On Thursday evening I attended the 2019 Finals of the Patrón Perfectionists tequila cocktail competition at Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen and Cape Brandy Bar in the Waterfront, after a first part of the event had been held at Foliage in Franschhoek earlier in the day. Despite the largest number of female finalists over the past three years of the South African participation in the competition, the 2019 SA finals was won by David van Zyl, mixologist at Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen! Continue reading →
In just over twelve months of its launch, Triple Three hand-crafted premium gin made at Blaauwklippen in Stellenbosch has become one of the top three best-selling local gins in our country, and is regarded as a world-class gin. I attended a tasting of the three Triple Three gins at OpenWine on Monday evening, and of their brand new but not yet launched Triple Three Distillers Cut gin last week, at a Blaauwklippen Zinfandel tasting. Continue reading →
We wrote recently how Woolworths has been misleading consumers with claims about its Ayrshire milk, deceiving food labelling, and how it tries to create an image of healthy produce via its ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa‘ series on SABC3. The group Grass Consumer Food Action has been persistent in its criticism of Woolworths, and appears to have hit a raw nerve in the Good Business Journey division at Woolworths, the retailer having launched a brand new ‘Good Food News‘ 16-page insert in the Sunday Times yesterday! It looks like a Taste magazine (the Woolworths sponsored magazine published by New Media Publishing) but printed in Tabloid format on recycled paper!
While the Tabloid has ‘headlines’ on page 1, to attract one’s attention to the content, it consists of a mix of ‘advertorials’ of its award-winning wines (since when are wines a food, as per the name of the publication?) in ‘Crowned as the best‘; ‘responsibly sourced‘ fish; braai suggestions for ‘Ready Steady Braai’; and ‘Flavours of Home‘ (prepared foods with strong spices such as curries, and traditional foods such as koeksisters and milk tart); as well as editorial. It is obviously planned as a monthly insert, numbered ‘Issue 01′, and dated September 2014. The focus of the first issue is ‘lovelocal‘:
* ‘New on the shelf‘ (page 3) showcases new pack designs for wine boxes, braai tins, braai marinade, braai Continue reading →
Franschhoek is upping its gourmet game, with two local chefs having spent some weeks at Noma in Copenhagen, the number one restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and bearing a 2-Michelin star rating since 2008, in the past three months. Both Chef Shaun Schoeman from Fyndraai Restaurant at Solms-Delta and Chef Chris Erasmus from Pierneef à La Motte returned inspired and have fine-tuned their menus and cooking to incorporate Nordic cuisine into their local gourmet offering.
The restaurant’s philosophy is on the homepage of its website:
“In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture,
hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future.”
Chef Chris Erasmus, Pierneef à La Motte
Yesterday I met with Chef Chris Erasmus, a week after his return from Noma, at which he had spent close to a month. I asked him why he had taken the time to leave his post as Executive Chef, and start from scratch at Noma. Chef Chris said he wanted to study how Chef René Redzepi had taken a restaurant which had been laughed at initially for focusing on Nordic cooking, initially not very exciting and then synonymous with ‘whale blubber and fish eyes’ (like Bobotie would be for South African cuisine, he said), and taking it to the number one restaurant in the world, and having kept it there for three years running. What Chef Chris does at Pierneef à La Motte, in foraging from nature, and in cooking what one has, is reflected at Noma too. Chef Chris has Daniel Kruger growing a range of unusual herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers for him at La Motte, with only one of 13 items in the salad farm grown, and the balance foraged, while Noma is supplied by specialist producers.
