Food can take you on a journey, if the cook has an appreciation for flavours. When you visit a restaurant, the chef can add ambiance to the experience, making the journey all that much more exquisite. Chef Franck Dangereux, is a chef I’ve discovered and grown to know, where the gastronomic experience is different every meal.
I love good food. I love good wine. Pairing them is not my strength. I happen to have them together as company for a meal. I can’t claim to be optimal at how I have chosen one to accompany the other though. The Chef’s table, at the Foodbarn, is how you can best enjoy Franck’s skills in the kitchen. It’s like experiencing flavours in your mouth as you would experience musical notes in harmony.
The wine estate instrumental in this passage of the fine dining experience of the chef’s table was Thelema Vineyards. I met and chatted to Rudi Schultz, their winemaker since the year 2000. Rudi had also ‘brought’ wines from Sutherland, another one of the Webb family wine estates. I say ‘brought’, as the choice was not really Rudi’s as to which of the wines from the two estates would play a part in the seven course meal to come.
A chef’s table, with amazing wines from Thelema and Sutherland, at a private residence in Noordhoek. A setting with expansive views that included the picturesque shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean! We were welcomed by the staff, and a glass of The Sutherland Viognier/Roussanne blend. The wine was a beautiful gold colour, heavy looking, and had a stone fruit taste with a medium body. It did not have a long finish, so just right. I liked it. It was a hot sunny day in the Cape, with hardly any breeze. The wine appealed to me as I am off the Sauvignon Blanc wines. Particularly those that are acidic and lacking in complexity.
It was while sipping on the white wine that Rudi came to speak to us. I did not realise he was from the estate, nor the winemaker, so the wine nerd in me got that little bit more excited when I discovered he was the winemaker. It was at this stage that I discovered that the wines were sent to Franck some time back in preparation, and their Sauvignon Blanc auditioned, but was not successful in participating in the order of the day. Franck had wanted something bold to start with, and the Sutherland/ Roussanne met the criteria.
We sat down to eat, and the symphony of flavours in my mouth, starring the culinary expressions of the Foodbarn’s kitchen and the wines from Thelema and Sutherland cannot be expressed by my limited vocabulary. So the best I can do, is share pictures and descriptions of what we enjoyed…
- The Thelema “Ed’s Reserve” Chardonnay, 2014 vintage accompanied the Springbok Tartare, juniper, blueberries and aged regiano. Chomba doesn’t eat meat or chicken. She’s a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats fish and seafood). Her experience was not compromised. She got the same dishes, for each course, with a fitting fish to give her the same visual experience, and most similar tasting experience to the rest of us.
- The second course was seared scallops, squid ink, edamame and lemongrass oil with a glass of the Thelema Verdhello 2015. This course I particularly remember for the power of pairing as the Verdhello by itself, was a wine where the nose was unappealing, as it had hints of something sharp, yet to the mouth it was a lot fruitier. So I did not like the smell, but I certainly liked the taste. Sipping it after tasting my food, and the experience in my mouth was that much more enhanced. A classic case of synergy, as the two together were greater than the sum of the parts.
- Provolone risotto, porcini, smoked porcini juice was the third course, and the wine to go with it was the Sutherland Pinot Noir 2013. I’m getting hungry again as I write. I can even remember Scott, who was sitting next to me, exclaim “can’t be… can’t be…”. I don’t know how many times he said it, but I echo his bewilderment. Franck had us all, including Rudi the winemaker, bedazzled. Rudi was particularly impressed by Franck’s ability to be discerning with the chemical romance between the dish and the wine.
- The fourth course was tuna, bearnaise, brik crisps and watercress. The wine to go with it was the Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012. You will notice that I have not dared try explain the flavours in my mouth. Words are really not enough. Since I know people like things to be relative, I will say that my least favourite part of the dish was the tuna. The bearnaise was extraordinary. That’s the quality Franck puts on a plate, the star of the dish is not the most obvious member of the cast.
- The fifth course was thick bacon, artichokes, garlic sour cream and tarragon oil. The wine to go with this was the Sutherland Syrah 2011. As with the food, each wine was delicious. If I had to choose my best wine of the lot, it was surprisingly this Syrah.
- The sixth course, was pasture beef, onions, spring onions and truffle complemented by a glass of Thelema Rabelais 2012 (pronounced Rub-a-Lay). Every mouthful was followed by an “mmmmm” of sorts, in concert through the room.
- The climactic scene of the food and wine festival was the seventh course, the Thelema “Vin de Hel” Muscat Late Harvest 2014 to go with a raspberry millefeuille, verbena and apricot smores.
Franck has bust the myth for me about food portions and the utility in eating a seven course meal. Each course was enough that you got to experience each mouthful with the different flavours that touch your palate. Enough to savour each fork off the plate before you, yet also excited and with an appetite enough to crave what was next.
Franck’s boldness as a chef is unmissable. Add the passion and love he has for his craft, and his intuitive ability to appreciate the chemical composition of what is in his food and what the wine tastes like, and you have a sensory experience that is out of this world when you partake in the chef’s table. It looks easy on the day, when you experience the perfect delivery, but I know that a simple approach of trial and error is not all that is the secret of his recipe for such excellence in fine dining.