Entries tagged with “Eat Out Top 10 restaurant”.


Bocca coming soon Whale CottageLast night my friend Whitney Wentzel and I enjoyed a very generous dinner at Burrata, losing track of the number of courses we enjoyed.  I had been invited to hear from co-owner Neil Grant what exciting developments are planned at Bocca, which will open on the corner of Bree and Wale Streets in mid-September, as well as longer term at Constantia Uitsig, when they take over the former River Café, with a name change.

Bocca (means ‘mouth’ in Italian) will seat 70 diners on two levels inside, as well as a further 23 on a deck extending out of the restaurant on Bree Street, which has an extra-large pavement.  Neil and Chef Annemarie Steenkamp will open Bocca, with the assistance of Matteo, a sommelier who has worked on the cruise ship The Residence at Sea.  He in turn will have a sommelier supporting him.  The Bocca kitchen is smaller, Chef Annemarie said, but she is excited in having designed most of it herself.  A sister pizzaBurrata Chef Anemarie Steenkamp Whale Cottage oven to the one at Burrata, also sourced from Naples, has been installed, in orange.  Space has been allowed for a bar counter.  Seating is at counters, as well as at custom-designed tables and chairs.  There will be more colour in the interior, and less industrial design, than at Burrata. The interior design was done by INHOUSE designers, who also designed the interiors of Burrata, The Test Kitchen, The Butcher Shop & Grill, and Carné. A number of locations were considered for the new restaurant, including the former Rhapsody’s space on Main Road in Green Point.

Neil and his business partner Barry Engelbrecht are delighted that they found the Bree Street (more…)

Folliage Chef Chris Erasmus Whale Cottage PortfolioA quick Easter Hot Cross Bun and coffee at Pierneef à La Motte was a double treat when Chef Chris Erasmus came to say hello and joined me at the table to share the news about his new Folliage restaurant, which he plans to open in the heart of the Franschhoek village just before the Bastille weekend in mid-July.

Chef Chris was beaming, clearly excited about his new project, even though he says that he is a little nervous about running his own business for the first time.  Chef Chris worked at Le Quartier Français, at Pied à Terre in London, and at Ginja in Cape Town before he joined Pierneef à La Motte almost four years ago, and took the restaurant to Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant last year.  He leaves La Motte on 15 June. He is opening his restaurant on the corner of Berg Street and main road, just two blocks from our Whale Cottage Franschhoek, in walking distance for our guests, who prefer to walk to the village for dinner than to drive to any of the good restaurants on theFolliage exterior building Whale Cottage Portfolio wine estates just outside the village. The restaurant will seat up to 70 for lunch, including outside, and 40 inside at night.  The building belongs to the owners of La Petite Dauphine, and one of its owners, Gert Gertzen, is a highly regarded interior designer, and he is working with Chef Chris in planning the decor, which will have a wood ceiling, and wood furniture, on a concrete floor.

Right next door is the IS art gallery, which moved into the same building a week ago, a (more…)

Vergelegen Camphors interior Whale Cottage PortfolioWhile Vergelegen may have been disappointed in not scoring a 5 star wine at the Platter’s South African Wines 2014 on Friday evening, the wine estate must have been in seventh heaven to have done so well at the Great Wine Capitals Global Network Best of Wine Tourism Awards for South Africa, for which the winners were announced on Thursday at a gala dinner in the Napa Valley.  Vergelegen won in the Arts and Culture as well as in the Restaurant categories, and performed well in four further categories.  The award-winning performance makes Vergelegen the South African Best of Wine Tourism winner for the third time, having last won in 2009.

In addition to winning two categories outright, Vergelegen came second in four out of a total of seven categories:  Architecture and Landscapes, Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences, Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices, and Wine Tourism Service.  It is Camphors at Vergelegen, one of two restaurants on the wine estate (with Stables at Vergelegen Bistro, a more casual daytime restaurant), that is recognised in the Restaurant award.  The seventh category (Accommodation) was not entered, as this service is not offered.

Vergelegen joins nine other winelands region winners this year:

*   Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco in Rioja, a museum and winery complex, celebrated for its Enoturismo y  Experiencias that offers a wide range of exhibitions, courses and other innovative experiences

*   Château de Rouillac, that dates back to the 19th century when it (more…)

Ultimate Braai Matser logoSeason 2 of the popular Pick ‘n Pay ‘The Ultimate Braai Master’ will sizzle on TV screens on SABC3 this evening, just in time for National Braai Day on Tuesday. The new theme for the series is ‘The Roads Less Travelled‘, and would appear to be a travelogue about the beauty of our country and its wild life too. ‘The Ultimate Braai Master’ judges Bertus Basson from Overture and Marthinus Ferreira from DW Eleven-13 feature in Season 2 again.

In tonight’s episode the action kicks off at Hluhluwe Game Reserve, after the Braai Ultimate Braai Master Hluhlue Game Reserve Game DriveMaster teams survived gruelling auditions with 250 of the 4000 applicants around the country. The top fifteen teams travel to the Hilltop Resort in the Hluhluwe Nature Reserve,  the first of 13 off-the-beaten-track locations. After a sumptuous welcome dinner prepared by the judges (and Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant chefs!) Bertus and Marthinus, the teams cross tongs in their bid to secure a place in the competition, with a prize (more…)

The camphor trees at Vergelegen were planted 310 years ago, and are our country’s oldest trees.  Five of these trees have been declared National Monuments, and are expected to live another 150 – 200 years, the estate’s website predicts.  With history surrounding the restaurant, its interior design, and food and wine offering are classic yet state of the art!

There were two reasons why trying out new restaurant Camphors at Vergelegen was a must: its interior design was done by Christo Barnard, who also did the striking interior of Pierneef à La Motte, and its new award-winning Chef PJ Vadas.  Lunch yesterday at Camphors at Vergelegen, to celebrate my dad’s 97th birthday two days prior, was a perfect choice for this special occasion.