Chef Chris was impressed by the systems of the restaurants, each person working for the restaurant knowing what is going on. A meeting is called by the Restaurant Manager prior to service, in which they discuss any specific dietary requirements of guests, so that the chefs are prepared for this upfront, and not told about them when the guests arrive. The Restaurant Manager, from Australia, is in the running for a Restaurant Manager of the Year Award in Denmark. Chris said that his knowledge is amazing, having spent so much time with the chefs to get to know the dishes that he can cook them himself. There are 45 kitchen chefs, with another 25 volunteers unpaid and just there to learn more from this leading restaurant. Only two of the chefs are Danish, the others coming from the USA, Australia, Germany, and Mexico in the main. The rules are strict, and one is expected to follow them 100%. A mistake made a second time will lead one to be told to leave. Staff are treated politely, even though Chef René can lose his cool on occasion. No dishes are allowed to be photographed or distributed via Social Media by staff or volunteers.
There are three kitchen sections that the volunteers go through, starting with the Preparation Kitchen, foraging produce, and getting them ready. Chef Chris spent less than a week here. The second level was the Hot Kitchen, dealing with the restaurant service, and here Chef Chris gave more than expected, already coming to work at 5h00 in the morning (instead of 9h00), and usually getting home to the hostel he was staying at at 2h00 instead of the usual 23h00. This allowed him to work with the other chefs and learn from them, and to show them how eager he was to learn, so that he could move through the three kitchens. The third kitchen is the experimental Test Kitchen, which has two scientists and a chef, creating new dishes. Lactic acid fermentation is the foundation of many of the new dishes, a natural process bringing out the Umami in food, eradicating the need to add salt or sugar to food. There is no salt on the restaurant tables, nor is it added to food. The maximum sugar content of any dish is 12%. They make their own Miso paste too, taking a few months, ant purée, fermented crickets, and more. Chef Chris shared that he tasted bee larva, having a very rich creamy wax taste.
Chef René greets each guest as they arrive at his restaurant. He works seven days a week, even though the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Chef Chris came to work on Mondays, again to learn as much as possible. Noma has an excellent Head Chef and Sous Chefs, on whom Chef René can rely while he is busy with the guests, and spends time in the Test Kitchen. The chefs serve the guests. Waiters cannot work at Noma if they have not studied to be a waiter for three years at a local college. The role of the waiters is to explain the dishes to the guests. Guests are served 16 ‘snacks’ as a start to the Tasting Menu in rapid succession over 12 minutes, literally a mouthful each. This is followed by four courses, the size of our starters, being a vegetable dish, a meat dish, a fish dish, and a dessert, at a cost of about R2250. The restaurant is flexible in what they serve, to allow for dietary requirements. The Test Kitchen’s role is to add new dishes to the menu, and Chef Chris saw five new dishes being developed in the time that he was there. One of the dishes developed while Chef Chris was in the Test Kitchen was ‘Lacto Plum and Forever Beets’, served with lemon verbena and fennel soup, the beetroot being roasted for three hours, and its leathery skin then peeled off, the inside tasting like liquorice.
To learn from each other, especially the visiting chefs, they have Saturday night ‘Projects’ after service, in the early Sunday morning hours, presenting their own dishes, which are evaluated by the fellow chefs and the scientists. Chef Chris missed the opportunity to present a dish.
Chef Chris has been inspired by his experience at Noma, and changes are already being made to his current menu. He has added Lacto-fermented Porcini broth to his menu, inspired by Noma, made by adding salt to the mushrooms and vacuum-packing them, until they ferment at ambient room temperature. This creates enzymes which break down the bad bacteria, bringing out the natural savoury flavour. The summer menu will be much lighter, with far more foraged herbs and flowers, and some unique vegetables grown for him by Daniel. Artichokes, peas, and broadbeans are at their best right now, and Chef Chris showed me the some of his vegetables and herbs, which had been picked for him at 10h00 yesterday morning. They are only using Raspberry Vinegar now, instead of vinaigrettes. He will focus on only using vegetables and herbs from the La Motte garden.
Chef Chris has invited Chef René to visit (he was in Cape Town for what seemed literally a flying visit in February when he addressed the ‘Design Indaba’). He was inspired by his experience, and it is visible in his big smile, and new passion for his craft. While others may not have had such a good time, he said that ‘you get out what you put in’. He lost 15 kg in the time, just working and sleeping for a short while. He can’t wait to go back in a winter time, to see how they use all the preserved foods they prepare in the summer months, such as pickled rosebuds, and fermented plums. Having had to start at the bottom at Noma, he has a better understanding of his staff, yet expects ‘150%’ of them, Chef Chris said. One of his American co-volunteers at Noma started at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town this week.
