A TASTE OF AFRICA

Food & Home - - Contents - BY GWYNNE CONLYN PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY CINDY EL­LIS RECIPES AND STYLING BY FATHI “COCO” REINARHZ

We visit chef Fathi “Coco” Reinarhz’s lat­est restau­rant, Épi­cure, in Sand­ton

Sit­u­ated in the rich­est square mile in Africa, Épi­cure is a unique show­case of this bustling con­ti­nent’s di­verse range of culi­nary of­fer­ings. Con­cep­tu­alised by chef­pa­tron Fathi “Coco” Reinarhz, this op­u­lent eatery is the pin­na­cle of his life’s work

Imet Coco when he opened his first restau­rant, Ma Pas­sion, in Green­side 16 years ago. As I was to learn over time, Coco might be gra­cious and deeply charm­ing, but he is also a man with courage, con­vic­tion and a strong vi­sion. Af­ter three more ven­tures – Sel et Poivre at the Qu­ater­main Ho­tel in Jo­han­nes­burg, Le Petit Sel in Morn­ing­side and

Sel @ the Cra­dle in the Cra­dle of Hu­mankind – he has opened Épi­cure in the heart of Sand­ton.

As I ar­rive, Coco awaits me at the door and greets me with his cus­tom­ary open­ing line: “How are you, Grande Dame?”. We rem­i­nisce about meet­ing at Ma Pas­sion, when his el­dest daugh­ter, Ti­morie, could hardly see over a kitchen counter. “Now she’s had her first child; I’m of­fi­cially a grand­fa­ther!” Coco ex­claims proudly.

I re­mem­ber Coco’s story about his mother and how she was preg­nant with him while work­ing at her eatery, Pili Pili, in Kin­shasa, in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo. “I spent my pre-born life in the kitchen. In ef­fect, the bang­ing of pots and the calls of chefs are com­fort­ing sounds to me,” he grins. On her due date, Coco’s mother was still hard at work. “And two days af­ter giv­ing birth to me, she was back in the kitchen!” he chuck­les. Coco’s Bel­gian grand­fa­ther was an­other great in­flu­ence. “He would­call me into the kitchen and haveme taste some­thing. He would­say, ‘This is sim­ple­but, within its sim­plic­ity, there’s a depth of taste you can’t repli­cate if you don’t have a pas­sion for food’,” Coco re­mem­bers. “To me, it’s ge­netic,” he says. “All my mem­o­ries are im­bued­with food

– I sim­ply can­not imag­ine do­ing any­thing else.”

In 2006, I pub­lished the cook­book To the Ban­quet­ing House: African Cui­sine – an Epic Jour­ney, which was a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Coco and ac­claimed culi­nary an­thro­pol­o­gist Anna Trapido. In the ac­knowl­edge­ments, they wrote: “Gwynne Conlyn be­lieved in us long be­fore we be­lieved in our­selves. She has taken a huge chance back­ing us…” I don’t be­lieve I took a chance; I worked with two gifted peo­ple. As if to prove this point, the cook­book went on to re­ceive the note­wor­thy in­ter­na­tional award of be­ing voted the Best Culi­nary His­tory Book at the 2006 Gour­mand World Cook­book Awards.

An­other ac­knowl­edge­ment penned in the in­tro­duc­tion of the pub­li­ca­tion – “This book is an unashamed culi­nary love let­ter ded­i­cated to the fine flavours of Africa and the African di­as­pora...” – re­minds me of how Coco is still writ­ing love let­ters to this won­der­ful con­ti­nent through his of­fer­ings.

In be­tween clos­ing his pre­vi­ous restau­rant and open­ing Épi­cure, Coco trav­elled Africa to taste the foods of dif­fer­ent coun­tries. “My quest was, and still is, to find what’s ex­cep­tional and beau­ti­ful in Africa,” he says. “It’s high time the di­ver­sity of the con­ti­nent’s na­tive in­gre­di­ents and dishes are cel­e­brated.” In pur­suit of this, Coco opened Épi­cure in March this year. “While trav­el­ling I asked my­self, how can I cre­ate an African dish that looks chic on a plate? Here, we are sit­u­ated in the rich­est square mile in Africa, where we host the wealth­i­est and most note­wor­thy African busi­ness peo­ple. Yet, be­fore Épi­cure we didn’t have a place where we could proudly of­fer high-end African cui­sine. That’s why I de­cided that I wanted to show­case that which is 100% African. Af­ter all, what’s the point of, say, an im­por­tant African banker vis­it­ing Jo­han­nes­burg and then be­ing taken, for in­stance, to an Ital­ian restau­rant?” Coco elab­o­rates.

