Tokara goes ‘Beyond the chocolate handkerchief’ with MasterChef SA Season 2 Finalists Seline and Leandri van der Wat!

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Tokara Leandri, Chef Richard Carstens, Seline Whale CottageLast night I attended a collaboration dinner between Tokara Chef Richard Carstens and Leandri and Seline van der Wat, the two sisters who made it to number two and three, respectively, in Season 2 of MasterChef SA last year. The dinner was entitled ‘Beyond the Chocolate Handkerchief’, and was a huge success, being sold out, and will be repeated tonight.

I had the pleasure of spending a day with bubbly Seline van der Wat earlier this year, showing her all the foodie hotspots in Cape Town.  More recently she and younger sister Leandri visited Cape Town, and we had lunch together at Chef’s Warehouse.  A subsequent Facebook post announced the dinner, and I booked immediately, not having seen the two sisters in cooking action except for the MasterChef Season 2 episodes, in which they both won the hearts of viewers who enjoyed the cooking series,  many of them feeling the Leandri should have won Season 2.  Tokara Manager Johan told me that the bulk of the patrons at the dinner was MasterChef fans. Father Neil and sister Nelia van der Wat attended as well, having been in the TV series in one of the episodes, when they had a surprise dinner with Leandri in Johannesburg.  Tokara meat supplier DeliCo from Riebeek-Kasteel (now available at Crisp in Franschhoek) was represented too.   Seline said it was a huge honour for her and Leandri to have prepared the dinner with Chef Richard.

We were served a glass of Tokara’s in-house MCC, which is only available by the glass at the restaurant, and for functions.  Winemaker Miles Mossop is working on the Tokara MCC, and it will be available to the public in a few years.  I caught up with Seline while Leandri was in the kitchen, and she told me that their cookbook goes to the publishers at the beginning of next month.  She has just given up a stint as chef at the pop-up Forager in Pretoria, and is enjoying doing demos, giving cooking classes in clients’ homes, and cooking for private dinners.

Chef Richard Carstens told diners that he had been impressed with the sisters’ reaction to his Chocolate Handkerchief dessert challenge, which he presented on MasterChef SA as a guest chef.  Both sisters were excited about the challenge of replicating his dessert, Leandri’s success at it shooting her into the final cook-off.  He called Seline earlier this year, and left her a message on her phone when she could not answer.  She admitted that she did not call him back, thinking that it was a prank.  He called again, and then she realised that it was really Chef Richard.  He invited them to join him for tonight’s dinner, and met with them to discuss the menu for last night.  He shared that after the MasterChef episode with his special Chocolate Handkerchief dessert, they sold 700 of these in the restaurant.

The Tokara waiters are well-trained, smart-looking in their ties for evening service, and intelligent (one is an actuarial student, another a Chancellor’s student), a welcome change to the poor level of waiters one sees so much of in local restaurants these days.   My waitron Lewis is American, having lived here for 10 years already, and I found it hard to understand his pronunciation at times, the word ‘buchu‘ being a particular challenge for him.

The bread plate had a slice of seedloaf, ciabatta, and a seed crisp, served with olive tapenade, home-made butter, and garlic aioli.  I spoke to owner Wilhelm Kühn, and he shared that they have taken over the management of the Tokara DeliCATessen on the wine estate.  This means closing it for a month in September, while they enlarge the kitchen.  Chef Christine Claasen, previously of The Roundhouse’s Rumbullion, is the Head Chef of the Deli.  They plan to open in the evenings, serving light meals such as pizzas, putting in a pizza oven, and offering the venue for functions and weddings.

The menu was typed on an A5 sheet, with the six courses specified. Guests were taken through the wine pairings suggested for each course, for which there was an additional charge to the R350 dinner fee.  The staff kindly made a space available for me near the kitchen glass window, with good light for photographing the dishes.  The amuse bouche was minute, being KabeljouTokara Amuse Bouche Whale Cottage cheeks prepared sous vide with roast red carrot, drizzled with a lemon dressing, and sprinkled with spelt.  The first starter was my favourite, Tokara Cob Whale Cottagebeing cured Paternoster farmed cob served on roast lemon purée with sushi rice, avocado, carrot strings pickled with rice wine vinegar, Szechuan cucumber, and a ponzu reduction, which was topped with puffed wild rice, sesame seeds, and a tiny dollop of tartare ice cream.  This was paired with Raats Original Chenin Blanc 2013.

Leandri was excited about the second starter, which had a light coffee-roasted dry-aged carrotTokara Carrot and mushroom Whale Cottage served with a most unusual large eringii mushroom with an abalone texture after a sous vide treatment, crispy kale, crispy brussel sprout, a Parmesan cream served in sous vide onions, a carrot emulsion, a saffron mustard vinaigrette, and a Parmesan crisp. Seline had told me that Leandri is passionate about coffee since they traveled to Ethiopia with MasterChef SA, and she runs a coffee roasting company alongside her studies.  Leandri also loves mushrooms. This course was paired with Mullineux Clairette Blanche 2012.  The palate cleanser was preserved garlic sorbet served with a wasabi lemon dressing, a strong but refreshing break in-between courses.

Tokara Beef fillet Whale CottageThe main course was a Miso Chalmar beef fillet with pommes anna, curry spiced cauliflower, ginger carrot purée, Japanese curry, garlic crème, served with sultanas soaked in sake and Hanepoot.  This was paired with Steenberg Nebbiolo 2011.  The dessert was carrot-inspired too, consisting of carrot yuzu sorbet, frozen white chocolate mouse, an almond financier, wintermelon, carrot jelly, sherbet, Tokara Carrot yuzu sorbet desert Whale Cottagea meringue chard, with pistachio soil. The pairing was with Miles Mossop’s Kaka 100% Chenin Blanc Noble Late Harvest, which he has named after his youngest daughter.  A dry cappuccino was served with chocolate truffles and orange buchu shortbread.

Chef Richard seems in such a happy space at Tokara.  He told me that he loves spending his days-off at his home on a small-holding nearby, tending to his vegetable and herb garden.  The restaurant has done well this winter, with support from the locals, serving 50 – 60 guests daily for lunch, about 20 – 30 for dinner, and 70 or more on Sundays for lunch.   We wish Chef Richard and the Tokara team a well-deserved place on the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list this year!

Tokara Restaurant, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 885-2550.  www.tokararestaurant.co.za Twitter:@Tokara_

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

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