Coun­try Chef

Bring­ing a sub­tle Ja­panese touch to the Stel­len­bosch area, Chef Mune Kimura has built a unique es­tab­lish­ment and a loyal fol­low­ing at the Post­card Café

South African Country Life - - In This Issue - WORDS TU­DOR CARADOC-DAVIES PIC­TURES FRAN­COIS PIS­TO­RIUS

Chef Mune Kimura brings a Ja­panese touch to the Post­card Café in the Winelands COVER STORY

The broad strokes of a life’s course can, for the most part, be pretty pre­dictable. Grow up in one coun­try, maybe travel a bit and see the world when you’re younger (if given the chance), then set­tle down back in your home coun­try, most likely in your home city (if fate and the job mar­ket al­low), marry some­one with a not too dis­sim­i­lar back­story and live hap­pily ever af­ter.

Mass gen­er­al­i­sa­tion? Of course, but it’s not en­tirely in­ac­cu­rate that that is the re­al­ity for most peo­ple. For many, the travel bit does not hap­pen at all.

Chef Mune Kimura is an ex­cep­tion.

I wager that where he started and where he is now is some­thing nei­ther he, his wife, his mom, nor the regulars at the Post­card Café on the Stark-Condé wine es­tate in Jonker­shoek, Stel­len­bosch, could have pre­dicted.

The grand­son of a sushi mas­ter, Mune was born and raised just out­side Tokyo and left home at 15 years to try and make it as a pro foot­baller in the UK, where he tried out for Ox­ford United. A knee in­jury put paid to those plans, but af­ter at­tend­ing lan­guage school, he joined a cook­ing school in Sur­rey. His first job straight out of cook­ing school? Ray­mond Blanc’s fa­bled Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Ox­ford­shire.

Still, that doesn’t ex­plain how he landed up in South Africa run­ning Post­card Café.

To get to the root of that you have to un­der­stand that, while he is quiet and unas­sum­ing, Mune’s ca­reer path would in­di­cate that he does not do ob­vi­ous.

In­stead of fol­low­ing the rich tra­di­tion of young Ja­panese chefs serv­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship in Europe, with a view to re­turn­ing home to Ja­pan (where time and time again we hear that the French and Ital­ian food is bet­ter than that found in their coun­tries of ori­gin), Mune wanted to travel.

“I spent about five years in the UK be­fore I came to South Africa. I met a Ger­man waiter work­ing in the UK who said he was on his way to South Africa to work as a waiter in a ho­tel. It sounded in­ter­est­ing, be­cause I had never

heard of any­one go­ing that way. I wanted to travel and go some­where I’d never been, some­where un­known to my­self, and ex­plore, but work at the same time, get some ex­pe­ri­ence. I came here for a trial shift at the Grande Roche Ho­tel in Paarl. I was of­fered a job and have been here for 18 years now.

It’s home.”

In those 18 years, Mune’s put down some proper roots. He got mar­ried to Marichen, a Paarl lo­cal, and they have two chil­dren. He con­tin­ued work­ing for Grande Roche, did a stage at a French restau­rant in Uruguay of all places, then had his own restau­rant, Megumi (named af­ter his mom) in Paarl for five years. When that closed, Mune spent a year with Christophe De­hosse at Joost­en­berg be­fore join­ing Stark-Condé to head up Post­card Café.

Now a 100 to 120-seater es­tab­lish­ment, ‘café’ is a some­what mod­est de­scrip­tion.

It may have started that way when owner

Marie Condé started the show, but Post­card Café swiftly grew from cof­fee, cake and quiches into some­thing much more sub­stan­tial.

To­day, Marie, whose mom is Ja­panese and whose South African dad bought the farm 30 years ago, con­tin­ues to run the front of house, but chef Mune han­dles the food. She says, “At the be­gin­ning, I thought that if I con­cen­trate on cof­fee and bak­ing cakes, then peo­ple will come and fetch their cof­fee and cake and that’s it. I re­alised quickly, in about one day, that South Africans don’t fetch their own food. They like to be served. So I had to hire staff. Mune has been with me al­most from the very be­gin­ning.”

Drive all the way through Stel­len­bosch, past Lanz­erac and Le Riche in the di­rec­tion of Jonker­shoek and, be­fore you get to the old trout hatch­ery, Stark-Condé is on your left. It’s a ridicu­lously beau­ti­ful val­ley of wine farms and in­dige­nous fyn­bos.

Marie in­forms me that it has the high­est pre­cip­i­ta­tion in the West­ern Cape along with the no­to­ri­ously soggy New­lands in Cape Town. As if to prove it, for the du­ra­tion of the shoot, the rain tips down in bi­b­li­cal sheets over the lawns and the pond, where ren­o­va­tions are un­der­way to a wine-tast­ing per­gola. The rain is in­con­ve­nient, but no one is com­plain­ing. This is the drought-stricken Cape af­ter all.

There’s a Ja­panese feel to the de­sign of the gar­den and the build­ings, but it’s sub­tle and this Ja­panese sub­tlety seems to be a trade­mark of Marie and Mune’s work­ing re­la­tion­ship.

Marie says, “Stel­len­bosch and South Africa have changed a lot in 20 years. I mean, peo­ple eat sushi at the Spar. When we moved here, that was un­think­able. We de­cided we did not want a Ja­panese restau­rant be­cause the fo­cus is on the wine and we wanted it to be the kind of place where lo­cal peo­ple could come once a week, which they do.

“But, be­cause of our back­ground, a lit­tle bit of Asian sort of seeps into the food, like in the salad dress­ing for ex­am­ple. There’s al­ways a lit­tle some­thing. One of the recipes on the menu is a teriyaki beef burger.”

