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Veronica Nomphelo Plaatjies, who will also be representing Team SA in France next month is the winner of the three year...

Restaurant Mosaic announces the winner of its Sommelier Protege Bursary Programme

Veronica Nomphelo Plaatjies,

who will also be representing Team SA in France next month

is the winner of the three year Restaurant Mosaic Sommelier Protégé Bursary and was selected from a search held nationwide in conjunction with the South African Wine Tasting Championships (SAWTC).

The Restaurant Mosaic Sommelier Protégé Program annually offers a young emerging professional a three year fully paid learnership bursary at the award winning Restaurant Mosaic, working alongside Chef of the Year, Chantel Dartnall, and well-known French sommelier, Germain Lehodey.

She will now receive the necessary formal education required and achieve the best professional experience, under the guidance of the Restaurant Mosaic Cellar Team whilst gaining valuable exposure to the industry. She has also been accepted into the South African Sommeliers Association (SASA).
Plaatjies, who is currently studying for her National Certificate in Food and Beverage Services, has extensive restaurant experience and has worked at African Pride's 15 on Orange Hotel in Cape Town and Sun International’s Maslow Hotel.

Her future plans include owning and running a wine club to give wine educational programmes for formerly disadvantaged students hoping to work in the hospitality industry as well as for corporate clients and business people who have not had extensive exposure to wine in the past.

Fifteen of the country’s best tasters, chosen at provincial competitions held in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, met at the SAWTC finals to face the challenge of identifying wines from around the world and to decide who deserved to form part of the 2015 South African Champion Team. Plaatjies attended both the Johannesburg and Cape Town events, and performed outstandingly, qualifying in both events making her the undisputed winner of this year's Mosaic bursary.

This means that Miss Plaatjies will be part of Team South Africa  2015 that comprises captain Ralph Reynolds , Joseph T. Dhafana, Anita Streicher Nel, and will fly the national colours in France at the World Blind Challenge on October 17.

The competitors have two hours during the blind tasting to identify 12 wines from eight different countries. They have to guess the country, the cultivar, the vintage, the appellation and the producer of the wines served to them.

Says Plaatjies: “I am delighted to be part of the 2015 SAWTC Team representing not only South Africa, but also Restaurant Mosaic where I will be getting valuable work experience at one of the country’s top restaurants. I know I am going to learn so much from both Chantel and Germain – it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could change my life forever.”

Says Chef Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic: “We are thrilled that Veronica will be joining Restaurant Mosaic on our Protégé Programme. Sommeliers play a very big role in the restaurant and are as much part of the dining experience as the chefs who create the magic in the kitchen. We hope that this bursary will help her reach new heights and are delighted that we have been able to afford her the opportunity to fulfil her dreams.”

Says manager of Team South Africa and owner of the SAWTC, Jean-Vincent Ridon: “Experience is the key to become a good sommelier. Theoretical knowledge will never replace the human touch, as the sommelier is here to turn good service and a good meal into a perfect experience. Apprenticeship is always the best way to train a good sommelier, and the Mosaic Protégé Programme will change the way the industry looks at training professionals. We are sure that Veronica is going to achieve great things in the future.”

© Cape Times Friday 17th October 2014 Is food and wine matching a real art or a load of...

It’s a match

© Cape Times Friday 17th October 2014

Is food and wine matching a real art or a load of rubbish? It’s a fair question with every hotel and restaurant offering wine-matching dinners and events, every recipe site suggesting the best tipple to suit the food and every back label on every bottle giving droolicious ideas of exotic-sounding dishes which will complement the wine. In my opinion, the best wine with food is generally the one you enjoy, but where do you start when you want to make a great food-match? Do you decide what food you want to cook and then try and think which wine might work? Or do you start with a special bottle and match the food flavours accordingly? I’ve been to a couple of events recently, which have tried both these ways, so here is what the chefs and sommeliers have to say.

Makaron at Majeka House is an Eat Out Top Ten contender this year, offering delicious and unusual food concocted by Tanja Kruger. A member of the Culinary Olympics team, Tanja has been lucky enough to complete several stages at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe and the fruits of her experience can be seen at an exclusive Kitchen Table for only 2 guests at any one time. Seating is limited because this is an actual table in the kitchen where you get served a range of dishes chosen and served by the chefs themselves.

