Braai master Bertus Basson lights the flames under South African cuisine. This month we visited him at his Stellenbosch restaurant for our Country Chef feature. Here’s an excerpt from that story coupled a behind-the-scenes gallery of the photo shoot.
Words Di Wemyss photos Johan Wilke and Di Wemyss
The one, single, unifying element in South African cuisine is cooking on an open fire,” claims chef Bertus Basson of Overture restaurant at Hidden Valley Wines outside Stellenbosch.
“No matter who you are, the flavours of your food might vary, but the one constant is that we all braai. It’s something that resonates with everyone. Nowhere else in the world is it the same. Not in Australia, America or Europe. Cooking on an open fire is a uniquely South African thing. It’s what connects us, what brings us together.”
As our food has evolved and become more sophisticated, with South Africans becoming more discerning, the braai, once the preserve of the beer-swilling brigade, has become a thing of infinite variety and smart nuances. And there is no one better qualified, nor with the culinary credibility required, to push forward the idea of a national cuisine based on The Braai, than Bertus Basson.
He is a judge on The Ultimate Braai Master television series and co-owner of Overture, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in this country, found on the 30ha Hidden Valley Wines estate in the foothills of the Stellenbosch mountains (nice pun on the name of the owner and winemaker, Dave Hidden).
Opened in partnership with fellow-chef Craig Cormack seven years ago, Overture’s 45-seater restaurant – slick, modern and just a little bit industrially styled – might, at first encounter, seem like the quintessential smart, fine-dining country restaurant. Well it is, but it isn’t, because Bertus is not one to sit back and contemplate the rural views over olives and vines, which incidentally are pretty awesome. No, Bertus is a perpetual traveller on the road to gastronomic discovery.
Most of his training has been in the kitchen and he says the most “game-changing” experience was when he worked as chef de partie at Chez Bruce, Bruce Poole’s Michelin 1-star restaurant in Wandsworth, London.
“In South Africa at that time, we were still using frozen ingredients but at Chez Bruce I saw fresh produce rolling into the kitchen daily,” says Bertus.
Overture, Hidden Valley Wines 021 880 2721
Lunch Tuesday to Sunday, dinner Thursday to Friday.