The January 2016 edition of Qantas’ Spirit of Australia in-flight magazine has named a dish by Tokara Chef Richard Carstens as one of the top 10 dishes in the world in 2015, rubbing shoulders with two dishes from Michelin-star restaurants! The photograph of the dish is the main Continue reading →
Neil Perry, top Australian chef of flagship restaurant Rockpool in Sydney, visited chefs and restaurants in South Africa earlier this month, and has returned to his home country, encouraging Australians to experience our ‘Food Safaris’, reports Southern African Tourism Update. His trip was widely reported, and the Sydney Morning Herald sent journalist Anthony Dennis to accompany Chef Perry on his culinary tour, an unfortunate choice with his emphasis on our apartheid past in his article! Not only did the visit and resultant publicity reflect our country’s unique cuisine, but it also has tourism marketing benefits, the visit having been sponsored by SA Tourism.
Chef Perry’s journey started off at the elite and exclusive boutique hotel Ellerman House in Bantry Bay, where he did a braai of crayfish tails with his Asian touch, kingklip, and soy-marinated yellowtail. He was assisted by Ellerman House Head Chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert, who told the visiting chef that South Africa’s cuisine extends beyond game eaten next to a fire under a safari-style boma. ‘But in South Africa there’s a group of highly trained, skilled chefs who are creating a strong food culture and identity‘, she said.
Dennis praised our country’s ‘fine wine, great seafood and where the barbeque…is a favoured cooking appliance’. It is a shame then that he digs into our country’s past, writing that ‘apartheid can still cast a shadow, even over the dining table’, singling out MasterChef SA judge and Chef Benny Masekwameng as one of few ‘Black South African chefs’. Chef Benny told the journalist that the eating habits of the ‘majority of black South Africans who live below the poverty line, not much has changed at the dinner table‘, but that the ‘middle class’ in our cities are increasingly exposed to global food trends! The ‘shanty towns’ on the way to the Winelands receive a predicted mention from the journalist too, contrasting them with the modern airport built for the 2010 World Cup.
Chef Perry praised the wine industry: ‘South Africa has got amazing wine credentials. One of the real positives is that it has a lot of old vines in the ground and you’re getting some fantastic maturity there’. He praised Franschhoek’s fine white wines. Calling Franschhoek’s Grande Provence a ‘lodge’, Chef Perry and the journalist enjoyed the creative cuisine of Chef Darren Badenhorst, who prepared a typical South African braai lunch for them, with Karoo lamb chops, free-range Spring chicken, and boerewors, ‘a traditional and delicious type of sausage’. The visiting team stayed over at La Residence in Franschhoek.
Their next stop was Phinda Game Reserve, where they enjoyed the traditional Boma dinner (‘with a dirt floor, stone and reed walls’). They were treated to springbok, impala, and warthog, and entertained by the staff choir. Chef Perry was impressed with our game meats, saying ‘it was really quite intense’, not having any Australian game (other than ‘Wallaby‘ on their menus, according to blogger Bruce Palling). In Cape Town the Australian team had eaten springbok at The Twelve Apostle’s Azure for the first time, served as a ‘Cape fusion main course of springbok fillet with celeriac cream, roasted radish, orange tapioca and sultana-caper paste. The rare, perfectly cooked meat has the consistencey of beef but with a distinct saltiness and dark chocolate-like richness’.
In Durban the visitors ate traditional Indian food, including bunny chow at the House of Curries, described as ‘classic street food from the apartheid years and is a feature of the national diet across all groups’! One wonders who fed Dennis this nonsense information! In Johannesburg a Chef’s Table dinner at the San Restaurant at the Sandton Sun Hotel represents ‘the Rainbow Nation’s ethnic groups. Under apartheid, this congenial, multiracial gathering would have been deemed illegal‘. Chef Garth Schrier served the visiting chef more Bunny Chow, as an amuse bouche of a mini loaf of bread with a Cape Malay chicken prawn curry.