In Tanja’s opinion, the food should always be the shining star of the meal and so faced with the tough job of matching these dishes is WSET-trained sommelier Esmé Groenwald. According to Tanja, “I don’t always make it easy for her (Esmé) but I don’t think any dish is unpairable!” My husband does some work for Majeka House so we were lucky enough to experience the Kitchen Table for ourselves, and probably the best pairing of the night was the little-known Vendome ‘Sans Barrique’ white blend which had both the depth and the delicacy to match the visual knock-out Ancient Grains with Cauliflower Velouté – a dish so beautiful, we didn’t know whether to eat it or frame it on the wall. Esmé says she chose this pairing because “it’s funky, as is the dish!” with the Semillon enhancing the nuttiness of the grains and the Sauvignon balancing out the creaminess of the cauliflower.

Starting the other way round is the task facing chef Carl van Rooyen, executive chef, and restaurant manager David Wibberley from The Square at The Vineyard Hotel. They run a series of wine-matching dinners with top wineries and I joined them for the Thelema dinner a few weeks ago. Carl says he often gets asked how they match the food to the wine and at The Vineyard “it’s a democratic (well, mostly) process with a partnership between chefs and managers, food and wine!” And indeed, the process does seem to be a source of much debate all round. Each winemaker provides wines which he or she would like to show so here, the wine is the starting point. The chefs line up an array of seasonal dishes, then they, plus a few lucky others, get to try as many combinations as possible in search of the perfect match.
Carl says “The first rule of the pairing process is that there are no rules. We leave all of our preconceived notions at the door - in fact we have a naughty corner for those who dare to break this rule!” and when you see some of the interesting matches they came up with, you’ll realise that they stick to this. The first course of ‘Bangers ‘n’ Mash’ featuring a rooibos, honey, fennel and smoked pork belly sausage is as far away from a likely pairing with Thelema Sutherland Sauvignon Blanc as I can imagine, yet the dish carried it off with aplomb. Two different ways of matching food and wine but both deliver the same end result – an enjoyable evening of eating and drinking. Surely that’s the goal however you go about it?

© Cape Times Thursday 5th April 2012 What makes a good wine list? Now there’s a leading question if...

By their lists ye shall know them

© Cape Times Thursday 5th April 2012

What makes a good wine list? Now there’s a leading question if ever there was one. One person’s good could mean ‘cheap’, another’s might simply be the one which includes their favourite wine and yet another’s might be a 3,000-long monster list containing fine and rare bottles from all over the world. I’ve eaten and drunk in hundreds of restaurants and bars around the world as well as compiling my own award-winning wine list for seven years when I owned a restaurant, and I think the four most important ingredients for a good wine list are that it is appropriate, accessible, varied and well-maintained. If you can get those four things right, then it doesn’t matter whether you have 20 wines or 320 wines – that’s a good list in my opinion.

But why is it important to have a good wine list anyway? Wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper if we all just took our own wine? Well, I suppose in one way it would, but then what happens if you forget, your wine is corked or you suddenly become extra thirsty for a second bottle? Then you have to hope that the restaurant has something more than box wine in their fridge, which is precisely why we ought to encourage as many restaurants as possible to have a good wine list – so we don’t get caught out.

Two men who are firm believers in good wine lists are television personality and all-round foodie Michael Olivier, and ex-restaurateur and wine retailer, Mike Bampfield-Duggan. Together with Food24, they’ve launched the SA Wine List Awards with a three-fold aim of supporting wineries, restaurants and customers alike. As Michael O. says “It’s important for smaller wine farms, garagiste winemakers, people who make unusual varieties or wines to be able to get exposure on wine lists and a competition such as this one encourages diversity. Then restaurants which make a genuine effort to have a creative and exciting list also deserve to get rewarded, and what this all means ultimately, is that customers have more choice and more interest facing them on a wine list when they dine out. So everyone wins!”

There are other competitions for wine lists but Michael believes that this one offers the most inclusive criteria and the best rewards. The competition is split into three tiers, Small, Medium and Large list so a five-table, corner, neighbourhood pizza house has just as much chance as winning an award as a top-class 5 Star Hotel with ten sommeliers and an endless cellar. And whereas other competitions are content to simply hand over a certificate, this one offers year-round exposure of their wine list and menu on Food24’s website and other national media, making the extremely modest entry fee seem like the bargain of the year.

Personally, I hate taking my own wine to a restaurant – having owned one, I know how irritating it is to the staff and how much it can affect the bottom line. But I also hate seeing a wine list dominated by two or three big brands with nothing of interest or excitement. So I’m a big fan of anything that encourages better wine lists and was delighted when Michael and Mike asked me to be a judge on this competition. Entries need to be in by the end of April and all the information can be downloaded from www.food24.com. If you believe your favourite restaurant has the best wine list in the world, then tell them to give it a go. And make sure you get a free glass of fizz from them to celebrate with when they walk off with the top awards!

