In the heart of Suider-Paarl there is characterful country cooking simmering in a side street near the station. The largest town in the Cape Winelands and the third oldest town in the country, it’s famed for its vineyards, mountains and schools producing some of the country’s best rugby players, and has a vibrant community of nearly 200 000 people.
There is a tantalising aroma of flavourful cooking that entices you up the stairs into the loft that chef Mynhardt Joubert calls home. It’s a sanctuary that he shares with fellow food-lovers, one that he opens for dinners and special occasions. It is over delicious meals in his kitchen that friendships are forged, milestones celebrated. With a background in performing arts and with his genuine warmth, he is a natural entertainer, accommodating groups of between 10 and 30 in this bright, effervescent space.
A magic carpet ride back to your childhood
Mynhardt and his team display real country hospitality. Tear your eyes away from the pots bubbling on the stove and walk down into the sitting room. Over a welcome drink and delectable canapés, you can admire the eclectic collection of much-loved art, each piece telling a story. There is a bright orange wall covered with framed Springbok Hits covers. In front of it, a Formica table with a box of glass drink bottles that transport you on a magic carpet ride back to your childhood. Light streams in through a cameo window display of towering orchids. When it is time to be seated for your surprise menu, the bell rings, and you start to enjoy four or five courses.
Today’s feast begins with a Beetroot and Shiraz Soup with Black Charcoal Ciabatta, a hearty recipe that friend and cooking partner Frikkie got from an Anthony Bourdain book and over the years has made his own, servingbit with farm butter. The Biryani, a firm favourite from Myhnardt’s childhood in the Free State, is served with some tasty side dishes. Yotam Ottolenghi provides inspiration for the Whole Baked Trout.
“I love working with farmed fish as it is such a wonderful renewable food source. These trout are farmed in fresh ocean waters and has a sublime taste. The tomatoes for this dish are available all year round and the added citrus gives it a wonderful fresh flavour, served with a simple salad or warm, fluffy herbed potato mash,” claims the talented chef.
They always make me nostalgic
The Rolled and Stuffed Lamb Rib, easily made in advance, has a crunchy stuffing of figs and nuts. “It is an instant reminder of glorious winters spent in the Prince Albert Valley. Weltevrede Fig and Guest Farm supplies dried figs year-round and can be ordered online,” he says. “I prepare this dish with an off-dry white wine and it can be served with a barrel-fermented Chenin or Chardonnay instead of the usual red.”
“Ask your butcher to debone the lamb rib, individually cutting out the bones and not just slicing open the meat as you will lose too much of the lamb. The lamb-rib meat stays juicy and is a glorious cut of meat often overlooked,” advises Mynhardt as he puts the finishing touches to the dish.
It is the home-made Cashew-nut Waffles with Salted Caramel Sauce that provides a sweet ending. “My first recollection of a waffle is when I was five years old and on holiday with my grandparents whom I adored. We were on a roadtrip and stopped in Kimberley at the Big Hole and ate warm waffles with real maple syrup in a tearoom. I will never forget the taste, or the experience and they always make me nostalgic… perfect for winter thinking and eating. The caramel sauce is one of my mom’s recipes,” reminisces Mynhardt.
Styling of his dishes is instinctive
Each plate tells a story. The ‘stories’ are set out, ready for the meal, on an old, wooden table. Dishes and details are colour-coded, not in a sterile way, but gently combined to create a colourful thread to highlight the dish being displayed. Some of these beautiful plates are created by Mynhardt’s partner, Ian Engelmohr of Patat Design.
Some were sourced during travels, like a recent return trip to Russia to experience a white Christmas in St Petersburg. Mynhardt’s first trip there was 23 years ago when he finished school. “I sold fudge and cookies to pay for my ticket and stayed with a friend. This time I wanted Ian to experience it. There small producers are making their own meat and cheese and are fiercely proud of it, creating a food revolution. There is a huge appreciation for art, they will queue, in the snow, for museums. Their ballet is like our rugby,” says Mynhardt.
Other countries that have inspired his cuisine are France and Italy. “My food has a strong Mediterranean influence although I found my feet in Riebeek-Kasteel with its grapes, wheat and olives.” The styling of his dishes is instinctive, it is a joy to watch Mynhardt at work, a tweak here, an unexpected dash there, the last touch an abundant sprinkling of salt and pepper.
It is a sixth sense of what needs to be added and what needs to be taken away that brings these courses to life. The table is an unashamedly lavish display of colour, form and imagination, a backdrop for an animated occasion under quirky lights that too were sourced in Russia.
Lots of people coming and going
Mynhardt is quick to give credit to his smiling kitchen companions. Frikkie Janse van Rensburg (aka Frikkadel) looks after the finances, staff, preparation, cooking and logistics. Jasmine McGee (nicknamed Julia, perhaps after Julia Child?) works seamlessly with Daniel Opperman, who is affectionately known as Ai or Dan the Man. He works in the garden, prepares food, polishes cutlery and together, they keep the machine well-oiled.
While Mynhardt and his team, seemingly effortlessly, create this unforgettable feast, he shares some of his story. Growing up in the Eastern Free State, he attended an English nursery school and is fully bilingual. His mother Winnie, a good cook, did not like cooking and did not mind if her children took over. He uses some of her recipes, like the venison flavoured with red wine, garlic, cloves, juniper berries and bay leaves, slow-cooked, topped with a soft herb crust that soaks up all the mouth-watering juices. “Growing up on a farm, we were always entertaining. It was a real, traditional farm set-up with lots of people coming and going.”
Moving to the Cape 12 years ago he originally managed restaurants before teaming up with Anton and Cecile Epost to draw crowds to the Bar Bar Black Sheep Restaurant in Riebeek-Kasteel. Five years later Mynhardt Joubert and Tiaan Langenegger won the KykNET reality show Kokkedoor, and he penned his first cookbook.
“There are so many similarities between performing and cooking. You only have one chance to get it right. There is an audience and you feed off their vibe, it is an interactive experience. This is a real huiskuier, it is not a restaurant. It is personal and intimate, it is fun.”
Brash, loud and colourful
He also spends time developing recipes and content for clients and is a passionate brand ambassador for KWV. The team gets inspiration from the seasons and from local produce sourced from suppliers in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Wild Peacock delivers to the table, there are herb farms close by, fresh fruit like figs, pomegranates, grapes and quinces grow in abundance.
“My favourite season is the end of autumn with its last burst of bounty, like the grapes,” smiles Mynhardt.
Looking out the kitchen, the red door perfectly frames the Taal Monument on the mountain in the distance. Someone arrives to bring him a pair of blue plates that matches a pair displayed on the kitchen wall. Another visitor knocks loudly, delivering some fabric for his table. It is a hive of activity. “I love living here near the station. It’s brash, loud and colourful – like living in New York – this is real life,” he says.
Mynhardt loves every day of his week. “I don’t want to leave home, I am happy here, I don’t want to go anywhere, but I do take time off,” he claims. “I cook for people in my house. It is so expressive; it helps me to relax.”
This is not a job, it’s an enviable way of life, inviting strangers into your home, doing what you love, sharing your passion and by doing so, creating an ever-increasing circle of friends. n
Pictures Francois Pistorius
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