Previously the Lady Phillip’s restaurant popular amongst Somerset West residents for a light lunch and teas, Camphors at Vergelegen has been completely renovated and upgraded, with the thatch roof redone, the floor tiled in high gloss black tiles, curtains in grey/white/black stripes added, couch seating in silver/grey in addition to black-framed chairs with white fabric, crystal chandeliers, Persian carpets, and framed mirrors give the restaurant interior a stylish look, and a lovely romantic smell of thatch. The terrace outside has been extended, and a roof cover protects the tables from rain and wind in part, with a cooling spray, the gusty south-easter playing havoc with our menus and threatening to blow over our glasses yesterday. The outside tables are stylish square glass-top, at which white chairs in a net fabric with silver frames and legs are extremely comfortable, as if one is sitting on soft leather.  The glassware is by Bormioli, and the sparkling wine glasses in particular are elegant.  Cutlery is by Hepp Exclusiv, still shiny new. A black net weave place mat, and a side plate with a material serviette finish off the table decor, without any flowers. The Peugeot salt and pepper grinders are only brought out when the starters arrive. Sixty guests can be seated inside and outside. One looks out onto a massive camphor tree, with an owl nesting in it, Chef PJ said, some palms, and very old oak trees.  Peacocks prance through the garden.

Chef PJ Vadas joined The Roundhouse when it opened four years ago, and the restaurant made the Eat Out Top 10 list twice in this period.  Having qualified at Warwick’s Chef School in Hermanus, and a dad owning Pembury’s in Knysna, Chef PJ headed to London, in search of employment at the restaurants of his chef hero Gordon Ramsay, whom he had seen on a TV cooking show.   He was given an opportunity to start at the bottom at Ramsay’s Petrus restaurant, and also spent time at the Connaught Hotel in London, and at Moulin de Mougins, working with Chef Roger Vergé on the French Riviera. He worked for a Ramsay restaurant in New York,  and returned to Cape Town four years ago.  I met Chef PJ for the first time about a month ago at Burrata, as I have never been to The Roundhouse on principle, due to the owner’s arrogance.  It was a delight therefore that Chef PJ came out of the kitchen, with pencil on his ear, to welcome us, to tell us about the herb garden and his kitchen, and about his menu.  Even more exciting was the invitation to visit his kitchen, an extremely organised and neat space, well kitted out in equipment, and spacious enough for the team of six. Founder of the SA Chefs’ Association Garth Stroebel was appointed earlier this year as a consultant to Vergelegen for its new restaurants, The Stables having opened a few months ago, and he dictated the kitchen design. The kitchen has a chef’s table which will soon be available for eight guests at a time.  Over the table is an unusual chandelier made from cooking spoons. Chef PJ is focusing on sourcing supplies locally, but said that condiments such as soy sauce are still imported. He does not use imported foie gras nor scallops. He sources meat and eggs from Farmer Angus, and herbs and vegetables from Steve the Magic Man.

Christo Dyzel is the Restaurant Manager, having moved across from Indochine to join the new restaurant. The staff is new, and Tony and a colleague moved with Chef PJ from The Roundhouse.  Their staff is generally well-trained, being the home of service training company Let’s Sell Lobster, and winning the Eat Out Best Service Award in 2011.   Christo came to check that all was to our satisfaction every few minutes, and brought complimentary glasses of Vergelegen Brut MMV 2007 (R200 per bottle) to the table, a blend of 40% Pinot Noir and 60% Chardonnay, all grapes grown on the wine estate. Of the 5000 bottles produced, 1000 are released annually, giving the balance of the bottles a longer time on the lees, the 2007 having had 24 months.

The menu is a paper one, which will be placed in classy soft black leather covers as soon as they arrive, as will be the winelist.  The menu choice is simple: choose two courses for R250, and three courses for R350. A six-course tasting menu costs R550, and a 6-course tasting menu paired with wines R750. Tony brought Portuguese-style Bacalao fritters on a saffron sauce on a slate plate to the table as an amuse bouche, unusual in its content and striking in its colour, with ciabatta and baguette presented in a wooden box.  I tried the starter of asparagus and watercress velouté, with a Farmer Angus egg slow-poached at 64°C for 8 minutes, and a parmesan crisp and pea shoots, served in a most beautiful black ceramic bowl by ceramicist Diana Ferreira.  Other starter options are steak tartare with smoked bone marrow and avocado purée; lamb tongue carpaccio with braised lamb belly; pork hock and chicken terrine; miso-cured yellow tail with sweetbread; and Buffalo Ridge mozzarella with aubergine purée, and elderflowers.

Main courses are Panga with chorizo, octopus and caper butter; beautifully plated Trout, oysters, cauliflower and pickled cucumber, which my dad proclaimed to be the best he had ever tasted in his 97 years! (right); porcini risotto with goat’s cheese; grass-fed beef sirloin and tongue; slow roasted pork belly; and duck breast smoked in hay, confit leg, pea purée and braised lettuce, which came with a portion of chips fried in duck fat (left).

A surprise pre-dessert was served in an oval glass, with refreshing layers of chopped pineapple, yoghurt, and pineapple granite, with a coconut tuile.  My dad’s dessert plate of Swiss Felchlin chocolate and crispy coconut dacquoise with chocolate ice cream, was decorated with a birthday message.  My mother enjoyed her refreshing Rose and blackberry mille-feuille with mulberries.  Other dessert options are Nectarine and almond tart; raspberry soufflé; and South African cheese toasties with preserved and pickles.  The dry cappuccino request was perfectly executed, and it was accompanied with mini chocolate and nut muffins.

The 6-course Tasting Menu has smaller tasting portions of a number of the items on the A la Carte menu, paired with Vergelegen wines.  The wine list only offers Vergelegen wines, with a choice of the Premium range (very reasonably priced R33 – R37 per glass/R100 – R110 per bottle), the Reserve range (R60/R180 – R77/R230), and the Flagship Range (by the bottle only, R260 – R360, and R900 for the Vergelegen ‘V’ 2008).