Chef Chris’ Noma experience, coupled with the fantastic vegetable and herb garden on the farm, are sure to earn Pierneef à La Motte an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award in November!
Chef Shaun Schoeman, Fyndraai, Solms-Delta
In June, Chef Shaun Schoeman of Solms-Delta’s Fyndraai Restaurant spent two weeks working in one of the kitchens at Noma. Chef Shaun’s feedback was that the simplicity of Noma’s menu, which lists items like ‘pike perch and cabbage’, ‘cooked fava beans and beach herbs’ and ‘the hen and the egg,’ belies its sophisticated appeal, as evidenced by the backlog of keen diners waiting for bookings. Noma is known for its contemporary reinterpretation of Nordic cuisine. This includes a return to the traditional methods of pickling, curing, smoking, and fermenting as well as the integration of many indigenous herbs and plants. Redzepi himself has worked with the world’s best, having spent time at both El Bulli in Spain (when it was the world’s number one restaurant), and the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley.
“There are many similarities between the kinds of indigenous elements we use here at Fyndraai and what chef Redzepi has become known for in his cuisine,” said Shaun, who felt that he could only benefit from doing a stint at the world-famous Noma. After his acceptance as a stagier, he packed his bags and flew to Copenhagen, where he joined a production kitchen staffed by over 50 chefs from around the world, all there to learn the philosophy and techniques of this influential chef. “Everyone who works at Noma, no matter what their experience, starts in the production kitchen,” explained Shaun, where the standards for preparation and hygiene are exacting and the hours extremely long, with shifts of up to 14 hours. Only after three months will Chef Redzepi consider moving a stagier into the main service kitchen. Every morning, a group of the production kitchen chefs go out to the nearby seaside to forage for fresh wild herbs and leaves, like nettles, wild rocket, sea coral, and wild garlic. Upon their return, they set to work on their pickings, cutting leaves into uniform sizes, all done on a tray kept over ice. “Temperature is extremely important as the herbs must be kept cold, but never below the temperature of the fridge.”
For a Franschhoek-born and bred native, it was an amazing experience for Shaun. He was overwhelmed by the incredible fresh fish and seafood that came through the production kitchen daily, including live crabs and luscious sea scallops still in their shells. All vegetables were organic and specially grown for the restaurant. A great example of Noma’s high standards was the daily sorting of fresh green peas into varying sizes! But aside from the differences in product and handling, when it came to the indigenous plants themselves, Shaun found that they were not dramatically different from the plants he relies on at Fyndraai, which are grown in the estate’s Dik Delta Garden. “We have many versions of the same plants, the major difference being that the Scandinavian herbs have more subtlety. South African indigenous herbs are sharper, which means that you really need the knowledge and training to harness their flavour without overpowering dishes.” Shaun returned from Copenhagen infused with energy and appreciation for the wide variety of herbs he has at his discretion, which collectively he refers to as “my baby.” He uses only indigenous herbs grown on site, so management of ingredients is crucial. That said, he feels he has a great deal of flexibility – one of the perks of a kitchen garden – and is always able to find a pleasing substitute if one herb is temporarily depleted. The ingredient he’s most crazy about is citrus buchu, which he says is the most fantastic herb he’s ever worked with. “It’s got a sexy, citrus flavour that really lifts everything it touches. It works equally well with savoury dishes or desserts, and can be used in anything from infusions to a flavouring in bread rolls.”
