If you’ve ever wondered what the rich and fabulous (who made their money working for German airlines and fixing the noses of Monaco princesses before sensibly putting European winters behind them forever and settling in the fairest Cape) do of a late summer’s afternoon while the plebs of the world sit in stuffy offices, I can tell you – they gather around a dappled 30-seater, starched linen table at the Foodbarn in Noordhoek and partake of the most delightful lunch a foodie could imagine.
And the people who show up at the Chef’s Table are pretty much all foodies. Having done the graft and made their gazonkazillians they are now in the enviable position of spending their days mastering the tricky art of cold-smoking Norwegian salmon and sourcing the freshest porcini mushrooms, and they know a thing or two about culinary excellence. Which is why they flock to Franck Dangereaux’s 6-weekly event because, truly, one would be hard-pressed to find the equivalent skill, innovativeness and downright gutsiness of this ex-student of world-renowned French chef, Roger Verge, and founder of top South African restaurant, La Colombe.
I mean, who in their right mind would serve a three-cheese risotto including a heavyweight aged parmesan with truffles, tarragon and oysters, or pair salmon with licorice, vanilla and foie gras? This latter dish I was the least convinced about, but I have to say, unreservedly, that it was the singlemost delicious plate of food I’ve ever been consumed. While the flavours were subtle, the combination had an astonishingly seductive richness and a decadence, and the textures were like layers of satin on velvet.
I was still dreaming about this plate of food the next day, in another, heavenly kind of realm, while I went through the motions of shopping for a birthday present for a 7-year-old and taking the kids to a party, and was probably still drunk on the beautiful Raats series of Chenin Blancs we were plied with throughout the afternoon when I decided to mail Franck and tell him that if you could put sex on a plate, that’s the dish it would be. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a loon. But I really understand what the guy opposite us meant when he never misses a Chef’s Table because Franck’s food keeps him sane.
It was the first time in a while I didn’t think about Reeva Steenkamp or Anni Dewani or Nkandla. I suppose, in a sense, getting drunk as a miggie on a Friday afternoon and making merry with complete strangers as you bond over plate after plate of mind-bending, taste-bud dancing culinary brilliance, is a kind of decadent escapism. But also if you spend most of your time putting yourself aside and paying your Eskom bill and being a parent and washing the car and turning off the lights during earth hour, aren’t you entitled to a few hours a year where you treat yourself a little; put on your fabulous hat and throw back a vintage wine and put extra butter on your warm, fresh-out-the-oven bread bread and dig into the soft, yellow richness of a Gorgonzola creme brûlée and go, you know what? Life is short. I’m gonna have me a beautiful afternoon.
And South Africa is one of the few places in the world where normal people can, actually, afford to eat like kings in incredible settings. I mean, R695 is more than what we would normally elect to pay for a meal, but in this case – given the quality of the fare and the plenitude of good wine – it’s a damn bargain. By the time the coffee cups were cleared away we were jolly as the Easter Bunny and drunk as the dominee at nagmaal and definitely in no shape to drive home to town, so instead we went to the beach and stripped off to our undies and went swimming in Noordhoek’s warm (really), friendly waves and it was so much fun, and then we drove home along Chapman’s Peak where, even if you’re used to that view, you’ll never get used to that view, and a CD called movie magic or something was in the stereo and suddenly Love Is In the Air started playing and we turned it up loud and sang along and that’s what the whole world felt like because great food and wine will do that to you.
And in the joyous afterglow of a day spent with interesting, engaging people and an abundance of all things good and the sun setting over the sea the words of the song made me think of my great, consuming love affair with this country which, for better or for worse, has in some ways become the theme of my life: ‘And I don’t know if you are illusion/and I don’t know if I see truth/but you are something that I must believe in/and you are there when I reach out for you.’
Chef’s Table at the Food Barn happens every six weeks, and the menu is formulated in collaboration with a local winemaker. This time it was Bruwer Raats from Raats Family Wines (http://www.raats.co.za/) who offered a selection of their specialities, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, and delivered an interesting and impassioned presentation about why this underrated grape results in some of the most authentic and quintessentially South Africa wines around. Find out when the next Foodbarn Chef’s Table is happening here http://www.thefoodbarn.co.za/la-table-du-chef/, get there and feel the love.