Christo was at great pains to emphasise that the restaurant is less than a month old, and that they will only officially launch in February.  The service generally was very good, and the food excellent.  The cost of the food (yet including three surprise extra small courses), and being restricted to a choice of two, three, six, or seven courses, may make Camphors at Vergelegen a special celebration restaurant.  With Chef PJ Vadas at the helm in the kitchen, the service, reasonable prices for the award-winning Vergelegen wines, and classy interior, the restaurant is sure to become an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant contender.  Paying an entrance fee to the estate seems very old-fashioned, and this income surely is not needed by its owners Anglo American! It may be a deterrent, as the security staff do not explain that it allows one to see all the estate’s facilities, only offering a map brochure if one asks for it.

Camphors at Vergelegen, off Lourensford Road, Somerset West.  Tel (021) 847-1334. www.vergelegen.co.za Lunch Wednesday – Sunday, Dinner Friday and Saturday.  Twitter: @PJVadas  R10 entrance fee to Vergelegen.

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

I first heard about La Motte’s Herbs & Vegetables organic vegetable and herb supply from enthusiastic client Chef Oliver Cattermole at Dish restaurant at Le Franschhoek,  who shared that La Motte’s Daniel Kruger supplies him with specialist vegetables in colours and sizes he requests for his beautiful dishes.  It is a fantastic example of collegiality, in that La Motte is sharing its organic produce with its restaurant colleagues.

Meeting with Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte last week, he connected me with Daniel Kruger, who is in charge of the specialist vegetable and herb farm, and the La Motte farm manager Pietie le Roux.  I met both at Leopard’s Leap, where Daniel shared that the new business was started at the beginning of the year, and that it has grown to not only supply Pierneef á La Motte, but also other top restaurants in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.

Daniel told me that he has been involved in large scale vegetable farming in the Free State, and has only more recently operated in the Cape, in the capacity as a consultant in the past.   The emphasis is very definitely on the organic production of the vegetables and herbs, and this means not using pesticides nor herbicides.  Daniel said they do nothing chemical to counter any problems, and there are few threats, having no snails, and few aphids or worms. Guinea fowl are the biggest threat, loving to eat the fresh leaves of the small cabbage plants, and therefore Daniel has created a clever ‘boer maak ‘n plan’ system of wires to keep them out of his vegetable beds. Many of the weeds have pretty flowers, and these are used by the chefs to decorate their plates.  Compost is made from wood chips and winery offall, and can reduce the growing of weeds when the beds are covered with the compost.  Using compost also means that the vegetable growth is slower, but the taste is better, Daniel explained.

Daniel has got to know his chef customers well, and each has his or her own requirements in terms of the types of vegetables and herbs they want, as well as the sizes and colours they want them in. He explained that his seed suppliers are able to provide him with the colour requirements of his chef customers, and he can control the size of the vegetables according to the chefs’ requirements – the photograph shows the baby aubergines in yellow and green, which are Chef Oliver’s special choice.  Chef Chris Erasmus of Pierneef á La Motte has first choice of all Daniel’s planting, and then the other chefs are served.  If Daniel has an oversupply of an item, he will contact the chefs, and offer it to them.   Carrots, beetroot, lettuce, spring onions, radishes and turnips are some of the vegetables which Daniel can supply in more than one (traditional) colour.  The main photograph contains a medley of these, including bulls blood baby beetroot, radicchio, golden beetroot, mange tout, sugar snaps, kale, and purple spring onion.

Daniel is testing which plants are most suitable to the area, peas and mint for example being very sensitive to the southeaster in Franschhoek, despite the netting which he uses to prevent wind damage.

Vegetables and herbs grown by Daniel and his team of eight include peas, bold fennel, beetroot, radicchio (bitter salad), spinach, English spinach, chives, spring onions, lemon thyme, silver thyme, normal thyme, lettuce, rosemary, sorrel, basil, sage, rhubarb, nasturtiums, French tarragon, Bayleaf trees, mint, artichoke, wild rocket, specialised heirloom tomatoes, black and red potatoes, kohlrabi, black and pink turnips, and granadilla.  Edible flowers are supplied too, including radish, pak choi, rocket, fennel and spring onion flowers.  Even some of the weeds, including ramnas (wild mustard), Kaapse misbredie, and varkslaai are used, as they have a good taste and texture. Daniel is very excited about how well his test strawberries are growing, ready to bear fruit in three weeks, and he will plant more next season.

We spoke about the availability of fresh herbs all year round, and Daniel said that it wasn’t a problem for most herbs.  However, coriander is impossible to supply fresh in summer, it being too hot to grow, and would have to be flown in at up to R250 per kg.  A herb such as rosemary tastes different when it flowers, its branches being harder in this time.

Daniel said that they have the capacity to supply more local restaurants, but emphasised that it takes up to three months to grow specific vegetable and herb requirements.  He supplies daily, and he went back to pick produce for his chef clients after we had finished our tour at 17h30, saying that ‘the fresher, the better’.

The day after the farm visit I popped in at Pierneef à La Motte, and asked Chef Chris Erasmus which dish he could recommend to encapsulate the produce from the farm the best. He prepared a most beautiful and special Spring Salad with the produce which Daniel had brought to him, picked at 7h00 that morning. The salad contained a nasturtium flower, pea flowers, sorrel flowers, nasturtium leaves, watercress leaves (the first harvested ever on that day), baby carrots, baby beetroot, peas, mange tout, sugar snaps, baby onions, and rocket leaves, with praline nuts, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds, and a nasturtium dressing.  Chef Chris said that Daniel brings him what he has supply of, and they work around the produce to create dishes for the day.  Chef Chris emphasised that there is a relationship of trust, Daniel providing special vegetables and herbs for each chef, but never sharing that information with others.

The ‘marriage’ between the farm and kitchen at La Motte is true foraging, and is testimony to this wine estate’s slogan of ‘A Culture of Excellence’.  It is ahead of most other restaurants in the country in this respect, and one can hardly eat fresher vegetables and herbs than at Pierneef à La Motte!  It makes Pierneef à La Motte a strong Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant contender.

La Motte Herbs & Vegetables, Tel 071 438 1760 (Daniel)

Pierneef à La Motte, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-8800. www.la-motte.com Twitter: @PierneefLaMotte Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Thursday – Saturday dinner.

