Sad news since Saturday is that David Higgs, chef at Rust en Vrede and number one Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant, will be leaving the Stellenbosch wine farm restaurant mid-June.  He is heading for Johannesburg, but exact details are not yet available.  David will be replaced by John Shuttleworth.  Higgs is not the first chef to have resigned in his year of being named a Top 10 chef, following in the footsteps of Peter Tempelhoff and Jacques de Jager.  

We received the following media release from Rust en Vrede’s PR agent Emile Joubert:

STATEMENT FROM RUST EN VREDE ON RESIGNATION OF HEAD-CHEF DAVID HIGGS

David Higgs has resigned as head-chef of Rust en Vrede Restaurant to take up a business offer in Johannesburg.

Since starting the restaurant on Rust en Vrede Wine Estate in 2007 with proprietor Jean Engelbrecht, Higgs and his team have developed the restaurant into one of South Africa’s leading restaurants, garnering various accolades in the process. 

Higgs will be running the restaurant until the winter break commences on 18 June. John Shuttleworth, currently sous chef at Rust en Vrede, will replace Higgs as head-chef when the restaurant reopens on 19 July. 

“David will always be known as the chef who established one of the winelands’ finest restaurants as well giving the Rust en Vrede brand an added dimension of excellence,” says Engelbrecht. “I would like to thank him for his invaluable contribution and wish him well on his new career path where I am sure he will achieve the same degree of success he did at Rust en Vrede. 

“Together with David, I have decided to appoint John as the new head-chef as his experience will ensure that our innovative and original cuisine, commitment to service excellence and sourcing of the finest produce will continue to remain at the heart of the Rust en Vrede offering.” 

Higgs said his tenure at Rust en Vrede offered him the opportunity to realise his full potential as a restaurant chef. “As part of a fantastic team, I am proud to say that Rust en Vrede helped push winelands dining to a new level, and I have no doubt that Jean, John and the rest of the team will continue doing so,” he says.  

“Moving to Johannesburg from this environment is not an easy decision. However, the opportunity of being involved on a greater strategic business level within the food industry is one I feel compelled to pursue.”              

We wish David Higgs all the best of luck in his future endeavours, and know that we will see him on a future Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list again.

POSTSCRIPT 17/4: If what Rapport writes today about the reasons for the departure of David Higgs from Rust en Vrede is correct, then it is just a matter of time before the restaurant closes down after he leaves.  The report alleges that Jean Engelbrecht, who leases Rust en Vrede from his father Jannie, at an astronomical rental of R140000 per month, is in financial trouble, and is struggling to pay the rent, leading to cost cutting, which must be affecting the restaurant operation too.   Higgs must have seen that the writing is on the wall.  Jannie and Jean have had an acrimonious father-and-son-relationship, and Jean is accused of financial mismanagement since leasing the wine estate five years ago.  Higgs’ departure is seen to make the financial situation at Rust en Vrede even worse, as he and his restaurant have been an important part of the Rust en Vrede brand, especially when Higgs and his Rust en Vrede team won Top Chef, Top Restaurant and Top Service in the 2010 Eat Out Top Restaurant Awards in November.

Since the first Tweet by Wouter Lombard on 9 April, announcing Higgs’ departure from Rust en Vrede, we have tried to contact Higgs.  He had left for the day when I called that same evening, but I could get Sommelier Neil Grant on the line, and he denied the ‘rumour’ regarding Higgs’ departure.   On Thursday Lombard again Tweeted about Higgs’ departure.  I called the restaurant again, and was told that Higgs was not available, but managed to speak to Grant again, who confirmed the departure and apologised for not revealing the correct information on Saturday evening.   I was given Higgs’ cell number, and called twice, to reach him.  He asked if he could call back, as he was in a staff briefing.  He did not call, but sent the following sms instead: “A little crazy at the moment. Will release something more substantial soon. Thx for understanding”.   Higgs has always been a gentleman, and it would appear that he does not want to talk to anyone about the reasons for his departure, nor about his future plans.

POSTSCRIPT 20/4: We have received another e-mail from Emile Joubert, denying the previous Postscript written on the basis of a Rapport report:  “As mentioned, Rust en Vrede denies the sensationalist allegations in Rapport. We have stated this to the editor, Liza Albrecht, who has launched a “thorough investigation” into the various lies expressed in the article by her journalist Marlene Malan. See my comment on the Rapport article. This pretty much explains everything. I’ll keep you up to speed re further developments”.

POSTSCRIPT 16/5: In Rapport  yesterday the paper retracted its story referred to in the above Postscript, having seen evidence that Rust en Vrede does not belong to Jannie Engelbrecht, and therefore he cannot be leasing the farm to his son Jean Engelbrecht.  Further, David Higgs is quoted in the article as saying that he is leaving Rust en Vrede due to a new business opportunity, and that his departure has nothing to do with the relationship between Jannie and Jean Engelbrecht.

POSTSCRIPT 20/6:Chef David Higgs cooked his last meal at Rust en Vrede on Saturday evening.  The restaurant is closing for a month, and then the sous chef steps into David’s shoes.  David is said to be going to Radissons’s Hotel in Johannesburg, running the Food & Beverage side of the hotel.  It is also said that he is investigating launching a range of products bearing his name.

POSTSCRIPT 22/6:  In the Eat Out newsletter today, David Higgs confirms his move to Radisson’s Blu Gautrain Hotel, where he will be responsible for all the hotel’s food.  He is working on a redesign of the hotel’s unimaginatively named Central One Bar and All Day Restaurant, using Michelin 2-star chef Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier brand as his inspiration.

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