The gentle pace of country life needs challenges, as chef and owner of Gabriëlskloof Restaurant in the Overberg, Frans Groenewald has discovered…
Words: Diana Wemyss,
Pictures: Daniela Zondagh
“You can’t jog every morning and never run a race,” says Frans Groenewald, of Gabriëlskloof Restaurant, on the Gabriëlskloof wine estate in Bot River. “I need to be challenged, by people and places. I believe you should force yourself to move forward. Even the change of seasons can create the challenge. What to put on the winter menu or then the summer menu. A friend wanted to host a birthday breakfast here so I sent her a list of suggestions and she said no, let’s not have a menu of choices, let’s have everything,” says Frans. “So that is how our special breakfast trilogy menu came about.” He laughs, describing the truly abundant feast that turns breakfast into a unique celebration every day at this most beautiful venue.
Frans combines his training in classical cooking – learnt at the Warwick’s Chef School near Hermanus in the late 1990s – and growing up in that seaside town, where his parents ran the caravan site at De Mond and his mother roped him in on weekends to help her with catering functions. “You never forget your roots,” he says. “I am a country boy and always will be.”
The combination of country upbringing and later stints working in top French and English restaurants has lead to some inspired dishes. His mother’s souskluitjies (custard dumplings) with cinnamon sugar, for instance, have become a wondrous creation that Frans serves with meringue, almonds, orange preserve and salted caramel. “My mother didn’t think these would work with her original recipe,” he says. “But my customers would sue me if I took it off the menu.”
Always innovative, he mourns such banal things as the lack of carrot tops on this root vegetable. “You try and buy a full bunch of carrots these days and most times they come in plastic packets with the tops cut off. A carrot with its top is called a heritage carrot,” he says, with a laugh at the absurdity. And the reason for his quest for carrot tops is to make a differently delicious pesto.
“We learnt about truffles and foie gras at chef school, but in those days, of course, they were certainly not available in this country. We were learning about things we didn’t have, but then in our daily lives we were doing what has become so fashionable today, foraging. Foraging from the sea, digging for white mussels on the beach – my parents always said these were better than abalone – and going out crayfishing. In those days we thought of the people who sold home-made breads on the market as ‘die arty mense’. Artisan breads are fashionable now, 20 years later. Only when I went to France did I understand the meaning of abundance and availability of fresh produce,” he says. “Working there was a culture shock. I couldn’t speak French, but I knew if I heard ‘Afrique du Sud’ shouted in the kitchen I was probably in trouble.”
Frans believes that cooking must come from the heart, from memories of family meals, and that “cheffing is a job you have to enjoy because the hours are so terrible”. His “secret weapon” in business is his wife Mariaan, a trained social worker, and mother of their two small children Marthinus and Ariane. Mariaan has a genius for organisation. She looks after the small deli and gift shop, takes bookings and makes sure that the weddings at this increasingly popular venue run like clockwork.
As people have to travel further out for a truly country experience – racing ahead of traffic snarl-ups and mushrooming housing developments – Bot River, once a tiny spot on the map that you missed on your way to Caledon, arrests your attention. The undulating lands are planted with serried rows of vines and, where yellow wheat once waved in the breeze, the shimmer of olive trees catches the light. And perched on a koppie looking down on the N2, as it surges on its way on a ribbon of tar, the buildings of Gabriëlskloof meld prettily into the almost Tuscan landscape. The restaurant, wine cellar, tasting room and wine shop are built around a grassed courtyard with two long, black mirror pools, home of a lone terrapin.
Forceful and energetic Catherine Anderson, who lives and works at Gabriëlskloof with her husband Barry, is the stylish influence behind the rare chic of the buildings and interiors. She gathered inspiration from English raftered barns, Californian wine estates, and the rolling hills of Tuscany to create this calming and inviting environment where you want to linger for hours.
Here you can enjoy the true meaning of warm country hospitality and excellent food with Frans the genial and unhurried host with a ready laugh.
1. What two food trends do you follow?
Using vegetables from root to stem like, for example, carrots and then making a pesto from their tops. Using savoury in sweet and sweet in savoury, for instance to add thyme to an apple tartin.
2. Best cooking advice from your mother?
Cook with your heart and always taste your food.
3. The main cooking mistakes novices make?
When baking, they tend to over-whisk their batter and it becomes tough.
4. Your biggest flop?
Cooking risotto just with wine when a friend and I were on holiday. We didn’t have any stock and thought the wine would be a great substitute. Big mistake.
5. Your must-have kitchen kit?
A pizza about a month ago. Delicious.
7. Best farmer’s market?
Wild Oats Community Farmers’ Market in Sedgefield. You’ll find great stuff, and organic food, and you get to spend time in the lovely Garden Route area.
8. Favourite tipple?
Any Gabriëlskloof wines or a good whisky.
9. Favourite restaurant?
Foliage Restaurant in Franschoek. I love chef Chris Erasmus’ creative cooking.
10.What would you order for your last supper?
Without a doubt I’d have a braai with my family and closest friends.
Now try chef Frans’ recipes
- Smoked Snoek Spring Rolls with Hanepoot Dip
- Chicken and Barley Soup
- Duck au Vin
- Slow-Roasted Lamb Neck
- Gooseberry Sago Pudding with Italian Meringue