Stay­ing true to his vi­sion, Coco’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of African fare is a fu­sion of both sight and taste. “I wanted the pre­sen­ta­tion to be dif­fer­ent from the tra­di­tional ver­sion,” he says.

I’ve vis­ited Zanz­ibar a few times and, when I taste his Zanz­ibar-style vi­tum­bua (rice-flour-and-co­conut­milk crum­pets) with date-and-gin­ger com­pote and chai ice cream, I am in­stantly taken back to the is­land’s coastal trad­ing com­mu­nity of Stone Town. “I call it the Stone Town Sun­rise. Although it is in­spired by Zanz­ibar, this dish is also pop­u­lar in other Swahili-speak­ing East African con­tin­gents,” Coco adds. At Épi­cure, it’s served as a break­fast dish.

Next up, Coco serves what he calls a “de­con­structed duck tagine”. On the plate is a riot of bright colours and tex­tures: duck cro­quette, apri­cot purée, spiced jus, cous­cous and roasted baby veg­eta­bles. All im­pec­ca­bly plated and

I FO­CUS ON WHAT IS BEAU­TI­FUL IN AFRICA, WHAT WORKS, WHAT MAKES US GREAT AND WHAT MAKES US PROUD. I BE­LIEVE THAT ÉPI­CURE IS A SHOW­CASE FOR THAT.

COCO REINARHZ

de­li­cious, but it’s not what I ex­pected. “When the plate ar­rives the guests are al­ways taken aback by the fact that it’s not your tra­di­tional tagine,” Coco agrees. “I love that re­ac­tion! It makes me think I’ve suc­ceeded in my quest to show the dif­fer­ent ways in which we can in­ter­pret African dishes while keep­ing the taste and flavours. Once I’ve ex­plained this, there is noth­ing more re­ward­ing than see­ing the look on the diner’s face when they take their first bite,” Coco beams.

On that note, the next dish ar­rives. Coco ex­plains, “This dish, lamb suya from Nige­ria, is West African street food, re­ally. It is mostly served as a shish ke­bab [roasted skew­ered meat]. But once it’s plated at­trac­tively, it is pre­sented as if on an artist’s pal­ette and the taste is cel­e­brated.”

Cap­ping off my visit, Coco serves a dessert of deep-fried plantain frit­ters with caramelised plantain and some hibiscus-flavoured sor­bet. As I tuck in, he tells me about the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the dish. “How does an Ivo­rian mother treat her kids to some­thing sweet?” he asks. “She will fry some al­loco [plan­tains] and serve it with a sweet drink, like bis­sap [a drink made from the species of hibiscus flower known as the roselle].

“In my ren­di­tion, I mash the plantain and, then in­stead of sim­ply mak­ing a glass of hibiscus juice, we make sor­bet. There’s noth­ing more African. You taste the dif­fer­ent flavours and pas­sion; you taste the so­phis­ti­ca­tion,” Coco en­thuses. When eat­ing the dessert, I find my­self – much like tast­ing wine – ex­hal­ing lightly through my nose to sam­ple the flavours. The dish prac­ti­cally begs to be en­joyed this way.

This is not fash­ion­able food but a cel­e­bra­tion of a con­ti­nent’s worth of food cul­ture and mem­o­ries through­out Africa. “What I do is show what Africa looks like on a plate,” Coco muses.

In the restau­rant, Coco de­scribes the decor as “sub­tle so­phis­ti­ca­tion”. “I’ve cre­ated the en­tire space around my phi­los­o­phy,” he says. “A beau­ti­ful din­ing area, top-notch wine cel­lar and a bar where one can en­joy rums from all around the globe.”

On that note, som­me­lier Mike Buthelezi loves to sug­gest wines to com­ple­ment the dishes. “Mike is very knowl­edge­able about wine,”

Coco says. “And the thing that makes him ex­cep­tional is that he re­ally knows about food, too.”

As we talk, I ask Coco if he has learned any hard lessons in his ca­reer. “So many,” he laughs rue­fully.

“This busi­ness is about hard work. Suc­cess doesn’t hap­pen overnight. I sur­round my­self with peo­ple who share my vi­sion and pas­sion for what we’re do­ing. You have to find peo­ple who come as close as pos­si­ble to what you as­pire to be,” Coco adds. “I fo­cus on what is beau­ti­ful in Africa, what works, what makes us great and what makes us proud. I be­lieve that Épi­cure is a show­case for that.” CEN­TRAL SQUARE, 3 – 5 LOWER ROAD, MORN­ING­SIDE, SAND­TON; 010-594-5336; EPICURERESTAURANT.CO.ZA

STONE TOWN SUN­RISE

Serves 4 EASY 1 hr 15 mins + 5 hrs, to freeze

WHAT YOU NEED

CHAI ICE CREAM 1L full-cream milk

4 star anise

4 whole car­damom pods, slightly crushed

12g (2 tbsp) ground gin­ger 3g (1 tsp) ground all­spice 4 cin­na­mon quills

7 large egg yolks

270g white sugar

VI­TUM­BUA

150g (1 cup) finely ground rice flour (find at faith­ful-to-na­ture.co.za)

40g (4 tbsp) whole­wheat flour

80g co­conut milk pow­der (find at faith­ful-to-na­ture.co.za)

110g (½ cup) white sugar

4g (1 tsp) dried yeast 2g (1 tsp) ground car­damom seeds 125ml (½ cup) warm water

1 large egg white oil, to cook

DATE-AND-GIN­GER COM­POTE 7g gin­ger, peeled and grated

130g white sugar 300g dates, pit­ted 150ml or­ange juice

SPICED SUGAR SYRUP

150g white sugar 150ml water 2 cin­na­mon quills 2 star anise 2 cloves zest of 1 or­ange

HOW TO DO IT

1 For the chai ice cream, place the milk, 4 star anise, 4 crushed car­damom pods, 12g (2 tbsp) ground gin­ger, ground all­spice and 4 cin­na­mon quills in a large saucepan. Bring to a gen­tle sim­mer over medium heat.

2 While the milk is sim­mer­ing, use a free-stand­ing mixer or an elec­tric hand-held beater to whisk the egg yolks and 270g sugar to­gether un­til it reaches rib­bon stage. Pour the warm milk into the mix­ture, whisk­ing un­til in­cor­po­rated. Re­turn the mix­ture to the still-warm saucepan and cook over low heat un­til it coats the back of a spoon. Re­move from heat and re­move the cin­na­mon quills. Strain the mix­ture through a fine-mesh sieve.

3 Place the mix­ture in the fridge to chill, about 1 hour, be­fore churn­ing in an ice-cream maker, ac­cord­ing to the man­u­fac­turer’s in­struc­tions. Trans­fer to a freez­er­proof con­tainer and freeze to firm up, about 4 hours. If you do not have an ice-cream maker, place the mix­ture in a freez­er­proof bowl and freeze, about 2 – 3 hours. Just be­fore frozen (it will be thick, al­most liq­uid), beat with an elec­tric hand-held beater un­til smooth and fluffy. Re­turn to the freezer un­til com­pletely frozen.

4 For the vi­tum­bua, mix the rice flour, whole­wheat flour, co­conut milk pow­der, 110g (½ cup) white sugar, dried yeast and 2g (1 tsp) ground car­damom seeds to­gether in a large bowl. Add the 125ml (½ cup) warm water and egg white. Stir un­til a thick dough forms.

5 Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside in a warm, draught-free space un­til the dough has dou­bled in size and bub­bles start to form on the sur­face, about 45 min­utes to 1 hour. Stir the bat­ter and set aside.

6 Heat an ap­pam pan/egg poach­ing pan over medium heat. Place a drop of the oil in each poach­ing cup and spoon 15ml (1 tsp) of the bat­ter into each cup. Cook un­til browned, about 2 – 3 min­utes. Flip the vi­tum­bua and

STONE TOWN SUN­RISE

DE­CON­STRUCTED DUCK TAGINE

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: SOM­ME­LIER, MIKE BUTHELEZI; CHEF-PA­TRON, FATHI “COCO” REINARHZ; AND AU­THOR GWYNNE CONLYN

AL­LOCO AND BIS­SAP-IN­SPIRED SOR­BET WITH CARAMELISED PLANTAIN AND PLANTAINFRIT­TERSFOODAND­HOME.CO.ZA

NIGE­RIAN LAMB SUYA WITH CAS­SAVA CHIPS

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