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

What an exciting show MasterChef South Africa episode 11 was last night, with a number of surprises, including VIP guests having to evaluate the remaining nine Finalists’ pairing of their food and the Nederburg wine they selected, and the ability of the winner of the best dish to earn an Immunity pin, providing immunity against all Pressure Tests with the exception of the last two stages, if he/she wins in a cook-off against a top chef, which turned out to be Chef Reuben Riffel.  No Finalist was eliminated, the first time in any of the past episodes, but the three Finalists going into the Pressure Test in episode 12 were selected.

The judges congratulated the Finalists on being the final nine, and reminded them that it was ‘time to shine’. Called an Invention Test, preparing food paired with beautiful wines, where 1 + 1 = 3, can also go horribly wrong, said Chef Pete Goffe-Wood. Immediately Deena Naidoo spoke to the camera, saying that he had never ever drunk wine, and that his knowledge of it was ‘dismal‘. Chef Pete said that in food and wine pairing, one seeks a ‘balance’, and that the texture of the food should match the texture of the wine. They should not fight each other.

Nederburg Cellarmaster Razvan Macici spoke to each wine that the Finalists selected in a wine cooler, and they had 90 minutes to prepare a dish that was suited to the character of the wine. In this episode it wasn’t only the three judges that evaluated the pairing – they were joined by seven VIPs, being Unathi Msengana (radio and TV personality), Desmond Dube (singer and actor), Springbok rugby player Breyton Paulse, model Ryan Botha, Milan Murray (actress), R&B singer Loyiso Bala, and Drum food editor Siba Mtongana, and therefore they had to prepare ten portions of their dish.

*   Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc was chosen by Ilse Fourie, and the wine was described as fresh and crisp, and suitable to be served with seafood.  Ilse decided against serving prawns, given the time that it would take to clean them, so she chose to make roasted salmon served on a bed of asparagus, and a sauce made of oranges and gooseberries, to balance the acidity.  The guests praised her perfect vegetables, and her food brought out the best in the wine.

*   Nederburg Winemasters Reserve Rosé was chosen by Lungi Nhlahla, and she was told that it is well paired with fish. She chose to make a seared ostrich salad with a balsamic sauce.  The guests enjoyed it, saying that they would have it ‘any time’.

*   Manisha Naidu seemed nervous when she was allocated the Pongracz Rosé, a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend, well paired with oysters. When she started off, she said that she had struck a blank as to what to prepare with her sparkling wine.  She decided to make a dessert, with white chocolate ganache, mint, almonds, and a strawberry soup which contained the Pongracz.  She was praised for having done a ‘great job’.

*   A stylish-looking Khaya Silingile chose the Nederburg Winemasters Reserve Noble Light Harvest, the wine brand’s ‘most awarded wine‘ in the range, excellent to serve with patés. She chose to make a trio of chocolate desserts (panna cotta, fondant, and truffle), but ran out of time, the panna cotta not having enough time to set. She opted for a fondant only, served with a berry coulis. It had a very rich sauce, with a nice crusty top and ‘gooey inside’, and gave the wine structure, the guests said.

*   Nederburg Merlot was described as being ‘robust’, good to serve with duck, fruit, pizza, pasta, and roasts, and was the choice of Deena.  He decided to prepare a lamb curry, but Chef Pete warned him against ‘overpowering the wine with the curry’. Chatting amongst themselves, the judges agreed that Deena’s curry and tomato ‘will kill the Merlot’. The guests were silent when they tasted his curry, nodding their heads in approval, saying it was ‘yummy’. Yet Chef Pete said that the vinegar, tomato, and spices in his dish made the wine ‘tannic’.

*   Sarel Loots chose Nederburg Riesling, to be served with intense aromatic dishes. He surprisingly chose to make a curry, not having done well with it in a previous challenge, but said that he had mastered it since. His dish was to be a light chicken curry in a butternut case, served with apricot purée and roti.  His dish was praised by the guests, describing it as well presented, and a ‘delight’ in its match with a complex wine.

*   Nederburg Winemakers Reserve Shiraz has berry flavours and spiciness, and should be paired with spicy lamb, kebabs, and souvlaki. This wine was chosen by Jade de Waal. She chose to make lentils, Mediterranean vegetables, ravioli, and a Shiraz poached beef fillet, but said that she had blown it away. Her guests contradicted themselves in their feedback, saying that they ‘like the girl but not the dish’, ‘quite bland‘, ‘strong taste’, ‘meat not great‘, and that ‘the elements were not connected’, said Chef Pete.

*   Sue-Ann Allen chose the Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon, the ‘biggest’ of the wines in weight and texture, best served with red meat. She chose to make beef fillet, which was enjoyed by her guests, and they liked its ‘simplicity’.

*   Thys Hattingh selected the Nederburg Chardonnay, with vanilla and citrus notes, a good match with grilled fish and cheese, a versatile wine. He chose to make an open lasagne with mushrooms and herbs, ‘a simple dish with lots of flavour’, he said, its creaminess pairing well with the wooded and creamy Chardonnay. He seemed to have a problem with his pasta, taking forever to cook. Bravely he had made his own pasta for the first time. The guests described his dish as ‘more buttery’, ‘richer’, ‘very nice’, ‘too rich’, ‘too oily’, contradictory feedback, but his pasta was praised.

All the Finalists were praised by the judges for their ‘outstanding’ job, and were given a round of applause. Khaya’s chocolate fondant was chosen as the top dish, described as ‘superb’ by Chef Andrew Atkinson, which led her to burst into tears.  It was explained to her that she would go up against guest chef Reuben Riffel, and should she beat him in the cook-off, she would win the Immunity pin. Chef Reuben was introduced as putting Monneaux restaurant onto the map when it was named an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant, before he went overseas, returning to open Reuben’s Franschhoek in 2004, and winning Eat Out Top Chef and Top Restaurant six months later.  Chef Reuben said that he is passionate about ‘fresh produce‘, ironic given his Robertsons’ endorsement!

