Yesterday I met new The Franschhoek Kitchen Chef Cheyne Morrisby at Holden Manz in Franschhoek for the first time, not having had the opportunity to do so when he owned Cheyne’s in Bree Street before closing it down last year. I was very impressed with the tapas he prepared for lunch yesterday, and their exceptional value for money.  I also chatted to new winemaker Schalk Opperman and to Karl Lambour, the new Holden Manz wine production, marketing and sales director.

Chef Cheyne started at the Franschhoek Kitchen last Tuesday, and was busy making the tapas when I arrived. He told me that they will vary the tapas menu every week, depending on what they have available, and what the clients enjoy.  The tapas feedback will help him to develop his own menu over time, retaining those dishes that have been a particular hit at The Franschhoek Kitchen, which was started by his predecessor Chef Bjorn Dingemans. One senses that he wants to spoil his clients, and the three item tapas portions, at a mere R35, is unbelievable value.  He said that ‘the more one can enjoy, the better’, the policy he wants to offer his clients! Chef Cheyne is Cape Town born, worked at Blues for two years, and a planned one year job in London became an eleven year one, working at the Conran Group restaurants. In this time he cooked for Kate Moss, Kylie Mynogue, and Robbie Williams.  He travelled to the East, including Thailand and Indonesia, and he said that his cooking style is that of the Pacific Rim.  He loves their cooking methods, their simple approach to ingredients, and keeping food simple, fresh, clean and uncomplicated. They use base flavours to give food a good foundation.  He decided to return to Cape Town with his family, wanting them to ‘feel’ Africa, and also wanting to give back to his home country. He set up Cheyne’s on Bree Street, with a R 1½ million Miele kitchen, and one table of 20 seats, around which all his clients enjoyed his cooking.  In retrospect he is happy that he did not open a restaurant in Hout Bay, a difficult suburb in which to make restaurants survive.  He had come to scout a wedding venue for his brother, and looked at Holden Manz.  A week later he came back for an interview, and a week later he started the job.  Chef Cheyne is a very confident and energetic person, not taking any nonsense from anybody he said, and seemed at home in his new kitchen already.   Chef Cheyne lives in Hout Bay, but will spend six days a week on the wine estate to settle in.

Chef Cheyne is working with the existing kitchen team, and he will be allowing each of his chefs to develop their own signature dishes over time. The tapas menu offers six options, written up on a blackboard.  It was hard to choose between the tapas dishes, and each one was beautifully presented.  I started with a prawn tempura, with nice plump prawns, and pea risotto, delicious but a little too salty for my taste.  I had to double check with GM Wayne Buckley if the price quoted at R35 was correct for the three item tapas dish, and he confirmed it.  The beef tataki was served with Asian salad and wasabi mayo, the beef delicately rare, contrasted with the bite of the mayonnaise. The seared duck was served with a honey soy reduction and chilled watermelon, a most unusual combination. Other tapas choices were pork belly served with pea puree and topped with mange tout tempura, chilli salt squid with ponzu mayo, linefish with cucumber noodles and soy, and lamb and sushi rice balls with sesame.  Even though I had already eaten enough, I couldn’t resist trying out the chocolate brownie tapas, small slices topped with a strawberry, and served with an unusual ginger and caramel sauce.

Karl Lambour and I had been trying to meet for a while, and it was luck that he was at the restaurant too.  He lives in Camps Bay, and has a holiday home in Greyton to which he was heading back. He was excited by Chef Cheyne’s positive influence and energy.  Karl was the cellarmaster at Constantia Glen for five years, and worked at Fleur du Cap’s Bergkelder for two years prior to that.  His vision for Holden Manz is to express what the farm is capable of, in using predominantly their Franschhoek grapes and to make Franschhoek a region that becomes synonymous with excellent wines again.  He wants to focus on Holden Manz’s red wine varieties of Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. They will develop their iconic wine Big G even further, adding small amounts of Malbec and Petit Verdot to make the wine a true Bordeaux blend. The new Rosé is doing well. Karl is proud of their terroir, shared with their neighbours La Bri, Boekenhoutskloof, and Stoney Brook, the stony soil giving their wines complexity.  The mountain nearby stops the wind and cools down the temperature compared to other parts of Fanschhoek, where temperatures can exceed 40°C in summer.  They are also looking at what they can do differently in the restaurant, with a Shiraz-themed winemakers’ dinner planned for Wednesday, serving four courses, each paired with a Holden Manz, Mullineux, Eagle’s Nest, and AA Badenhorst Shiraz.  This is the second winemakers’ dinner they have organised.  Karl said that while he is not the winemaker, he is making two wines – a Chardonnay for which he is buying in grapes, and a special Shiraz blend.

Schalk Opperman apologised for his beard and moustache, saying that he is a member of the Franschhoek Moustache Association,  winemaker members having decided to not shave from the first day of their harvest until yesterday.  The competition was won by Jean Smit of Boekenhoutskloof, having grown the biggest moustache in this time.  He said that he originally had mixed feelings about moving to Holden Manz from Rust en Vrede, where he had a secure job for six years, but stood in the shadow of the winemaker. He was pleasantly surprised about the role which he can play in improving the grapes at Holden Manz, having a good structure, and he is working on developing the Holden Manz brand as wines to be reckoned with.   He is a Shiraz maker first and foremost, but sees making blends as a far bigger challenge for a winemaker.  He complimented Karl for his skills in wine marketing and brand building, and is happy that Karl leaves the winemaking to him, but is available to him as a sounding board. They will use their own grapes in winemaking only, only buying in a small quantity of Malbec and Petit Verdot to improve the Big G. They will use barrel fermentation in future, which was not done before, keeping the wine in the barrel for a year and in the bottle for another year.  In two years time the Holden Manz wines will show the effect of the new winemaking production techniques and winemaker, Schalk said.

It was a busy restaurant at The Franschhoek Kitchen yesterday, and the energy generated from Chef Cheyne was reflected by Karl, Schalk, Wayne and the serving staff too. Having been at the Franschhoek Kitchen a week ago, it was incredible what a change the new chef at Holden Manz has made! There is a promise of great things to come, given that this has only been Chef Cheyne’s first week.

The Franschhoek Kitchen, Holden Manz, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-2729. www.holdenmanz.com Twitter:@HoldenManz01

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:WhaleCottage