© Cape Times Friday 10th February 2012 What wine do you choose when you’re out in a restaurant? If...

Pinotage’s rising popularity

© Cape Times Friday 10th February 2012

What wine do you choose when you’re out in a restaurant? If you’re a white wine drinker, I bet a high proportion of you choose one of the Big Three – Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc or Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir – but if you’re a red wine drinker, it’s not quite as easy to pinpoint the tipple of choice. Personally, I’m a self-confessed Bordeaux-girl - it’s not to say that I don’t like other cultivars, but they’re just not my first choice.

It’s kind of like ordering chicken in a restaurant – something I never do because chicken always seems such a dull waste of a rare opportunity to have someone else cook for me. So Shiraz is ‘chicken’ for me, whereas up until quite recently, Pinotage never even made it onto the ‘chicken’ list, staying firmly on the ‘no thanks, I’ll have a beer’ side of things. I’ve tasted awful examples of Pinotage, but I have to say that these bad experiences are becoming a distant nightmare and nowadays I am far more likely to find myself thinking ‘Gosh, what a really pleasant glass of wine this is’ instead.

And I’m not the only one either. For some time, Pinotage has been SA’s dirty little secret grape, the one that international critics liked to cite when they wrote off our country with sweeping statements about bitterness and burnt rubber. Those few Pinotages which have done well on the international arena have seemed aberrations, but over the years, dedicated producers have been setting their hands to the wheel, quietly making improvements, applying scientific advances and knowledge to their craft and gradually bringing Pinotage to this point in time where it truly does deserve to be shouted about.

This shouting has now taken the form of a book ‘South Africa’s Pinotage Wine Guide 1995-2011.’ Organised by the Pinotage Association, it is partly a record of their achievements over the last few years, partly establishing a track record for some of the best Pinotage cellars in terms of their performance in the Absa Pinotage Top 10 and partly lifestyle guide with details of good cellars to visit, good Pinotage recipes, a Pinotage aroma wheel and a concise history of the grape since its origins in Professor Perold’s back garden in the 1920’s. This book is available at wine farms which are members of the Association and at a variety of tourist and other outlets around the province.

This is great news for Pinotage-lovers and, indeed, any lovers of South African wine. Along with the news that Absa will be sponsoring the Pinotage Association for the next five years – no mean achievement for the organisers – this will hopefully be the start of a whole new lease of life for Pinotage. Cool climate examples such as that from Beaumont, basket-pressed wines such as those from Clos Malverne, wines made from bushvines as happens at Kanonkop or the concentrated version from old, un-irrigated vineyards of Kaapzicht – these are the wines driving Pinotage forward and taking it to new heights.

But this book should only be seen as a starting point for Pinotage. Now that the quality has improved beyond recognition, South Africans are becoming more open-minded to the variety and more willing to explore the many different types of wine it can make. However, I spent a week in the company of several UK wine trade people just before Christmas – interestingly enough, some of them are the very people who shape the wine trade in terms of the wine courses they provide – and the general knowledge and appreciation of Pinotage is still, in my opinion, stuck in the 70’s when the first internationally-damning verdicts on the variety were made. So Pinotage – you’ve crossed the first hurdle and conquered the local Pinotage-skeptics, now it’s time to take your book and your bottles and go out and face the rest of the world!

© Cape Times Friday 11th March 2011 What’s your idea of a perfect holiday? Are you a suntanning beach-freak,...

What a dish this route is

© Cape Times Friday 11th March 2011
What’s your idea of a perfect holiday? Are you a suntanning beach-freak, a museum-loving culture vulture, an all-inclusive cruiser (which sounds a bit rude) or an action-packed adrenalin junkie? Personally, I’m none of those, a good holiday for me consisting generally of a few lie-ins, the odd game of 30 Seconds, a happy, occupied child and at least one book per day. And, of course, copious amounts of food and wine.

In fact, I would almost go as far as to say that eating and drinking nice things is possibly the most important part of a holiday for me. So what a pleasure it was to find a gastronomic tour on my doorstep when I was invited to come and try out the new Franschhoek Wine Valley Food & Wine route recently. Launched as part of the town’s bid to reclaim its title and status as the foodie capital of South Africa, the idea is that wineries, restaurants and gourmet food outlets in the area all combine to offer a dedicated website featuring unique and exclusive experiences which people can book in advance and work into their own personalised tour. Many of these experiences are conducted by the winemakers, chefs or artisans themselves and it is great for nosey gourmands such as myself to come into contact with these passionate ambassadors for their product and their valley.