One wonders what SA Tourism’s understanding of our country’s cuisine is, and that of the Western Cape in particular. With 16 of the top 19 Eat Out Restaurant Finalists based in the Cape, it is a surprise that not one of these top chefs, most of the calibre of Chef Perry, were exposed to the visiting chef. At least up and coming Chef Darren Badenhorst at Grande Provence was included in the programme, even though he has not made the Top 19 list due to not having been in charge of the kitchen for a full year. This is even more evident from the SA Tourism website’s Top 10 Wine estates (gastronomic) list, of which the compiler is not identified:
2. Rust en Vrede
3. La Colombe
4. Pierneef à La Motte
6. Bread and Wine
8. The Goatshed
Odd inclusions on the list are Bread and Wine, Fyndraai, and Fairview’s The Goatshed, while surprise exclusions are Delaire Graff’s two restaurants, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, the Restaurant at Waterkloof, and Grande Provence. The ranking of Tokara in 10th’s position is an insult to the cuisine creativity of Chef Richard Carstens!
While all publicity for South Africa is fantastic, and in Australia’s leading newspaper even more so, it is a shame that a journalist should have turned a South Africa Food Safari story into an apartheid story, which is not the topic of his story at all. One wonders what gives an Australian the right to point fingers at our country’s past, given their own Aborigine history! It wouldn’t be a surprise if one were to find that Dennis has South African roots! At least Chef Perry enjoyed his trip: ‘My food philosophy is all about local, high quality produce and fresh ingredients so I was thrilled to meet with like-minded chefs in South Africa’. He encouraged travellers to our country to ‘add a South African food safari to their bucket list’, advising that they visit the Winelands, shebeens, experience a Braai, and enjoy a seafood buffet on the beach.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
South African restaurants are on a par with the best restaurants in Australia in food quality, says Chef Darren Roberts, who has just returned from a visit to his country of origin. Compared to twenty years ago when he first came to South Africa, this country has made great strides in developing its own unique cuisine.
Grande Provence may not have made the 2012 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants at the awards last year, but Chef Darren said that he respects sole judge Abigail Donnelly, and the awards, being a yardstick for excellence locally. As a Top 20 finalist, he did say that the restaurants in the 11 – 20th positions were not acknowledged on the awards evening, even though most of their chefs attended, and that this is a weakness of the awards system. He felt that the local restaurant evaluation system should move to a rating similar to the Australian Chefs Hats (awarded by the Sydney Morning Herald restaurant guide) or Michelin stars, so that top restaurants achieving a cuisine quality are recognised, and are not limited to ten, nor should they be ranked, particularly as no feedback is provided by Eat Out as to why a restaurant has achieved a particular ranking. He shared that not making Top 10 can be very harmful to a restaurant, some of its staff moving on to or being poached by Top 10 restaurants. Chef Darren was far more critical of restaurant reviewer JP Rossouw, who had clearly got the rating of Grande Provence wrong, not only in its own right but also relative to other restaurants (e.g. rating Salmon Bar higher). He had also got some basic information wrong, e.g. criticising ‘guinea fowl’, which has not been served in the restaurant for years.
A personal visit to Australia last month allowed Chef Darren to eat at Rockpool in Sydney and at the Lake House outside Melbourne, both 2 Chef Hat rated. The Lake House’s Alla Wolf Tasker has been at the forefront of the development of Australian cuisine. Chef Darren praised Chef Bertus Basson’s Overture for being on a par with the Lake House. While the cuisine in South Africa’s top restaurants is on a par with Australia, Chef Darren was bowled over by the excellent service he experienced, saying that our restaurants are very far behind in this regard. The service is so professional in top Australian restaurants that it almost makes the meal! The cost is far higher in Australia, his two-course meal with a glass of wine costing R850 at the Lake House, and R800 for one course and a glass of wine at Rockpool.
Chef Darren has seen a marked improvement in South African cuisine, remembering that about 20 years ago his Rivonia restaurant Two Faces being marked down on a top restaurant rating because they did not serve a ladies size steak, then a criterion of excellence! Chef Darren was once described by The Star as ‘L’enfant Terrible’, for being a trendsetter, and for doing things differently. South African cuisine has great potential to go back to ‘its most exciting African roots’.
