I first heard about La Motte’s Herbs & Vegetables organic vegetable and herb supply from enthusiastic client Chef Oliver Cattermole at Dish restaurant at Le Franschhoek,  who shared that La Motte’s Daniel Kruger supplies him with specialist vegetables in colours and sizes he requests for his beautiful dishes.  It is a fantastic example of collegiality, in that La Motte is sharing its organic produce with its restaurant colleagues.

Meeting with Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte last week, he connected me with Daniel Kruger, who is in charge of the specialist vegetable and herb farm, and the La Motte farm manager Pietie le Roux.  I met both at Leopard’s Leap, where Daniel shared that the new business was started at the beginning of the year, and that it has grown to not only supply Pierneef á La Motte, but also other top restaurants in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Daniel told me that he has been involved in large scale vegetable farming in the Free State, and has only more recently operated in the Cape, in the capacity as a consultant in the past.   The emphasis is very definitely on the organic production of the vegetables and herbs, and this means not using pesticides nor herbicides.  Daniel said they do nothing chemical to counter any problems, and there are few threats, having no snails, and few aphids or worms. Guinea fowl are the biggest threat, loving to eat the fresh leaves of the small cabbage plants, and therefore Daniel has created a clever ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ system of wires to keep them out of his vegetable beds. Many of the weeds have pretty flowers, and these are used by the chefs to decorate their plates.  Compost is made from wood chips and winery offall, and can reduce the growing of weeds when the beds are covered with the compost.  Using compost also means that the vegetable growth is slower, but the taste is better, Daniel explained.

Daniel has got to know his chef customers well, and each has his or her own requirements in terms of the types of vegetables and herbs they want, as well as the sizes and colours they want them in. He explained that his seed suppliers are able to provide him with the colour requirements of his chef customers, and he can control the size of the vegetables according to the chefs’ requirements – the photograph shows the baby aubergines in yellow and green, which are Chef Oliver’s special choice.  Chef Chris Erasmus of Pierneef á La Motte has first choice of all Daniel’s planting, and then the other chefs are served.  If Daniel has an oversupply of an item, he will contact the chefs, and offer it to them.   Carrots, beetroot, lettuce, spring onions, radishes and turnips are some of the vegetables which Daniel can supply in more than one (traditional) colour.  The main photograph contains a medley of these, including bulls blood baby beetroot, radicchio, golden beetroot, mange tout, sugar snaps, kale, and purple spring onion.

Daniel is testing which plants are most suitable to the area, peas and mint for example being very sensitive to the southeaster in Franschhoek, despite the netting which he uses to prevent wind damage.

Vegetables and herbs grown by Daniel and his team of eight include peas, bold fennel, beetroot, radicchio (bitter salad), spinach, English spinach, chives, spring onions, lemon thyme, silver thyme, normal thyme, lettuce, rosemary, sorrel, basil, sage, rhubarb, nasturtiums, French tarragon, Bayleaf trees, mint, artichoke, wild rocket, specialised heirloom tomatoes, black and red potatoes, kohlrabi, black and pink turnips, and granadilla.  Edible flowers are supplied too, including radish, pak choi, rocket, fennel and spring onion flowers.  Even some of the weeds, including ramnas (wild mustard), Kaapse misbredie, and varkslaai are used, as they have a good taste and texture. Daniel is very excited about how well his test strawberries are growing, ready to bear fruit in three weeks, and he will plant more next season.

We spoke about the availability of fresh herbs all year round, and Daniel said that it wasn’t a problem for most herbs.  However, coriander is impossible to supply fresh in summer, it being too hot to grow, and would have to be flown in at up to R250 per kg.  A herb such as rosemary tastes different when it flowers, its branches being harder in this time.

Daniel said that they have the capacity to supply more local restaurants, but emphasised that it takes up to three months to grow specific vegetable and herb requirements.  He supplies daily, and he went back to pick produce for his chef clients after we had finished our tour at 17h30, saying that ‘the fresher, the better’.

The day after the farm visit I popped in at Pierneef à La Motte, and asked Chef Chris Erasmus which dish he could recommend to encapsulate the produce from the farm the best. He prepared a most beautiful and special Spring Salad with the produce which Daniel had brought to him, picked at 7h00 that morning. The salad contained a nasturtium flower, pea flowers, sorrel flowers, nasturtium leaves, watercress leaves (the first harvested ever on that day), baby carrots, baby beetroot, peas, mange tout, sugar snaps, baby onions, and rocket leaves, with praline nuts, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds, and a nasturtium dressing.  Chef Chris said that Daniel brings him what he has supply of, and they work around the produce to create dishes for the day.  Chef Chris emphasised that there is a relationship of trust, Daniel providing special vegetables and herbs for each chef, but never sharing that information with others.

The ‘marriage’ between the farm and kitchen at La Motte is true foraging, and is testimony to this wine estate’s slogan of ‘A Culture of Excellence’.  It is ahead of most other restaurants in the country in this respect, and one can hardly eat fresher vegetables and herbs than at Pierneef à La Motte!  It makes Pierneef à La Motte a strong Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant contender.

La Motte Herbs & Vegetables, Tel 071 438 1760 (Daniel)

Pierneef à La Motte, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-8800. www.la-motte.com Twitter: @PierneefLaMotte Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Thursday – Saturday dinner.

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