The three Finalists that were chosen to go into the Pressure Test in episode 12 are Thys, for his dish being too rich and oily, but with great pasta; Jade, for her flavours not combining, and not complementing her Shiraz; and Deena, his first Pressure Test, as his dish did not complement the Merlot. His reaction was: ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger‘!  The next episode is likely to be an exciting one, in that the three Finalists need three hours to prepare their Pressure Test dishes. It will also show the cooking duel between Chef Reuben and Khaya.

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

We have been asking for some time how Chef Reuben Riffel can reconcile the international restaurant trend to foraging and growing vegetables and herbs, and endorsing the Robertsons spice range. Now it has become clear that Chef Reuben is just putting his name to the brand for advertising purposes, given that he uses fresh herbs in his Reuben’s restaurants.  This is a serious blow to the credibility of Chef Reuben, his Reuben’s restaurants in Franschhoek, at the One&Only Cape Town and in Robertson, the Robertsons brand, as well as MasterChef South Africa, which is sponsored by the spice and herb brand.

At the Franschhoek Literary Festival ten days ago we asked Chef Reuben a question in this regard, and he had a well rehearsed answer to it, justifying his endorsement of Robertsons on the basis of not all herbs being available all year round, and that fresh herbs and his restaurants are not affordable for all.  The question must have irritated him badly, as he wrote a disparaging comment about it on his Facebook page later that day.  He must have realised that it would get him into terrible trouble, and he has since closed down his Facebook page. Robertsons’ response to the disparagement and damage to their brand is surprising:We were alarmed when we received this complaint and assure you that we have taken this very seriously. We would like to clarify that as a brand Robertsons does not condone the use of inappropriate language in any forum or in any social media channels. We have  however discussed this further with Reuben and believe this to be a personal matter with a deeper history and would suggest that you address it directly with him. Our team of lawyers have reviewed the complaint and advised that contractually there is no breech (sic) or transgression to our contract. Our contract and relationship with Reuben is limited to his chef expertise and his appearance in our advertising, it only governs his opinions in relation to our brand and does not extend to personal opinions on a private matter’. There is nothing ‘personal’ about asking a valid question about Chef Reuben’s endorsement of Robertsons, and the impact it has on his credibility as a chef, a question asked by many of his chef colleagues too. One wonders what ‘personal’ issues Chef Reuben could have been referring to. The endorsement, and the resultant lack of attention to and focus on his Reuben’s restaurants, has already cost Chef Reuben dearly, in that he did not make the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant shortlist of twenty late last year, the first time in Reuben’s Franschhoek eight year history.  He achieved a miraculous Top Chef and Top Restaurant accolade in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant awards six months after opening, an unheard of achievement at the time.

It is the programme for ‘Cook Franschhoek’, to be held in the gourmet village from 15 – 17 June, that is the confirmation that Chef Reuben believes in and uses fresh herbs.  The write-up for his outrageously-priced R1500 sessions, information which must have been supplied to the organisers by him, refers to a ‘stroll to our secret vegetable garden to pick fresh vegetables and herbs (Reuben believes firmly that only the finest ingredients should be used for the best results)’, a clear confirmation that he believes that fresh is best! This is confirmed in his latest cookbook ‘Reuben Cooks Local’, which does not have a single recipe in it necessitating any Robertsons herbs or spices. When asked, Franschhoekers said they have no idea where the ‘secret‘ herb and vegetable garden is, which must be in walking distance from his restaurant. Someone jokingly saying it must be his Robertsons’ spice rack! Another local has guessed that it must be the garden of Klein Olifantshoek, across the road from his restaurant parking, but staff of the boutique hotel deny this. It is said that when Reuben’s Franschhoek moves to its new location close to Place Vendome later this year, they will develop a vegetable and herb garden there. Currently Chef Reuben sources his restaurant herbs and vegetables from Roubaix in Franschhoek.

Robertsons has had a bad time in choosing its marketing partners, not only in signing up Chef Reuben to endorse its brand, and in running Masterclass videos with Chef Reuben on the Robertsons’ website aligned to its sponsorship of MasterChef SA,  but also in having appointed controversial Sonia Cabano as its Social Media Manager when MasterChef South Africa started in March, and then having to terminate her services when she abused the Robertsons’ Twitter account to settle personal scores.

Celebrities and brand endorsers are not protected from social as well as legal norms in writing what they think about others on Social Media forums such as Facebook and Twitter.  Cabano went on a shocking Twitter rage last week, making it unlikely that any brand would wish to be associated with her in future.  She is a cookbook writer, and her racist, religious, political, and other views expressed on Twitter last week could cost her potential book purchasers and publishers. Chef Reuben seems disillusioned by Social Media, even though he was looking for trouble in writing his disparaging Facebook comment, and it appears that he has given up on Social Media, writing on Twitter a few days ago:To all real friends on twitter, fb. See you in the real world. Unfortunately people with bad agendas makes (sic) this less enjoyable’.

We have always held Chef Reuben and his Reuben’s Franschhoek in the highest regard, and recommended it to our guests for seven years.  Last year we had a particularly bad service experience at the restaurant, and an unsatisfactory response to our feedback from Chef Reuben, and decided to remove the restaurant from our portfolio of restaurant recommendations in Franschhoek.  It would be a shame if it were true that Chef Reuben has sold his soul, in endorsing brands such as Robertsons and SAA Business Class on the African and USA routes, in writing books, in doing live and TV demonstrations, all for the revenue, and no longer caring about his Reuben’s restaurants, as the Franschhoek locals and fellow chefs say. Celebrities become the focus of media scrutiny, and even parody, Chef Reuben’s Robertsons’ endorsement being the subject of Another Damned Food Blog last year.

Chef Reuben was praised for his humbleness despite his fame for many years, but as the cover of his cookbook shows, there is a change in attitude with a taste of arrogance, confirmed by those who are looking to do business with him.  We wish for the return of ‘old’ Chef Reuben in the Reuben’s kitchen(s) again! He also owes Robertsons and its customers honesty in his endorsement of their brand.

POSTSCRIPT 22/5: The Advertising Standards Authority is an advertising industry self-governing body, and its Code governs what advertisements may or may not say.  The Preamble in section I states:

“1.1 All advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.

1.2 All advertisements should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the consumer.

1.3 All advertisements should conform to the principles of fair competition in business.

1.4 No advertisement should bring advertising into disrepute or reduce confidence in advertising as a service to industry and to the public”.

Expanding upon this, clause 2 in section II focuses on honesty in advertising:

2.Honesty

Advertisements should not be so framed as to abuse the trust of the consumer or exploit his lack of experience or knowledge or his credulity”.

Testimonials are addressed specifically in clause 10:

10.1To be genuine

Advertisements should not contain or refer to any testimonial or endorsement unless it is genuine and related to the personal experience over a reasonable period of the person giving it. Testimonials or endorsements which are obsolete or otherwise no longer applicable (eg where there has been a significant change in formulation of the product concerned) should not be used.

10.2Conformance to the Code

Testimonials themselves should not contain any statement or implication contravening the provisions of this Code and should not be used in a manner likely to mislead”.

POSTSCRIPT 22/5: We accept Chef Reuben’s apology for the disparaging comment on his Facebook page, which he has reinstated (see the Comments to this blogpost).

POSTSCRIPT 22/5: In the Robertsons’ commercial in MasterChef SA last night, Chef Reuben is described on screen as ‘South Africa’s top chef’. As Chef Reuben did not even make the latest top 20 Eat Out Restaurant shortlist, this is a misleading advertising claim.

POSTSCRIPT 23/5: Elizabeth Pretorius, Communications Director: Africa for Unilever, has responded to our feedback and this blogpost as follows, not addressing the real issue: Unilever is committed to conducting its operations with honesty, integrity and with respect to human rights and as such we do not condone any actions to the contrary. We strive to provide our consumers branded products that meet their needs and aspirations, and Robertsons is one of the main brands in our stable, making herbs and spices available to the widest possible consumer base’.

POSTSCRIPT 29/6: The Wall Street Journal today published an interview with Chef Reuben, providing an interesting insight and confirming the essence of this blogpost!:

*   he first ate a restaurant at the age of 15

*   he would love to have Chef Heston Blumenthal (Fat Duck) cook for him at home

*   he loves making interesting sandwiches with unusual ingredient combinations

*   ‘making a great meal is one of the nicest gifts you can give’, referring to his home cooking for his wife and daughter

*   he would ‘struggle if I don’t have things like garlic and fresh chillies that I grow in my garden’. He admits to having spices in his cupboard at home, specifying ‘curry powder and garam masala‘, not quite the kind made by Robertsons.

*   when entertaining at home, contrary to the Robertsons TV commercial, Chef Reuben writes ‘I always try  and do steam pots. We have all sorts of raw ingredients and vegetables and a steaming pot of stock and you can cook your own food’.

*  He doesn’t work on Sundays, ‘being my family time‘.

POSTCRIPT 8/7: Chef Reuben’s ‘secret vegetable garden’ is at La Motte, where vegetable farmer Dan Kruger grows vegetables to order for a number of Franschhoek chefs, including Pierneef a La Motte’s Chris Erasmus, Haute Cabriere’s Ryan Shell, Ryan’s Kitchen’s Ryan Smith, Delaire Graff’s Christiaan Campbell, Dish restaurant’s Oliver Cattermole, Le Quartier Français’ Margot Janse, and Reuben’s Reuben Riffel.

POSTSCRIPT 11/7:  Chef Reuben seems to be written out of the Robertsons’ TV commercials, appearing in only one commercial out of the six flighted on MasterChef SA last night.  From Twitter and a comment on this blog we have read that Chef Reuben is now endorsing another Unilever brand, being Rama margarine, an absolute no-no for chefs to be seen to be using anything but butter.

POSTSCRIPT 13/7: What a surprise it was to be in the same tiny Nedbank in Franschhoek with Chef Reuben Riffel today, and an opportunity to connect again. He justified the Rama commercial on the fact that many consumers cannot eat at top restaurants, and cannot afford to use butter. He shared that he and his wife Maryke are leaving for the UK and France to eat at top restaurants on a two-week trip next week, and that a little baby Riffel will make its appearance early next year.

POSTSCRIPT 16/7: Sonia Cabano, recipe book writer and Tweeter for Chef Reuben Riffel, is bashing Chef Reuben’s new Rama commercial in which Rama is added to rice: ‘Putting cubes of Rama margarine in rice is not part of our food culture. I’m sorry, but it isn’t. It’s not only wrong, it’s bad for health’ she Tweeted this evening.

POSTSCRIPT 7/10: The Sunday Times today has clarified what everyone has wanted to know about Chef Reuben’s use of Robertsons’ spices, when interviewed at The Sunday Times Chef of the Year Awards earlier this week: ‘Celebrity chef Reuben Riffel, one of the judges of the competition, told me people constantly asked him whether or not he really uses the spices he endorses. He said he uses them at home but uses herbs at his restaurant’. If this is true, it would be misleading to feature Chef Reuben in a chef’s outfit in the Robertsons’ advertising!

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

After a three year absence from the restaurant scene in Cape Town, former The Showroom Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Chef Bruce Robertson has returned to Cape Town to create The Boat House home eatery in Scarborough. His cuisine and plating is as exciting as it was before he left, and he is not only a perfect chef but the perfect host too.

We got to know Chef Bruce when he opened The Showroom with its open kitchen, which meant that he was in the foreground, showing his great ability to chat to clients, and to get them to return.  A change in career plan led him to cook at sixteen private camps in Southern Africa, spanning Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, and the Okavango, cooking his special dishes in often challenging kitchen conditions, and hosting guests.  The love for this extraordinary lifestyle grew from a link he had to an American tour operator company, which brought adventurous gourmet tourists to the Cape, and Chef Bruce led them on exciting culinary journeys, usually preparing their meals out in the open, enjoying the challenge of the outdoors to create unforgettable holidays for the visitors.  He has moved from cooking with passion, to lifestyle cooking, and his beautiful young daughter was the most important reason to bring him back to Cape Town, he said.  The setting of The Boat House in Scarborough, close to the beach, is perfect, and the beach house has a guest room he rents out too.

From the prim and proper Chef Bruce that I remember, in his white chef’s uniform at The Showroom, the new Chef ‘Barefoot Bruce’ is dressed in jeans and a white shirt, barefoot, and looking very relaxed and unstressed. The welcome was a warm hug, and included a tour of the house, his assistant Tom offering us a glass of sparkling wine, an exceptional Cederberg Blanc de Blancs Brut not commercially available elsewhere. We initially sat on the upstairs terrace, another four guests having booked too. A surprise was to learn that Chef Bruce grew up in Pretoria.

One should not think that Chef Bruce’s food is as casual as his dress. Effortlessly he was preparing the food in his open plan kitchen/dining room.  As one chats to one’s table companions one is not so focused on what Chef Bruce is doing in the kitchen.  He comes to the tables regularly, checking all the time that all is in order and to one’s satisfaction, and he provides snippets of information about his food or about the Cederberg wines.  Chef Bruce not only has culinary skills, but he could recareer as an interior decorator too. In eight months he has made a home of the house, with all his special things, creating groupings of this and that,  with lots of family photographs, and his past restaurant awards grace the walls with many other special pictures.  He has two rustic wooden tables covered with glass tops and matching chairs, with the odd ghost chair (Chef Bruce probably was the first restaurateur to use them in a restaurant, at The Showroom), a reminder of his great career.  If there is one thing that will stand out about the lunch then it is the most beautiful composition of half a lime, olive oil, salt and pepper, butter, and the cutlery, on a sheet of miniature tiles, providing perfect ‘compartments’ for the items, and doubling up as a side plate.  A beautiful warm mini-seedloaf was added to this collection.

There is no menu or winelist, and Chef Bruce told us that he almost exclusively serves Cederberg wines, ‘wines with altitude’, the area having a unique terror with very hot summers and snow in winter.  He found the Cederberg wines after an extensive search to find the perfect wines to match his cooking.  Chef Bruce explained that he wanted us to have three wines for our savoury dishes, and that he did not want to prescribe which wine we should pair with which dish.  The 2011 Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc wines have pronounced aromas, and the Sustainable Rosé is made from Shiraz grapes from a single block, a lovely pairing with the main course.  For dessert we were offered a glassful of Cederberg Shiraz 2008 as well as a lovely Bukettraube 2011, the latter playing the role of a dessert wine, Chef Bruce said.

Chef Bruce also told us that there is no choice on his menu, serving a “Table d’Hôte, lunch served to guests as a warm home gathering, where the host has prepared what the guests will be served.  My home is yours”. His menu is mainly fish-based, given his location and theme, and he gave us a little green SASSI-friendly lecture, confirming that he will not touch red nor orange categorised fish types, and therefore salmon and kingklip will not be prepared in his home.  He also said that 99% of his produce comes from within 10 km of his home, keeping it local and carbon footprint friendly.  One has the choice of a three course or five course meal, and we chose the former, while the other table had the latter. Chef Bruce adjusts the serving time to the number of courses each table orders, and we ran behind the other table because of all of our talking and Tweeting!    Not having a menu, it is hard to capture exactly which ingredients make up each dish, as Chef Bruce talks as fast as before, so I asked him to e-mail it to me afterwards, to make sure that I did justice to each dish. To date, Chef Bruce has not repeated any of his dishes, always challenging himself, and keeping it fresh for his guests.  Chef Bruce introduced Tom as his Restaurant Manager, sommelier, waiter, and right hand man, and he was constantly checking on my water glass, and poured the six wines.

Our first course was a Seafood Chowder with home-made gnocchi dumplings, chorizo, courgettes, baby basil, a spicy prawn bisque, and seaweed confetti, the latter most probably not seen or picked up by most.  Chef Bruce is proud of his handiwork, and because things are so relaxed, he comes to the tables to show the special little touches, something one would not experience in a regular restaurant.  For the main course Chef Bruce had prepared pan-fried Cape Gurnard, a fish I had not eaten before.  It is also called the Cape Sea Robin or ‘korhaanvis’. While not the easiest fish to clean and prepare, Chef Bruce likes using it because it is so plentiful.  He served it with baby spinach, his own spicy home-made tomato and olive chutney, finger beans, thyme, Niçoise cream, and cream of olive oil potato, all making for a beautiful dish with interesting flavours.

The ‘Cape Malay dessert’ required quite a bit of explanation.  Chef Bruce made a panna cotta-like melkkos Boerber jelly from sago, wonderful samoosas filled with stewed fruit and Old Brown Sherry, chocolate meringue sprinkled with Nachtmusik liqueur, malva pudding with rooibos liqueur, yoghurt, honey caviar, and pomegranate molasses, a beautiful collection of different tastes all served on a pure white tile, a proudly Cape Town dish! The ‘honey caviar’ would not have meant anything to us at all, and we probably would not even have picked up the little balls, had Chef Bruce not come to our table before serving the dessert, and asking us to guess what they were. We could taste the sweetness, but could never have identified them to be pollen. Although our 3-course menu did not include a cheese course, Chef Bruce wanted me to try it. Presented on a wooden board with textural bumps created via caramelised sugar, it consisted of ‘rondebokkie’ cheese I had never heard of before, mature cheddar, black fig chutney (‘suurvy’), mint, and a chilli bite. Eating at The Boat House is not only for sustenance, but it is most educational too, because Chef Bruce is so excited about his discoveries that he spontaneously shares them with his guests.  The second course in the 5-course menu is a home smoked snoek pâte served with a fresh pea and mascarpone cream on ciabatta, with Chef Bruce’s kitchen greens.

While Scarborough is as quiet and isolated from the rest of Cape Town as it was on a last visit more than ten years, everything has changed, now having one of the hottest secret eateries in this suburb, worth the drive of about 60 km from the city centre.  One can also book a picnic basket from Chef Bruce, and one is sure to be equally spoilt, given that Chef Bruce originally designed Warwick’s gourmet picnic.

The Boat House, 36 Beach Road, Scarborough.  Tel 083 305 8533. www.chefbrucerobertson.com Twitter: @Chef Bruce  Monday – Saturday lunch.  Maximum of 12 guests.  3-courses R325, 5-courses R495. Must be pre-booked.

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

It was a different MasterChef SA in episode 3 last night, with less action and more tears.  There also was a lot at stake for the final 25 contestants, a braai deciding which seven contestants had to leave the reality TV cooking programme, with the final 18 going through to the MasterChef SA kitchen at Nederburg, for the remaining fifteen episodes.

For the first time one got to know the contestants a little better, but the editors of the show were not consistent in providing their names.  It seemed that the chaps would have the advantage in this episode as the natural braaiers, but some of them did not make it through to the next round.  Filmed at the Cradle of Humankind outside Johannesburg, the home of 2011 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Roots, the challenge put to the contestants was to cook a meal worthy of being served at this fine-dining restaurant.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood said that the braai was the most basic form of cooking.  The dishes were expected to jump out at the judges, to shout ‘eat me’. Chef Pete also said that the biggest challenge with a braai is to control the heat source.

Few of the dishes would have made it into Roots restaurant, if Twitterers were the judges! Worrying was that the judges had such a disparate evaluation of the dishes, there being little conformity of appreciation, in most cases only two of the three judges evaluating any dish.  Chef Andrew Atkinson seemed over-dressed in his over-large suit for the braai, while Chefs Bennie Masekwameng and Pete looked more comfortable in their jackets.

Contestant Thys Hattingh admitted that he was not good at braais, and preferred making desserts.  He made both a meat dish and a beautiful dessert, the latter highly praised by the judges, as was Khaya’s dessert. The judges tasted ‘pap and vleis’ made by Jade de Waal, fillet of springbok, Surf and Turf, seared tuna, lemon butter hake, stuffed sirloin, hake sandwich, rump steak, and more braai dishes.

Very few contestants escaped the programme without a harsh word from a judge, comments directed at Bonguwusa’s dish which was described as ‘not award-winning’, ‘tasted like cardboard’, was ‘overcooked’, and was‘inedible’, probably the harshest criticism of the evening.  A piece of meat was described as a ‘brickette’. Another contestant cooking pap was criticised for the dish not working. Natalie was criticised for her dish being ‘too busy’, but she countered that it reflects her personality. She admitted that it was her first braai ever, loved by Chef Andrew and not liked at all by Chef Pete. Sarel Loot’s milk chocolate sauce served with his steak was described as ‘awful’ by Chef Andrew, and was criticised by Chef Bennie too, and could have cost him a place.  One contestant presented part of her dish in ‘ghastly’ tin foil, a serious fail. Bruce’s steak was described as ‘too busy’,not quite MasterChef’ standard.  Bruce, Timothy, Elton, Cameron, Callie-Anne, Natalie, and Bonguwusa did not make the final hurdle.

The heat was really on and the tears started to roll when the 25 contestants had to face the judges in small groups, and were reminded of their problems of the evening, and to hear who would be leaving and who would go through to the MasterChef SA kitchen.  The eighteen MasterChef SA finalists, with the Twitter addresses (most of them have started Tweeting) and city of residence from a Screen Africa listing, with 7 finalists from Cape Town and 5 from Johannesburg (with a surprise one from Namibia, given that is MasterChef SA) are as follows:

Babalwa Baartman  @LateBloomer26 from Cape Town

Berdina Schurink  @BerdinaSchurink from Pretoria

Brandon Law  @TheBrandonLaw from Johannesburg

Charles Canning  @CTHPipey from Cape Town

Deena Naidoo  @Deenamcsa from Durban

Fortune Kangueehi  @FKangueehi from Windhoek

Guy Clark @GuyClark2 from Cape Town

Ilse Fourie   @IlseNel from Cape Town

Jade de Waal  @FoodJams from Cape Town

Khaya Silingile  @KhayaSilingile from Johannesburg

Lungile Nhlanhla  @Lungzie from Durban

Lwazi Mngoma  @LwaziMngoma from Johannesburg

Manisha Naidu  @Manisha_Naidu from Johannesburg

Mmutsi Maseko from Johannesburg

Samantha Nolan  @SamanthaLNolan from Cape Town

Sarel Loots  @SarelvanSabie from Sabie

Sue-Ann Allen @Cook_Sista from Cape Town

Thys Hattingh  @Thys_Hattingh from Rustenburg

Advertisers were largely the same as in the past episodes, including good-enough-to eat ads for MasterChef SA sponsor Woolworths’ steak and boerewors, sponsor Hyundai, Emirates, Outsurance, sponsor Robertson’s, Revlon, smeg, Frisco, Nedbank, KFC, VISA, Parmalat, Kenwood, and sponsor Nederburg.

In the next fifteen weeks the viewers will get to know the individual contestants better, and their personalities no doubt will come to the fore.  One hopes that the pace picks up again, this episode having lacked the pace and energy of the two preceding episodes.

POSTSCRIPT 4/4: In following the MasterChef SA final 18 contestants on Twitter, one wishes someone would teach them to Tweet.  Thys Hattingh is just providing links to the MasterChef SA website about each of his fellow contestants, and Sarel Loots is showing politics already by having blocked us, no doubt as sympathy support for Sonia Cabano, Robertson’s former Social Media Manager. Even more surprising is that Jade de Waal has locked her Twitter account recently, and one must request to follow her, which contradicts the reason for being on Twitter! Is this an ego getting too big?  Is she the MasterChef SA?  Or is it because she is related to Sonia Cabano (de Waal)?

POSTSCRIPT 4/4:  The Month, a newspaper distributed in the Winelands and Cape Town, has compared MasterChef SA and Australia. Our programme, after one episode, does not receive favourable feedback in the article.

POSTSCRIPT 5/4:  I have double-checked with Chef Pete Goffe-Wood about the road forward, not having watched any other MasterChef series before. One of the 18 finalists will be eliminated each week from now onwards.  The eighteen finalists know who the winner is, but they have been sworn to secrecy!

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