Chefs don’t make money, Chef Darren lamented, and cook for love. In this profession, ‘the passion gets into one’s blood’, and it’s not possible to get it out again. This is why poor reviews are taken so personally by chefs, he said. In this context he is critical of MasterChef South Africa, in its prize of a year as the Chef of MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino in Johannesburg. By implication it ‘cheapens’ his profession, in that not one of the Finalists will be able to run the restaurant on being announced the winner in July, he feels. To get to where Chef Darren is now, he did a four year apprenticeship in Melbourne, being taught cooking as well as life skills by his colleagues in the main, and at L’Heiner in Vienna. He recommends that young chefs go to Australia to gain experience, and then backpack through Asia, rather than going to London for international experience. Chef Darren predicted that more European chefs would be coming to South Africa, as the recession makes itself felt, and returning from overseas to get back to the sun.
Chef Darren is on the brink of leaving the country, having been the Executive Chef at Grande Provence for the past two years. He will be taking up the position of Group Executive Chef of Mason’s, the largest tour operator in the Seychelles, with three luxury lodges, and a further one being built, on Denis Island and in Mahe. Collectively about 300 rooms will be catered for every day. In addition, he will oversee the cuisine on four super yachts. Chef Darren has previously worked for the company in the Seychelles, and he has a soft spot for the island country, owning land on it too. On Denis Island they will be about 80% produce self-sufficient, growing their own fruit and vegetables, having a piggery and hatchery, with rabbits, duck, and milk. Only beef is brought in. Charcuterie will be developed by Chef Darren’s team when he arrives next week. Chef Darren said that business is booming in the Seychelles, an archipelago of about 300 islands, with beautiful turquoise sea water and white sand beaches, in a country where Creole is the official language. The cuisine on the Seychelles is Creole, weighted to North India, with coconut milk, fish curry, lime, crab curry, and yellow lentils featuring strongly. At Mason’s guests would experience a Creole evening, a barbeque evening, and eat a la carte on the other nights of the week. Lunches are a Creole Buffet, with fish presented less than two hours after having been caught. Breadfruit, Cassava, and palm hearts are local delicacies.
Chef Darren will be missed for his creative French fine-dining with an Pan-Asian twist menu and plating, for his dry sense of humour, and for his fresh thinking. His successor is Chef Darren Badenhorst, and the two have worked together for the past year, and they will stay in touch. Chef Darren Badenhorst has added three new dishes to the Grande Provence menu, and the attention to detail in each, and the vast number of carefully selected ingredients, is impressive, continuing the work of Chef Darren Roberts. I recently tasted the soft shell crab starter on pan-fried sushi with sesame seed, with a soft boiled yolk presented in a beautifully crafted kataifi pastry, with red pepper aioli, and finished off with soya and wasabi pearls. Yesterday I tried his new Ballontine of Chicken with a bone marrow centre, truffle of pomme duchess, carrot and cardomom pureé, morel mushrooms, cracked black pepper, and fresh Japanese truffle, an artistic portrait that could have been framed and hung in the Grande Provence Gallery!
We wish Chef Darren Roberts all the best in his new career in the Seychelles, and look forward to his regular visits back to Franschhoek, to see his family.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
Chef Bertus Basson of Overture and his catering company partner Craig Cormack are to open a new restaurant called Sofia’s at Morgenster, at the wine and olive estate in Somerset West, at the beginning of November. The restaurant is named after Morgenster owner Giulio Bertrand’s passion for Sophia Loren, choosing to spell her name for the restaurant the Italian way. Photographs of Sophia Loren will adorn the restaurant.
The restaurant will be Bistro-style, with the emphasis on ‘real food’, simpler than at Overture, with only four choices per course, of which two will be Italian, and with good plating. The menu will change weekly. Craig will run the restaurant and will work with Bertrand’s wife Mirella in developing true Italian style dishes. Fresh ingredients will come from the farm in part, and Morgenster’s olive oils and wines will be a strong feature. Affordability will be a focus. A three-course meal will cost R210.
Chef Bertus also reports that Overture has launched its first wine, made by Hidden Valley consultant winemaker Louis Nel, a Chenin Blanc called Collaboration. More varietals are to follow next year. Collaboration will only be sold at Overture and Sofia’s at Morgenster initially.
Always looking to reinvent himself, Chef Bertus recently visited Australia, and was impressed with the restaurants he ate at, including leading Sydney restaurant Rockpool. Bertus says that South African food and service standards do not lag far behind those of Australia. He is very excited about the season lying ahead, despite the tough winter the hospitality industry has gone through.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com