Hav­ing worked in su­per-fine-din­ing es­tab­lish­ments, and run his own Asian restau­rant, Mune has seen enough to de­velop his own style, one that gels per­fectly with the ca­sual yet classy ap­proach at Stark-Condé. From a seafood lin­guini to a Thai prawn curry, the fa­mous teriyaki burger (that comes with a dis­claimer that it’s not a nor­mal burger), pork­neck chops and beef cheeks braised in red wine, his food is de­signed to please, com­fort and, for those who want some­thing dif­fer­ent, sur­prise.

He says, “Food is very per­sonal. It’s some­thing you put in your mouth, in your body. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. There’s a very fine line be­tween like and dis­like.

“Here in South Africa, you can’t serve what you would in Ja­pan. The taste is to­tally dif­fer­ent. The stuff we serve here is too sweet

for Ja­panese peo­ple. Too spicy, too strong. I think the flavours in Ja­pan are too sub­tle for the South African palate. China, Korea, Viet­nam are dif­fer­ent, with a stronger style of flavour, but Ja­pan is very sub­tle. We use dashi stock in most of our cook­ing. It’s a base for a lot of things, like chicken stock. Even with home cook­ing we use dashi.”

Even in the del­uge on what should be a quiet Tues­day morn­ing, cus­tomers start ar­riv­ing. There are sev­eral ta­bles of tan­nies hav­ing cof­fee and cake, a few young stu­dent cou­ples on a date, and even the odd power busi­ness break­fast.

Marie says, “We try to stay ca­sual, be­cause the Winelands has enough su­per­fancy, gor­geous places. We want to make it wel­com­ing for a 20-year-old and also for a 20-year-old who wants to take granny to lunch. We get a lot of multi-generational groups. You get the dates, the en­gage­ments, the tan­nies hav­ing a quiche, fam­ily Sun­day lunches. Ev­ery­one is kind of fa­mil­iar with each other. It’s re­ally the com­mu­nity.”

Maybe, but it’s also the var­ied break­fast and lunch menus that Mune changes with the sea­son. He says, “I like to mix the clas­sics that I learnt years ago with some­thing that’s dif­fer­ent. For ex­am­ple, we have a beef cheek braised in red wine. It’s a clas­sic Ital­ian dish, but at the same time there aren’t many places serv­ing beef cheek. It’s some­thing peo­ple would not cook at home.

“We try to keep the menu quite tight. Some­thing I learned over the years is that if the menu is too big there’s a lot of wastage. I aim to sell ev­ery­thing. We’ve got some­thing for ev­ery­body. Ital­ian, ve­gan, fish lovers, meat peo­ple. We’re also quite big on cakes. A lot of peo­ple pop in for cof­fee and cake.”

There’s a con­tented hum run­ning through the place, and even among the staff there’s a fa­mil­iar­ity and calm, which, when com­pared to the high in­ten­sity and volatil­ity of most kitchens, is rare.

Mune says, “Ev­ery kitchen has a dif­fer­ent style of do­ing things. As a chef you pick up pieces ev­ery­where you go and then, when you have your own place or are in charge of a place, you put all the good stuff to­gether. That’s what I’m do­ing. I have worked for a lot of chefs, I know what it’s like to work un­der dif­fer­ent kinds of chefs. At the end of the day, our ob­jec­tive is to put out that food as good and as fast as pos­si­ble. To do that, we don’t need shout­ing. It took me a few years, but right now I have a bril­liant team. Peo­ple ask me, ‘So, do you cook at home?’ The an­swer is no, be­cause I don’t have my staff.”

Post­card Café 021 861 7703

Open Wed­nes­day to Sun­day 9h00-16h00

TOP: The Post­card Café on Stark-Condé wine es­tate has a back­drop of moun­tains and for­est, and over­looks lush gar­dens around a lake. ABOVE RIGHT: Another misty, rainy day on the es­tate, which is one of the last farms in the Jonker­shoek Val­ley, be­lieved to be the wettest place in the West­ern Cape.

ABOVE: Stark-Condé’s new tast­ing room is on an is­land in the lake near the Post­card Café. BE­LOW RIGHT: Stark-Condé wine­maker Rudger van Wyk con­tem­plates whether there is such a thing as too much rain.

ABOVE: Laven­der flour­ishes year-round in Stark-Condé’s beau­ti­ful gar­dens. RIGHT: Life is full of sur­prises chef Mune Kimura, from dream­ing of a pro­fes­sional foot­ball ca­reer to work­ing for Ray­mond Blanc, to run­ning the show at the Post­card Café.

ABOVE AND RIGHT: About 70 per cent of Stark-Condé’s wines go to ex­port, with lo­cal sales mostly di­rectly from the farm. Owner Marie Condé says, “We pro­duce about 10 000 cases and it’s all from grapes from the farm, ex­cept for one wine. We are very strong in the US and Asia be­cause we travel there of­ten. It’s a small win­ery with a lot of eggs in dif­fer­ent bas­kets.”

ABOVE AND RIGHT: A shared phi­los­o­phy: with chef Mune Kimura run­ning the kitchen and Marie Condé in charge of front of house, Post­card Café is hugely pop­u­lar with Stel­len­bosch lo­cals drawn to break­fast and lunch menus that of­fer both fa­mil­iar­ity and some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent.

ABOVE LEFT: A poster for suc­cess, Post­card Café ap­peals to Stel­len­bosch fam­i­lies, grannies on tea and cake dates, stu­dents on hot dates and ev­ery­one in be­tween. ABOVE: Chef Mune Kimura with his team in the kitchen. BE­LOW: Marie Condé in Stark-Condé’s wine cel­lar. Ren­o­va­tions are un­der­way on the new lake-is­land tast­ing room and wine bar.

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