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

Food & Home - - CONTENTS - PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY BRUCE TUCK STYLING BY NI­COLE LOUB­SER

“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

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