My day of experiences started off with a champagne tasting by Jean-Philippe Colmant who has the only 100% MCC winery in SA. His wines are handcrafted to the highest standards (a pet project of his at the moment is to introduce an extra quality tier to Cap Classique to reflect those wines which have extended lees contact and are made from classic varieties, whole-bunch pressed) and taste simply fabulous. At the moment, there is only one of them available to buy as all the others have sold out, but the Brut Reserve (R122 from the farm) is delicious, all fresh lemon curd and green apples with a biscuit finish.

We tasted the Colmant wines at The Salmon Bar where owner Judy Sendzul can talk for hours about her fabulous fish and the incredible effort she puts into sourcing it as fresh and as sustainably as possible. You can also buy it to take home and I was amazed at the prices – far cheaper than most Cape Town fisheries. We then moved onto Le Quarter Francais, which needs no introduction in terms of its award-winning restaurant and bistro. But did you know you can also book cookery courses on virtually any topic under the sun? We ended up making butter, something which is done in the kitchens on a daily basis for all restaurant guests. All the milk for the butter comes from Le Quartier’s own Jersey cow and Chef Annemarie Steencamp related a conversation-stopper of a question from one particular customer who wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl cow which gave the milk - doh!

Onto winetasting and lunch at Grande Provence where winemaker Jaco Marais took a break from bringing in containers of grapes to take us through his wines, before Australian chef Darren Roberts utterly overwhelmed us all with his food – I still lie awake at night and think of his Duck Tagine with olives, dates, pistachios and sweetcorn polenta. An amazing meal, but coming straight after a huge breakfast of salmon, plus elevenses and snacks at Le Quartier, meant I was barely able to walk afterwards. We staggered off to an olive tasting at The Olive Shack, but by now I was a broken reed, only able to lie in a corner, hugging my hugely distended stomach and moaning softly.

There are a host of other fabulous things to take part in - wine and chocolate pairings at Plaisir du Merle, schnapps and grappa tastings at Chamonix and a charcuterie masterclass with Neil Jewell at Moreson’s Bread & Wine restaurant– so my advice is check out the website where all these things are listed (www.franschhoek.org.za ), pick a few, book a few and enjoy. Just make sure you’re wearing elasticated waist trousers before you set out.

The more I hang around the Robertson Valley, the more stuff I discover. Take a look at my latest...

My latest restaurant surprise find

The more I hang around the Robertson Valley, the more stuff I discover. Take a look at my latest piggy find on my other blog at Food24 (Big Bangers) and I have yet to tell all about the organic beef fillet we slavered over on New Year’s Eve as well.

In the meantime, we continued our perpetual search for nice places to eat where the kids have so much to do that they don’t bother us and we can get on with drinking and eating. Not easy I know, and after thinking quite highly of the Robertson Dros on our first visit – yes really – we were let down horrendously by our return visit.

At Van Loveren’s 30th birthday bash last year, Vida from the tasting room told me about a restaurant called Die Stal about 5 kms out of Montagu. So on a hot, hot, sunny Sunday after New Year we collected our hangovers and children and staggered forth. By 12.30pm the place was heaving and enormous plates of food were being carried out to large tables of happy locals. They have lovely lawns with a couple of things for kids to climb on – my advice would be to take along a football or cricket bat for more energetic youngsters.

But onto the food which was far more imaginative than I was expecting  from a farmstall in the midst of the countryside. It’s good, solid, bistro-style dining with the emphasis perhaps a little more on quantity than quality. But what we had was really very good indeed, as you can see, portions were HUGE and the best thing of all – the prices were amazing, with most meals costing about R60-R80 – prices you would never get even close to in Cape Town. Two bottles of wine later with tired, hot and happy kids, full stomachs and pretty darned full wallets, we headed back to camp. A perfect family Sunday lunch.

NB – only niggle – no credit cards accepted so make sure you cash up before you go. Die Stal, Kruis Farm, R318 to Touwsrivier fm Montagu. 082 324 4318.

Sunday lunch at Jonkershuis comes under the heading of ‘things we do for our children.’ To be brutally honest,...

A Sacrificial Lunch!

