Modernist culinary magicians
Did you know?
Modernist culinary magician Luke Dale-Roberts has twice been named Chef of the Year.
Modernist culinary magicians are South Africa’s brightest and boldest chefs. In keeping with international trends, contemporary South African chefs are rejecting set and formal menus in favour of sustainable seasonal produce while embracing new techniques and technologies in the kitchen. Others are food activists who deliberately deconstruct and reinterpret local and traditional foods in a modern idiom using forgotten ingredients and artisan produce.
Cooking at the cutting edge of cuisine is like walking a culinary tight rope. Many chefs imagine they are capable, but few go on to deliver on this finely poised gastronomic balancing act. With a 5-month waiting list to get into his experimental venue, The Test Kitchen, Cape Town chef Luke Dale-Roberts is arguably the country’s most successful proponent of contemporary modernist cuisine.
The excitement around Luke’s innovative French-Asian inspired style of cuisine has been ongoing since he first cooked at La Colombe restaurant at Constantia Uitsig. Dale-Roberts propelled the eatery onto the San Pellegrino 'World’s 50 Best Restaurants' awards list and won the title Chef of the Year at the Prudential Eat Out Awards in 2008, before striking out on his own in 2010.
Though he calls The Test Kitchen his playground, there’s nothing twee or narcissistic about the plates of edible art served here. As he says: ‘We use scientific equipment for the purpose of producing bigger, bolder favours, but it’s always the quality and the integrity of the produce that counts.’
The menu changes with the seasons and Dale-Roberts is zealous about sourcing his food locally. He chose Woodstock as the site of his restaurant so that he could source fresh market produce every day. Moreover, his open plan atelier/kitchen is designed for patrons to observe and experience the creative buzz in the kitchen. ‘I want people to understand how the dish came to be,’ he says.
Fans of avant-garde cuisine a la Michel Bras will do well to book a table at Tokara Restaurant with its spectacular location atop the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch.
Presiding over the mountain-top kitchen is chef-alchemist Richard Carstens. No stranger to the culinary spotlight, he was voted Chef of The Year in 2005 and he has received 6 Prudential Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards in his career. Known for his studies in tastes and textures, Carstens is passionate and precise; a food artist and a scientist who is extremely playful yet earnest about food.
Described as the chef for thinking foodies, Carstens has earned a loyal following because he continually challenges diners’ beliefs about food by coaxing many languages, as he puts it, from a single ingredient without ever masking or losing its flavour.
At the other end of modernist cuisine is the graphic designer turned chef, Kobus van der Merwe, who favours raw nature over science. His passion for foraging for edible West Coast veldkos (field food) has led local diners to liken him to celebrated Danish chef, René Redzepi, of Noma fame.
Van der Merwe harvests his food sustainably on a daily basis from the surrounding veld, sand dunes and seashore, before returning to his paternoster bistro, Oep ve Koep (literally: open for business). Here he transforms his pickings into modern dishes that pay homage to the distinctive flavours and regional character of West Coast country food. Thanks to him, sardines on toast will never be the same again.
Accomplished chef, Dario D’Angeli, was among the first chefs locally to experiment with molecular gastronomy. Though his days of snail porridge, and egg and bacon ice cream are behind him, Cube Tasting Kitchen is no less ambitious in its vision.
At Cube, D’Angeli offers tasting menus at a set price for a dinner that lasts a minimum of 3 hours. Menus change every 6 weeks, depending on what’s locally and seasonally available. Expect between 18 to 20 courses designed around colours and textures served on conceptual crockery. Menus are divided into chapters and the food is about precision, technique and flavour.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
The Test Kitchen
Shop 104 A
The Old Biscuit Mill
375 Albert Road
Woodstock, Cape Town
Tel: +27 (0)21 447 2337
Tel: +27 (0)21 885 2550
Cube Tasting Kitchen
Mobile: +27 (0)82 422 8158
Oep ve Koep Bistro
Saint Augustine Road
Tel: +27 (0)22 752 2105