He’s also extremely partial to spekboom, a small-leaved succulent also known as ‘elephant bush’, which is very versatile. At Fyndraai, it receives various treatments, from a quick stir-fry to lightly-dressed salad greens, and from pickling to its use as an ingredient in a cold cucumber soup. In its pickled form, it’s one in a range of signature Dik Delta products Shaun has recently started producing and selling on the farm. Some of the others are lemon and wild rosemary chutney, lemon and gemoedsrus (fortified Shiraz) marmalade, and wild herb rubs. Customers love taking these products, which they cannot find elsewhere, home to their own kitchens to experiment with. “The indigenous herbs play sometimes starring, and more often supporting roles in the food we create at Fyndraai, depending on the nature and flavour of the plants themselves,” Shaun said. The key is quantity, and knowing how much to add to a dish, and when to add it. Sometimes they are added directly to dishes, at other times infused into sauces, used to create syrups which provide complementary flavours to a dish and even as flavourings in ice cream! The plants are propagated at Dik Delta, the large ‘kitchen garden’ on the wine estate. The two-hectare veld garden is overseen by a team of trained Solms-Delta residents. It yields crops of dynamic herbs, many of which were on the verge of extinction before the birth of this valuable culinary-bio project.
Today, the garden is the restaurant’s source for everything from wild asparagus to spekboom to makatan, an indigenous melon which Shaun cooks into one of the Dik Delta preserves. The garden is in full spring flower, with sunny yellow patches of honeybush, which flowers will be picked and dried for honeybush tea, and the dark mauve flowers of the Bobbejaantjies (little baboons) or Babiana. While this striking flower is most often used as an ornamental plant, it has a highly nutritious bulb or corm that can be eaten raw or cooked; it tastes a little like a potato and can be used as a vegetable in stews or in salads. Since Fyndraai opened four years ago, cooking with these plants has been an ongoing learning process for Shaun as well as his staff, all of whom were initially kitchen novices. This had many advantages, because they had no preconceived notions or bad habits to break. He is extremely proud of his kitchen crew, who handle the complex menu and its preparations with confidence and expertise.
Pierneef à La Motte, La Motte, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-8000. www.la-motte.com Twitter: @Pierneeflamotte
Fyndraai, Solms-Delta, Delta Road, off R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 874-3937. www.solms-delta.co.za Twitter: @Solms_Delta
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The second last episode of MasterChef SA left one with a little sadness, in that there is only one episode of MasterChef SA left this season, the 90 minute Finale being broadcast next Tuesday. Many viewers were sad to see Manisha Naidu leave MasterChef SA last night, as she has rarely put a cooking foot wrong, and showed tremendous leadership in team contests.
Before driving to Franschhoek, the Finalists were asked how they felt about being the final three. Manisha said she was in fighting mode, while Sue-Ann Allen said that she would fight ‘tooth and nail‘. Deena Naidoo said he was ‘scared as hell’. Sue-Ann said she would train hard to run the MondeVino restaurant at Montecasino if she should win, wanting to learn more about fine-dining, and that she is ready to go to Johannesburg. Manisha said that she wants to cook ‘my food my way‘.
Chef Pete Goffe-Wood introduced the venue of the day’s challenge, being Le Quartier Français’ The Tasting Room, serving the ‘story of South Africa‘. Chef Margot Janse said that she challenges her team continuously to do things differently, and that she sources local ingredients in preference to imported products. Chef Pete described Chef Margot as a ‘national treasure’, saying that she is in a ‘class of her own’. The episode was concentrated on three courses which the Finalists Sue-Ann, Manisha, and Deena had to taste at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, the third ranked South African restaurant on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list. Deena, Sue-Ann, and Manisha were shown the Le Quartier Français kitchen, and then tasted three of the dishes on Chef Margot’s Tasting Menu. Sitting down with the Finalists, Chef Margot described the restaurant dining room as the ‘stage for my food‘. Chef Margot Janse received compliments on Twitter for being firm yet friendly in her interaction with the Finalists, and it was suggested that she would have been an ideal judge. Her Dutch accent gave her an interesting character.
