dominant restaurant L’Arpege in Paris is booked already, as is Tickets in Barcelona. I asked Chef Rikku which chefs he watches, and who inspire him, and these include Chef Gareth Ward from Yshir in Wales, René Redzepi from Noma in Copenhagen, Grant Achatz from Alinea in Chicago, and Dominique Crenn in San Francisco. El Bulli is to open a school of Molecular Gastronomy in Spain, and Chef Rikku plans to attend a course.
I learnt that Chef Rikku is a Cancerian, but has a Scorpio side to him too, making him an interesting and diverse personality, sharp, charming, yet extremely honest and direct. Chef Warwick is a Leo. The two chefs have worked together for a year, and are a good sounding board for each other in creating and finishing off new dish ideas, and they value the honesty in their partnership.
I cannot wait for November to arrive, to experience this new next-level restaurant of Chefs Rikku and Warwick. In the run up to the November opening, one can get a taste of the food of Chefs Rikku and Warwick, with international wine pairings, at SŸN pop-ups, planned in different venues, and in collaboration with different chefs.
POSTSCRIPT 19/4: Gåte at Quoin Rock has just posted the announcement that it has appointed Nicole Loubser as its Head Chef. She has past experience, for very short stints, at JAN Restaurant in Nice and at Le Petit Manoir in Franschhoek. Very unbelievable is giving her the credit for introducing the use of Liquid Nitrogen to the Gåte dishes, given the international Michelin star experience of its former Executive Chef Rikku O’Donnchü. Chef Nicole has very big shoes to fill!
‘It’s a long weekend and the perfect opportunity to experience the enigmatically humble yet confident and creative influence our newly promoted Head Chef, Nicole Loubser, is having on our chefs team and the subsequent experience of Gåte’s customers.
Nicole has been with the Gåte team since our opening, and was an obvious choice to promote into the position of Head Chef. She absolutely deserves the recognition. With her wonderfully humble leadership skills, Nicole has played a key role in conceptualising some of our current dishes. For example, she introduced the use of liquid nitrogen into the presentation of our dishes, and effectively set the trend of what many other restaurants are now also following in South Africa.
It is no secret that the best chefs in the world are the most humble. And Chef Nicole’s approach and philosophy fits that recipe perfectly. We’ll be sharing more details about her and the rest of our team’s stories very soon. You deserve to know how much love and passion our team of talent is putting in behind the scenes to co-create what is the Gåte experience. For now, all we can say is that most international chefs would be envious to have had the experience Nicole has had since she set her sights on unleashing her creative culinary expression into the world.
Nicole has been in charge of our kitchen for the last month already, and we’d like to thank all of our guests – especially the returning ones – who have shared with us that our quality of service and dishes have in fact only been exceeding their expectations every single time. Our team really deserves to hear those compliments – they are ultimately the reason why our collective goal of always continuing to excite and surprise our visitors is possible.
#foodisart #quoinrock #gaterestaurant #finedining #luxurylifestyle #topchefs’
Chefs Rikku O’Donnchü and Warwick King, SŸN Development Group, Cape Town. Chefrikku@outlook.com Twitter: @chef_rikku Instagram: @chef_rikku
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein