TAKING THE STARRING ROLE
Head chef Nicole Loubser takes us on a delightful gastronomic journey at Gåte restaurant at Quoin Rock wine estate in Stellenbosch
“I’m going to take you on a journey through sight, taste and touch,” promises Nicole Loubser, head chef of Gåte restaurant in Stellenbosch. Namibian-born Nicole has pulled her long, auburn hair back into a ponytail, and she’s wearing a charcoal grey chef’s jacket overlaid with a leather apron.
At just 25 years old, she’s young to be at the helm of a fine-dining venue, but her trajectory speaks for itself. After graduating from the Stellenboschbased Institute of Culinary Arts in early 2016, Nicole held positions at La Colombe, The Test Kitchen, the Michelin-starred Restaurant Jan in France and Wellness-Residenz Schalber, a five-star hotel in Austria
Hers is a bold proclamation, but then Quoin Rock is all about statements. On arrival, a bronze male greets you over a reflecting pond. Behind, a low-slung modern building of glass, steel and wood incorporates the winery, function venue and Gåte. The entrance has been designed to mimic Valhalla, with its geometric wooden beams tunnelling into infinity. Water courses beneath the footbridge over smooth, round pebbles; and at the entrance, a dramatic bronze vine reaches for the sky, backlit water tumbling down around it . The wine estate reopened in December 2018 after six years of renovations. The Gaiduks, a Ukrainian family, purchased Quoin Rock in 2012 and they have spared no expense in restoring it. Vitaly Gaiduk, patriarch and wine lover
(he’s purported to have over 10 000 bottles in his personal cellar), is said to have fallen in love with Stellenbosch on a chance visit to the Cape.
“My father has a true passion for wine,” his son, Denis, tells me. “And what really appealed to us about Quoin Rock was its clean canvas, which allowed us to create the vision our family had.” Denis is the managing director of the estate, and his wife, Julia, was lead architect on the renovations and redesign.
The pair are milling about the estate today, actively involved in its day-today running. In 2014, they relocated to the Cape from Ukraine with their four-month-old daughter. They have since added a son to the family.
The light-filled interior of Gåte restaurant is dominated by wood, from structural components such as the curved trees to Pierre Cronje tables. Sculptures by Adriaan Diedericks and Charles Haupt add dimension to the space. The restaurant acts as the wine-tasting lounge and its central wine bar is reminiscent of the eggs in the adjoining wine cellar, which can be seen through glass. It is restrained, yet intrinsically luxurious. “Upmarket luxury is not about everything being gold with chandeliers – it’s about a level of comfort and high-quality design,” explains Julia.
Gåte is the estate’s playful culinary kingdom. Pronounced gah-tay, it is the Norwegian word for riddle and at barely a year old, it is already pulling in the awards. At the recent World Luxury Restaurant Awards, it was declared the 2019 Global Restaurant of the Year Overall Winner, as well as the 2019 Haute Cuisine Global Winner. It also secured the 2019 Molecular Cuisine Global Winner honour.
Speaking of molecular, before being promoted to head chef, Nicole was attracted to the 2018 sous chef opening at Gåte because while she had some experience in molecular gastronomy, she wanted to take her understanding of the culinary concept
a bit further. “It hasn’t been as challenging as I thought it might be, especially as I have creative input from everyone in my team,” she comments.
The restaurant looks out over the Knorhoek Valley through floor-toceiling glass partitions. Out on the terrace a laser-cut aluminium pergola has been designed to mimic a vineleaf ceiling, splashing the terrace with dappled light during the day.
The Simonsberg rises jagged and imposing beyond; the mountain faces a watercolour of greens and purples in the golden afternoon light.
Nicole and her team of 11 chefs have created a playful fine-dining menu with elements of molecular gastronomy. It’s available as five courses for lunch or 14 courses for dinner, and both options can be paired with the farm’s wines. “We’ve picked 14 countries to embody a taste-driven odyssey, fusing their flavours with South African cuisine,” Nicole shares. “I was inspired by my travels while working overseas to create dishes from countries across the globe. All the establishments I’ve worked at have shaped my overall philosophy. I aspire to learn as much as possible from as many talented chefs as possible. We’re a team in the kitchen and I love to pop in with each of our members to see what they’re currently working on or if they need an extra pair of hands. This tends to end with amazing ideas coming to fruition.”
Lunch begins with the menu – a Charles Haupt brass dodecahedron (a 3D object with 12 flat faces) that has the various dish names on its facets – being turned to the course you’re having. The bread course is called
Not an Ashtray. It comes smoking to the table in a glass bowl covered by a dome which is then lifted to great effect. The glass bowl is filled with black garlic mousse and tomato ash, with a lifelike rye cigar for dipping. They ferment the black garlic themselves and the dish is deeply umami, with flavours of smoke, earthy rye and the brightness of tomato.
Next is a Caprese salad with the flavours of the separate components
enhanced using various molecular techniques. There are olive oil and balsamic spheres that pop in your mouth; the intention being to touch every taste bud at the same time. The tomatoes have been injected with tomato essence so that they taste even more of tomato. To take the mozzarella a step further, they nitro-freeze a dome of whey, which diners then shatter at the table over the dish. We do just that.
The flavours are recognisable, but with the dial turned up.
There are fine ingredients aplenty too, from beluga caviar to local truffles. The chefs also pick produce from the farm’s vegetable and herb gardens. Adds Nicole: “We are currently working on a greenhouse so we can be self-sustaining. We also have a hydroponic set-up in the kitchen for our own microherbs and flowers.”
Next up comes a low ceramic bowl – crafted by local Stellenbosch ceramicists, Three Potters and a Painter, who are also responsible for some of the restaurant’s plates – billowing plumes of dry ice. Perched atop is a glass sphere of raw salmon curled into a rose, with a spoonful of beluga caviar, pickled radish, mango gel, litchi gel, chilli oil and spekboom, an indigenous succulent. Titled Upstream 2.0, the dish draws on elements from Canada and Russia with a nod to South Africa. All the wooden crockery and cutlery were designed by Fabricant Design Studio.
Who does Nicole look up to in the cheffing world? “One of my biggest inspirations is local chef Ivor Jones from Chef’s Warehouse at Beau Constantia. His work ethic and creativity are two things I definitely aspire to achieve in my career. Internationally,
I most admire Thomas Keller for the sustainability that he has achieved with his veggie garden and the Ikarus team for their professionalism and creativity.”
Nicole finds inspiration through visual memories.
Starry Night, the dessert course, is one of these. “It’s so dark on our farm in Namibia, and lying on the grass and
looking up at the moon and the stars is something we always do.”
Nicole interpreted this into an edible reality. “On a plate with gold flakes that look like shooting stars, there’s a cloud made out of cotton candy over edible stars, ice cream and half the moon, so you only see half. When you eat the cotton candy, that’s when the clouds move away and you see the night sky,” she divulges.
It’s clear after this multi-sensory dining experience that Nicole’s culinary star is on the rise too. KNORHOEK ROAD, KNORHOEK VALLEY, STELLENBOSCH, 7600; 021-888-4750; GATERESTAURANT.CO.ZA
LEFT: QUOIN ROCK’S MANAGING DIRECTOR, DENIS GAIDUK, WITH HIS ARCHITECT WIFE, JULIA, WHO HEADED UP THE RENOVATIONS AND REDESIGN OF THE WINE ESTATE
NICOLE FLANKED BY SOUS CHEF JAMES WOULD (LEFT) AND JUNIOR SOUS CHEF AIDEN ABRAHAMS
TITLED NOT AN ASHTRAY, THE BREAD COURSE FEATURES A SMOKING VESSEL OF BLACK GARLIC MOUSSE AND TOMATO ASH, ACCOMPANIED BY A RYE CIGAR FOR DIPPING
UPSTREAM 2.0 FEATURES A RAW SALMON ROSE WITH BELUGA CAVIAR, PICKLED RADISH, MANGO AND LITCHI GELS, CHILLI OIL AND SPEKBOOM
THE DESSERT, STARRY NIGHT, IS COMPRISED OF CHEESECAKE, MANGO GEL, COTTON CANDY, RASPBERRY FLUFF, AND BLUEBERRY AND LIQUORICE SORBET
THE CAPRESE SALAD – TOMATOES INJECTED WITH TOMATO ESSENCE, OLIVE OIL AND BALSAMIC SPHERES, AND A NITROFROZEN DOME OF WHEY, WHICH DINERS SHATTER TO RELEASE THE OOZING DELICIOUSNESS OF THE MOZZARELLA HELD WITHIN