The French-born chef, author and co-owner of The Foodbarn, 47, on his love affair with Cape Town, and his favourite restaurants.
I was born and raised in Cannes, which is a town in the south of France. I lived there until I was 18 years old.
The first time I came to Cape Town was in 1987. I was coming to meet an uncle that I didn’t know, and I kind of fell in love with the place. I promised myself I would return. Which I did – in the early 90s. During that trip, I made the decision to go back to Europe to sort some things out and then come back to Cape Town. And that was in 1993.
Moving to Noordhoek was a lifestyle choice. We decided to downscale and get out of that whole game of chasing awards, and so on, which I did a lot of in my previous gastronomic life.
What I love most about living in Cape Town is its energy. When I first visited in 1987, I couldn’t put my finger on what I loved about it. It’s almost as if the whole energy of the African continent is concentrated here. There’s just a buzz, a vibe. That’s what captivated me the first time I visited. And it’s still there, and I just can’t shake it. When I leave for more than a month, I become incredibly homesick, and I just can’t wait to get back. And, of course, there are the oceans and the mountains – it’s mind-blowingly beautiful.
The best restaurant meal I’ve eaten recently was at the Chefs Warehouse. I know [owner] Liam [Tomlin] and [his wife] Jan very well. I absolutely love them, and what they’re doing there – that relaxed tapas feel. It’s fantastic. I love Kyoto Garden Sushi for the delicious Japanese food and clean flavours. I also love The Pot Luck Club – with Luke [Dale-Roberts].
I can’t wait to eat at The Hog House, PJ Vadas’s new restaurant. It’s going to be incredible.
An annual Cape Town event I always attend is the Potjiekos Challenge in Noordhoek. You know how people in the restaurant industry work – we don’t have any days off and we work long hours, so we end up socialising in the area that we live, which happens to be very close to work.
My favourite weekend getaway is the Breede River. Sometimes my wife and I escape to Franschhoek or to the winelands for a night or two, just to get out. I also love driving south to Scarborough and Misty Cliffs. Even though it’s just 20 minutes away, you feel like you’ve gone very far away.
On my bucket list is rubber-ducking with a guide in False Bay when the whales are out. He takes you as close as possible to the whales and then lets you jump in the water and swim with them.
The best coffee in Noordhoek is from our deli. We have a great barista who makes great coffee. We use Baseline Coffee.
The Banting diet is a little bit irritating in terms of people demanding no sugar and no carbs. But I see that it has helped some people tremendously so I imagine there is some value to it. In a weird kind of way, we’ve been serving food that is Banting for 20 years now. I only ever use full-cream everything; I always leave fat on my meat; I’ve always served the carbohydrates separate from the protein and I cook with a lot of butter. It’s always been my style of cooking – traditional rich French food. Even if I get playful, I don’t cut corners. It’s interesting… Like all diets, it’s annoying for chefs…
I wish people would keep dieting for when they eat at home, and when they go out, they chill and have a good time and don’t spoil it with limitations. I believe in everything in moderation. I find people who go crazy with dieting normally have very weird eating habits. If you eat a little of everything – and lots of salads – you’ll find that you don’t need to diet.
A good red wine for a special occasion is the Mullineux Syrah, a Swartland wine.
Being a good chef is not only about creating food, it’s also about directing a team and having a lovely environment and happy co-workers. You need to be able to elevate people and make them feel excited. All chefs are a little bit obsessed – some are searching for perfection on the plate, I’m more obsessed with getting the perfect balance of flavours in a sauce – we’re all a bit nuts! And, apart from being ADD, a good chef is not afraid of putting in the hours. It’s a very hard career. You need to be in the kitchen and understand the grind before you can delegate.
This summer, you’ll find me in the kitchen. My head chef of over 12 years has left to further her career, and I’m extremely excited for her. It’s given me an opportunity to touch base with the other guys in the kitchen and I’m actually loving it.
I’m also busy with Le Creuset – we have a great relationship and I love teaching people about cooking in cast-iron ware. In winter, I plan to write another book.
On Sundays I chill at home with my wife and kids. We live on a farm with horses and lots of dogs and cats. Occasionally we go out for lunch, but usually it’s a braai at us, with people popping in and out. It’s fun.
Straight after this, I’m going home for a swim.
When I wake up in the middle of the night it’s usually because I’ve got something in my head popping around that I need to download. If it’s food items, I put them down on paper so I don’t forget them. When I’m doing a book, I usually wake up at around 3.30am and I write for an hour and a half, completely on my own – the house is dead quiet and that’s when I do my best work.