Sunday lunch at Jonkershuis comes under the heading of ‘things we do for our children.’ To be brutally honest, I really wanted to go to either Bistro 1682 at Steenberg or the divine new River Café at Constantia Uitsig, but between us and our friends, we have 3 under-4’s and at the end of the day, the thought of being able to sit down, chill-ax and not have to constantly retrieve small people from under the wheels of cars proved the deciding factor – to Jonkershuis we would go.

The thing is, it’s not that Jonkershuis is bad, it’s just that it doesn’t quite live up to its price tag. And for what you pay, it really should. R98 for a chicken curry is quite a lot, as is R82 for a spinach and tomato pasta,  but the prix de résistence was R210 for prawns in lemon butter - how they think they can get away with this when Beluga charges half that for the same amount of prawns, I have no idea.

One final small moan about prices as well - the wine list offers Groot Constantia wines at normal restaurant mark-ups which means they are really quite pricey. Yes, I know that Jonkershuis isn’t owned by Groot Constantia, but they are on the same wine farm dammit! There should be some concessions on price from both sides – after all, both parties benefit from their proximity – and it really annoys me when this doesn’t happen.

But enough! The whole point of going there was to chill-ax and let the kids have a good time and, judging by the hundreds of kids running all over the place, this was everybody else’s plan too. Apparently anyone who arrived without a child was able to rent one on the way in, so we could all yummy-mummy our way through bottles of pale, pink plonk, hold discussions about which pre-school our children are going to (do Cape Town parents talk about anything else??) all interspersed with sudden, darting dashes to slather our offspring with sunblock. The green, shady, lawned space really is the thing here and I suppose it was worth having to send both our steaks back as stone-cold and constantly having to remind our waiter to bring the drinks he had promised us some time ago, just in order to be able to sit there in relative peace and quiet.

I have certainly family-dined at much worse restaurants than this – Dunes in Hout Bay springs to mind, as does every Spur I have ever been dragged into – but it is worth reminding yourself that when you visit Jonkershuis, you are paying for more than just food, drink and service. Look – it’s only for a few years I suppose, and then my child will grow up, become incredibly rich and successful (fingers crossed) and it will finally be MY turn to choose where we eat. And what’s more, he can pay too - River Café, here we come!

Well, it wasn’t their fault that the wind was HOWLING down the day we chose to visit Rickety Bridge...

Slightly Rickety at the Bridge

Well, it wasn’t their fault that the wind was HOWLING down the day we chose to visit Rickety Bridge in Franschhoek. This meant we couldn’t sit outside and lose our child on the jungle gym which is always our preferred option when eating lunch. Not much we could do about that, but I think it is fair to say that it was their fault for not removing the signs from yesterday’s wedding. This meant that we found ourselves directed to the restaurant half an hour early instead of to the winetasting venue where Jackie Rabe was waiting for us wine at the ready. Still, Jackie seemed happy to race back and forth clutching bottles and luckily, the wine was well worth it.

Jackie is an old friend from her Ridgeback days and has spent much time and effort over the last year making sure the Rickety Bridge packaging actually reflects the quality of the wine in the bottle. Top marks go to their incredibly drinkable, really seriously tasty unwooded Chenin, although most of my friends preferred the yet to be released Chenin Reserve with its explosion of spicy tropical fruit (the winemaker likes to shove a bit of Viognier into most things and it goes down a treat here!). Good pink too – possibly one of the best I’ve tasted this year – and an extremely good Rhône blend topped off the tasting before we got down to the eating and drinking.

And here, I am sorry to say, is where things got a little rickety again. Because the kitchen is some distance away from the restaurant and going between them involves a short trip outdoors, they have decided to focus on picnic baskets which seems a sensible idea in order to overcome these difficulties. In my opinion, I think they need a little more work.

Let me just say first up that we enjoyed everything we had, in particular the smoked salmon wrap and the snoek pate. However there were a few mistakes and errors with missing food, items not being as advertised, dry bread and to be honest, we weren’t as full as I would have liked to have been for R135 a head. Another niggle - which may well be an entirely personal thing  - but there definitely seemed to be more packaging than food. The basket was full when it arrived at the table – and was just as full with the discarded plastic containers after we had finished! I wish they could have thought of more sustainable ways of presenting the food rather than in lots of non-biodegradable boxes.

It was a lovely day and we did enjoy ourselves, but they need to tweak the food a little. Less choices perhaps, definitely less packaging and more quantity (just extra bread, salad, fruit maybe) would have done it. So go and check them out, certainly try the wines and if you see the waitrons struggling by with heavy hampers, then hopefully they have got it all sorted out and you should give the food a go too. Enjoy.