The starter was a Beetroot sponge and spinach purée with buttermilk labne, and a dill and cucumber granita, with a dusting of buchu. Deena said he had never seen buchu, and Chef Margot described it as having elements of eucalyptus, lavender and citrus. The beetroot sponge is made from beetroot juice and gelatine, and dissolves once it is in one’s mouth, they were told. Sue-Ann chose to make this dish. The main course was quail and braised fennel with porcini, liquorice root purée, and a liquorice glaze. Chef Margot said that balance was important, and that none of the other flavours should overshadow those of the quail. Manisha chose to make this challenging main course. A very South African dessert was the baobab pear parfait, served with a pistachio crumble, honey jellies, and a mango gel, which Deena elected to make. The Finalists were given 90 minutes to make their dishes, and had to prepare four portions of each for the judges and Chef Margot to try. Chef Margot advised the contestants to remain focused, and to not panic. She said all three dishes were equally difficult. She shared with the MasterChef SA judges how neatly the Finalists were working, packing away dirty dishes around them, to keep their work space tidy. Chef Pete reminded the Finalists that there was ‘zero margin for error’.
Sue-Ann was given some tips about the starter by Chef Margot, saying the beetroot sponge must set thoroughly. The timing of its plating is essential, as the granita can melt if plated too early. She was also told that the spinach for the puree must be cooked properly. Sue-Ann said that there was ‘no room for error’. When she took out her beetroot sponge, it was slightly underset, but she had enough time to return it to the blast freezer. Sue-Ann did not panic, and seemed to be in control and focused. The judges told her that her granita had a refreshingly different texture, and that her buttermilk labne was rich and creamy. The best compliment came from Chef Margot, saying that Sue-Ann’s dish looked ‘a lot like mine’. The labne and granita were said to be perfectly seasoned, but that the beetroot could have used slightly more seasoning. Chef Pete called her beetroot a ‘beetroot Aero‘.
Manisha chose to make the quail dish, being ‘beyond me’, to stretch herself. Chef Margot told her that she may not overcook the quail, and that the glaze needs time to reduce. She was also advised to cook her fennel early and braise it gently, as it takes time to cook. Asked by the judges whether she would add her own touch, Manisha said that she would stick to the recipe ‘precisely’, because it was someone else’s recipe, and not her own. Chef Pete seemed worried about her timing. She reduced the quail cooking timing, given how small they were, and they were perfectly pink inside once she cut them open. The biggest criticism of her dish was her untidy plating, having served two quail pieces instead of only one in Chef Margot’s dish, and she forgot the pea shoots, due to her dish having so many different elements, she said. Her fennel was said to not be as soft as Chef Margot’s. Not following the plating of Chef Margot was a dangerous move at the tail-end of the reality TV series, with so much at stake.
Deena said he had to overlap on some of the processes, and started making the Pate a Bombe. He spent about 20 minutes too much time on making the parfait, losing valuable time. He was criticised for having too much pistachio crumble on his plate, and for his parfait being too dense, not being ‘frozen air’, said Chef Pete. Chef Margot said the flavour of the parfait was fantastic, but did not have lightness, therefore not being a parfait. Chef Benny Masekwameng added that the jelly ‘was not there yet‘, but that it had flavours of honey.
When the judges returned to announce their elimination decision, they said it had been a very hard call. The errors that Manisha made in not following Chef Margot’s plating exactly cost her the chance to win the competition, and she was sent home with words of praise about the great food that she had cooked during the programme, and how good she is at combining flavours. Chef Benny said that he looked forward to eating at her restaurant. Chef Pete said that he would never forget her sausage dish. Manisha left without tears, and said that it had been an absolutely amazing experience, which had grown her ‘confidence and strength’.
Sue-Ann did a little dance of joy when she realised how close she and Deena are to the end, and to one of them winning MasterChef SA. She said ‘May the best man or woman win’! Of the two contestants, it is clear that Sue-Ann has grown in her confidence and is more focused on winning as a goal. Deena will win by not making mistakes, and comes across as more humble.
Once again Chef Reuben Riffel appeared in only one of the five Robertsons TV commercials flighted in the MasterChef SA episode last night.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage