I was very impressed with the new state-of-the-art Leopard’s Leap Tasting Room and Liam Tomlin Culinary Studio and Culinary Store in Franschhoek, which opened yesterday with a demonstration to 80 chefs by Wild Peacock Pastry Chef Vanessa Quellec of Valrhona chocolates, and opens officially on Saturday.
Liam Tomlin is an international chef, and opened the Chef’s Warehouse and Cookery School in Cape Town two years ago. He has created a joint venture, Liam Tomlin Food, with Hein and Hanlie (Rupert) Koegelenberg, and Hanlie’s daughter Berdine Neethling, who is the Project Manager. The venue will be shared with Leopard’s Leap wines, which has a central winetasting station, a dedicated group winetasting room, as well as a Boardroom and offices. The building impresses with lots of woodwork on the exterior, which is carried through into the interior. One walks in (carefully) through a glass floor over water, into an open plan space, starting with the Boardroom, and then the Lounge/Library decorated in the Leopard’s Leap colours of black, red and gold. The Lounge will have information about the Cape Leopard Trust projected onto one of the walls. Then comes the large interestingly-shaped winetasting desk, with contrasting white and natural wood, followed by a generous space for more than 50 chairs for cooking demonstrations, some chairs set up cinema style, and some around tables. Two large-screen TV’s project what is happening on the food preparation counter. Behind the demonstration counter is the shiny stainless steel kitchen, with 6 work stations for 4 persons each. The idea is for Liam Tomlin Food to get into culinary tourism, hosting cooking workshops on specific culinary themes. Along the side is a group winetasting room, a wine storage area, and the Culinary Store, all with glass walls. The shop will contain a selection of top quality products for chefs and food-lovers to buy, as well as produce from the Winelands, such as cheeses, charcuterie, mushrooms, and fresh herbs and vegetables.
The emphasis is on education in the building, and hence the tables have meat cut diagrams on them. I loved the whisk lamps in the demonstration seating area, and in the wallpaper in the shop. Whisks are very in all of a sudden, the ‘i’ in The Kitchen logo at Maison across the road being a whisk too! The building was designed by Makeka Design Lab, and the interior decor was designed by Christo Barnard, who also designed the stylish Pierneef à La Motte. A herb and vegetable garden will be planted alongside the building. Picnics will be introduced next summer.
The inaugural function was to celebrate the appointment of Vanessa Quellec as Pastry Chef at Wild Peacock, a ‘dream job’ she said, her sole focus being to promote Valrhona chocolate and to assist chefs in making the best of this delectable French chocolate. I first got to know Chef Vanessa at Caffe Milano, and she only used Valrhona in her baking. She left the restaurant earlier this year, and went to Valrhona’s training school in Paris, as well as its head office in the Rhone valley, where the chocolate is hand-made by locals, using the best cocoa beans sourced from around the world. Relationship-building is important to Valrhona, and Chef Vanessa is an excellent ambassador for its products, if the amazing turn-out of chefs from more than fifty restaurants, such as The Tasting Room (including Chef Margot Janse), Delaire Graff (with Chefs Christiaan Campbell and Jonathan Heath), The Mount Nelson, The Roundhouse, Bushman’s Kloof, Dear Me, and Aubergine is anything to go by. Attendees were welcomed by Charlotte Codron from Valrhona in France, telling us that the company was established in 1922. Its Ecole du Grand Chocolat provides a training facility for top pastry chefs around the world. Eleven Valrhona couvertures are available locally, ranging from 85% dark chocolate to 34% milk chocolate. Chef Vanessa demonstrated the making of a truly African dessert, which consisted of cocoa almond streussel, Valrhona Nyangbo (made from cocoa beans from Ghana) 68% cremeux, pink grapefruit sauce and segments, Rooibos infused ice cream, Valrhona Ivoire tempered chocolate shards containing rooibos tea, as well as Valrhona Nyangbo 68% chocolate shards. Each attendee was served the dessert at the end of the demonstration, which I chose to have with a LavAzza cappuccino, available from the winetasting station, as an alternative to Leopard’s Leap’s wines.
Valrhona is imported from France by Wild Peacock, and will be for sale at Liam Tomlin Food Culinary Store, from its Deli in Stellenbosch, as well as on order. I have only got to know Sue Baker more recently, seeing each other at many functions. She told me that she was once a nursery school teacher, and found an opportunity to sell oysters from Knysna to leading restaurants in 1992. Over time the chefs requested more and more lines from her, and she started sourcing foie gras, duck, mussels, free-range chicken, porcini mushrooms, French cheeses, and many more products. Now she sources mussels and oysters from the West Coast. Her son Ross is responsible for adding more product lines and attracting new clients, while daughter Sarah, previously Manager of Rust en Vrede restaurant, runs the Food Emporium. Husband Andrew is MD of Wineworks, handling the local distribution of eighteen wines, such as Warwick, Muratie, Veenwouden, and Etienne le Riche wines. The Wild Peacock Food Emporium has just started a wine section.
The new Leopards’ Leap venue will help to regain Franschhoek’s gourmet reputation, with this new state-of-the-art Liam Tomlin Food Culinary Studio and Culinary Store, as well as Leopards’ Leap winetasting centre. The wine brand is a very successful one, making significant inroads into the Chinese market, thanks to the passion of Hein Koegelenberg.
POSTSCRIPT 3/12: Leopard’s Leap and Liam Tomlin Food have delayed the opening to Tuesday 6 December.
POSTSCRIPT 9/12: I popped in at Leopard’s Leap today, where great strides have been made with the landscaping as well as building interior. Inge helped me to photograph the building interior from the upstairs offices. Liam Tomlin showed me his completed cooking stations in the kitchen. Next week the produce is expected to be sold in the Liam Tomlin Food Store. The Leopard’s Leap branding has been erected on the wall facing the R45.
POSTSCRIPT 28/12: A leopard sculpture has recently been erected at Leopard’s Leap, made by artist Marco Cianfanelli.
POSTSCRIPT 17/2: I attended the official opening of Leopard’s Leap Winery and Liam Tomlim Food last night, an amazing event attended by 300 guests, including Premier Helen Zille and Ex-President FW de Klerk.
Leopard’s Leap and Liam Tomlin Food Culinary Studio and Culinary Store, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-8822. www.leopards-leap.com www.liamtomlinfood.com Tuesday – Saturday, 9h00 – 17h00.
Wild Peacock Products and Food Emporium, 32 Piet Retief Str , Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 801-3663. Tel (021) 082 923 1582 (Ross Baker) 082 088 1629 (Vanessa Quellec). www.wildpeacock.co.za www.valrhona.com. Food Emporium Monday – Sunday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage