The Liam Tomlin Culinary Studio is a culinary coup for Franschhoek and a treat for aspiring cooks visiting the Cape winelands. Newly opened, the state-of-the-art cookery school at Leopard’s Leap wine estate is the brainchild of the owners of the estate, Hein Koegelenberg and Hanneli Rupert, and acclaimed Ireland-born chef Liam Tomlin.

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Liam Tomlin says: ‘In general South African ingredients are on par with all the other countries I have worked in. The game is fantastic, particularly venison. It is on the same level as, or better than, anything I have ever tasted.’

The Liam Tomlin Culinary Studio is part-owned and operated by Liam Tomlin, formerly of the multi-award-winning three-hatted restaurant, Banc, in Sydney.

Tomlin is now based in Franschhoek, and the culinary studio is an extension of Liam’s Chefs Warehouse in Cape Town - the pre-eminent store for professional chefs and food lovers in search of imported high-tech and designer kitchen goodies, hard-to-source ingredients and cookbooks.

Whereas at Chefs Warehouse Tomlin only presents demonstrations and chef’s tables, at the Liam Tomlin Culinary Studio – at Leopard’s Leap wine estate – you learn how to cook Michelin-star quality meals side by side with the man himself.

The space, which accommodates 24 participants, is arguably the best-equipped facility in the country that is not an accredited culinary training centre. True to Tomlin’s legendary perfectionist streak, each workspace has its own gas hob, a fully equipped fridge, supply cupboard and three exquisitely sharp knives.

The professional cookware is what foodie dreams are made of, with premier brands like Le Creuset, Staub and Shun provided. As one participant noted, ‘Immediately, you believe you can cook better when given tools like these.’

Tomlin’s studio may look like the set of MasterChef, but that’s where the culinary intimidation ends. Tomlin stresses that the classes are aimed at ‘anybody seriously interested in cooking who wants to equip themselves with new skills and techniques and have FUN’.

For starters, you’re treated with complete professionalism by Tomlin and his brigade, and plied with Leopard’s Leap wine while you meet and greet your fellow cooks.

Only top-quality ingredients are provided for the menu, which Tomlin has personally designed. Once the class gets going, Tomlin leads with careful guidance and patient advice, as befits a real celebrity chef: there are no TV tantrums and no nasty alter egos – just good-humoured banter, the clatter of blenders, pans and oven doors, and brows furrowed with concentration as students strive to rise to the occasion.

The three-hour class flies by as Tomlin has a way of making it all seem easy. He keeps it interesting with useful tips about alternative uses for, and substituting, the ingredients, combined with injections of Irish wit and juicy industry anecdotes. His rugged rock-star-meets-Hemingway good looks don’t hurt either.

Since Tomlin cannot be everywhere at once, his faultlessly trained brigade stands ever-ready to save your sauce pot that’s about to boil over, rescue your smoking rack of lamb from the oven, and offer helpful tips to make your meal a masterpiece.

At the end, the group of exhausted but elated amateurs sits down to enjoy 4 courses that look and taste like they were made in a 5-star kitchen.

Eventually, says Tomlin, ‘we’ll use local guest chefs and perhaps some international ones’.

Leopard’s Leap has a revamped wine-tasting room, and a shop that sells high-end functional kitchen equipment and cooking stations. Future plans include a delicatessen where cooks can pick up gourmet goodies before going home to cook up a storm.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Liam Tomlin Food
Tel: +27 (0)21 876 8822
Fax: +27 (0)21 876 4156

Leopard’s Leap wine estate
Tel: +27 (0)21 876 8002

Chefs Warehouse
Tel: +27 (0)21 422 0128

How to get here

From Cape Town: Follow the N1 in the direction of Paarl. Turn left at the Klapmuts turn-off and immediately right, taking the R44 to Stellenbosch. Approximately 500m after the Klapmuts turn, take the Simondium turn-off and follow the Klapmuts/Simondium Road, which leads to the R45. Turn right onto the R45. Leopard’s Leap is situated on the left.

Best time to visit

Currently, classes are held at the Franschhoek studio on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Visit the Liam Tomlin Food website for the latest class timetable.

Get around

A hire car or tour operator.

What will it cost

Classes start from as little as R250 per person.

What to pack

Come to class in clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and which are easy to move around in; and wear comfortable closed-toe shoes.