For the past five years, with one exception, I have attended the Grande Provence charity lunch in aid of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the proceeds of which go to the Society. The theme of the lunch is Big 5, and everything is done in multiples of five: five courses, prepared by five top chefs, paired with five Grande Provence wines, and five entertainers, creating a most enjoyable afternoon, and generating much needed funding for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Not cheap at R1100 a ticket, the Grande Provence charity lunch was attended by about a hundred supporters, and raised about R200 000, almost double the amount raised last year. All services are donated, and the full amount raised is donated to the Society. In addition to the ticket sales, a raffle raised funds, as did a charity auction, of accommodation, a helicopter flip, a dinner for ten cooked by Grande Provence chef Darren Roberts, and works of art, which raised half the monies, thanks to the amazing auctioneering charm of Ariella Kuper of Auction Alliance.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system which destroys the myelin, a ‘rubber coating around the nerves in one’s brain’. This leaves the nerves exposed, and blocks messages from the brain to parts of the body, creating physical problems, such as an inability to speak properly, to walk, to see, or to remember things. The Society uses the monies it raises to pay for a part-time social worker, to offer support at the homes of sufferers of this disease, to offer transport services, to train sufferers in coping with their disease, and to offer equipment for rental.
On arrival guests were offered Angels Tears Rosé, and canapés of salmon cones and oysters, prepared by Michel Louws, the chef at Huka Lodge in New Zealand, the sister property of Grande Provence. Chef Michel arrived in Franschhoek last week, and we attended a dinner on Friday evening as well, prepared by him in its entirety, with a focus on New Zealand cuisine, but more about that below. The programme was spread out over close to six hours, and a good time was had by all, Master of Ceremonies Ryan O’Connor from Kfm being a charming and funny host, and has donated his services for free for a number of years, and vowed to do so for the rest of his life. The programme interspersed food courses with the entertainment by five musicians (Darryl Walters, Kari, ex-Madame Zingara and Vaudeville performer Irit Noble, Tony Nelson, and Emil Struwig), and a few speeches. Non Smit, who runs the Multiple Sclerosis Society, described the disease as invisible, and expressed her gratitude for the support received, and explained how the monies are used. Shani Marais, wife of Grande Provence winemaker Jaco Marais, whose brainchild the lunch is, is a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer, and works tirelessly to organise the annual charity luncheons. Motivational speaker Sean Willard spoke on the subject of his book to be published in July, entitled “Have a Life Attack”, and advised all to have “a love attack, a laugh attack and a life attack” regularly! He said that Shani was a wonderful example of getting up, and not giving up.
The first course was prepared by Grande Roche Eat Out Top 10 chef Roland Gorgosilich, being a Trio of Ostrich (left), including carpaccio and a mince ball, served with Tandoori, paprika vinaigrette and coriander mayonnaise, and was paired with the Grande Provence Pinot Noir 2009, which I enjoyed so much that I stuck with it for the rest of the lunch. This was followed by Rainbow Trout gravadlax, presented with watercress, anchovy and smoked beetroot mayonnaise, Buffalo mozzarella, and a dill and lime gel, beautifully presented by Chef Gregory Czarnecki of Waterkloof Estate in Somerset West (right). This course was paired with Grande Provence Sauvignon Blanc 2010.
The main course was lamb neck, which had been cured and cooked for 36 hours. It was prepared by Chef Michel Louws from award-winning Huka Lodge in New Zealand, and he felt that lamb would represent his new home country, using Karoo lamb for the dish. It was topped with the tiniest croutons and lime peel, which gave the softest lamb a wonderful taste. The aroma of the lamb could be smelt throughout the room, and was enjoyed to ooos and aaas. Chef Michel has an interesting Dutch/New Zealand accent, and a most interesting hairstyle – he is bald-headed, but has a cute strand of hair which stands upright with the help of a special wax, he explained to us, saying that when he was at school they didn’t want his hair to be long, while his mother did not want him to shave everything off, so he chose the combination compromise. Chef Michel trained at Michelin-starred Dutch restaurants Le Cirque, de Librije, Inter Scaldis and Zusje, and then the restaurant at which he was the head chef, ‘t-Veerhuis, was awarded a Michelin star. He joined Huka Lodge two years ago. His restaurant will not feature on the New Zealand top 10 restaurant list, he said, as the restaurant is mainly for the guests of the Lodge, and a maximum of six outside guests can be considered per meal.
The 4-course New Zealand dinner prepared by Michel Louws on Friday evening, costing R495 per head, was preceded by canapes, including salmon cones. Chef Michel served scallops as a starter, one hot and one cold, with lemon, which was paired with Grande Provence Sauvignon Blanc 2010, and an excellent New Zealand Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2005. Then followed barbecued lobster served with a delicious liquid garlic sauce, paired with Grande Provence Chardonnay 2009 and New Zealand Clearview Reserve Chardonnay 2009. The main course was the lamb neck as well, served with Grande Provence Shiraz 2007 and New Zealand Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah 2005, and Chef Michel described the Karoo lamb he used for it as ‘bloody awesome’. Dessert was a ‘deconstructed Snickers’, consisting of malt, caramel, chocolate and peanuts, which was paired with Frangelico. Chef Michel wants to try the local restaurant highlights, and went to The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, saying it was ‘worldly’ and he liked that they served local wines. He also went to Pierneef à La Motte, where he had Bokkoms. In Holland they have a similar dish, made from air-dried herrings. He wants to get to The Test Kitchen, and we suggested Tokara, given his admiration for Ferran Adria of El Bulli.
The charity lunch dessert was prepared by Rudi Liebenberg and his pastry chef from the Mount Nelson Hotel and their Planet restaurant. It was a collection of ‘chocolate stuff’, including peanut and chocolate sable, chocolate créme, dark chocolate sorbet, and a thin slab of Valrhona chocolate. This was paired with Grande Provence Shiraz 2007. The final course was a cheese plate served on a slate plate, beautifully presented by Chef Darren Roberts of Grande Provence. It contained a stilton, roasted cashew nuts, preserved fig, olive biscuits, compressed melon goats’ cheese sorbet, balsamic foam, Welsh Rarebit, and a refreshing raspberry aniseed puree, and was paired with Grande Provence Chardonnay 2010.
Grande Provence has re-positioned itself as one of the top restaurants in Franschhoek, with the two excellent top food events it organised over the past weekend. It was announced by Grande Provence GM Amanda Roberts that they plan to bring out more guest chefs from Australia and Asia. The collaboration with top local chefs in preparing food for the Multiple Sclerosis Society charity lunch is a great opportunity to see the creativity of the chefs under one roof, so to speak, whilst supporting a worthwhile cause.
Grande Provence, Main Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-8600. www.grandeprovence.co.za
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage