Great Grapes Cape Cuisine Cook Off at the Mount Nelson Hotel

chefs, sous, sommeliers & staff. Pic Danie Nel

Newsflash: The winners of the 10 day gourmet trip to Europe are Rudi Liebenberg &  COn Monday, 18 April 2011, Great Grapes hosted the inaugural Cape Cuisine Cook Off at the Mount Nelson hotel, featuring a varied and balanced selection of wines from some of the top wine producing countries, including South Africa, and paired with tantalising cuisine from some of the Cape’s very top chefs.

Marita de Beer, managing director of Great Grapes which is the largest distributor of South African wines, explained her vision of wanting to showcase South African wines alongside a small select portfolio of international wines, and demonstrate that South African wines have what it takes to stand up to their foreign counterparts and that South African cuisine compares with the best in the world.

Marita de Beer and Italian Ambassador Elio Menzione. Pic Danie Nel

The competition was Cape based, but Marita intends broadening the competition across the country in the coming years.

“There has been a culinary explosion in South Africa over the last year,” says Marita. While we have no Michelin rated restaurants, Marita feels we have what it takes to compete with the best and her hope is that the Cape Cuisine Cook Off  is one step forward in showcasing this incredible talent and gaining the recognition local Chefs and Sommeliers deserve.

The challenge

wine and food pairing score card

The challenge for each chef and their paired sommelier was to match their dish with not one, but two wines from a pre-selection and motivate the match as the perfect partnership/s between the food and the wine/s. Who were the featured Chefs? Goodness, we were in for a treat, as six of the best (along with their sommeliers) wined and dined us in what can best be described as an elaborate and heady luncheon. More about the chefs, dishes and wines further down.

The food and wine pairings were overseen by a duo of  judges- superstar Chef David Higgs (of Rust en Vrede fame), Willem Kool of De Telegraaf in the Netherlands and assisted by Jenny Morris (Giggling Gourmet). The other invitees included a representative of the Dutch Ambassador, the Italian Ambassador, GM of the Mount Nelson and various members of the restaurant and wine industry and  the media, all of whom were required to rate the meals on a score card. How did I swing an invite, you may wonder? I was invited by Marita who over-saw a pre tasting in my home, where we bonded over the food and wine.

What’s in it for the participants?

A 10 day trip to Europe, along with their sommelier (goodness I do hope they’re friends outside work too- nothing to test a partnership than a world wind trip!) –

‘ to enjoy workshops with Michelin star Chefs, explore the origin and history of cheese, truffles, micro herbs and exotic mushrooms and taste award winning wines from exciting and unusual terriors’

I’m almost certain that I feel your own excitement, dear food/wine loving reader. Oh, to be a fly on the cheese stack during this trip!

Blind tasting – the Big 25

blind tasting 25 wines

The event kicked off at 10 30 am, the ideal time to engage in a tutored blind tasting of 25 wines, you’ll agree. At noon I realised why the very early start was necessary- a tutored tasting is a lengthy process and despite the efficiency of the Mount Nellie staff, glasses need to be emptied, rinsed, re-filled and content tasted- sometimes (read: often) re-tasted. Led by Roderick Ros (who manages Great Grapes’ buyer/seller and key accounts function), who stressed that the purpose of the tasting was to display true terrior and true varietal and that the focus was about ” fruit weight, concentration and back palate”.

Most wines were fairly young, and many were made by young “cult” wine makers which I think is an exciting prospect. The potential to improve on maturation is also significant. In particular the Doson & Lepage Recoite Brute, made in France (a sparkling wine with a clean minerality and suitable for a variety of vegetarian dishes) and the Pisano Rio de Los Pajaros from Uruguay stood out for me.

Roderick was assisted by Neil Grant and Neil Pendock and the wines featured were from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Italy, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

Pre- drinks & Cowboys

mingling pre drinks

The event moved to the beautiful garden fountain area of the Nellie where guests mingled, shared their experiences of the ‘wine flight’ and were treated to shucked oysters by what can best be described as German Oyster Cowboys, courtesy of Oyster King.

oyster cowboys (Oyster King)

Thereafter we were led into the Garden room, grand in a old world style without the over-the-topness of Versailles.

guests in garden room (spot Dr Paul Cluver Snr?)

Food and Wine Pairing

Guests enjoyed 6 courses paired with two wines each.

These were some of the dishes:

 Course 1: George Jardine (Sommelier Rian Mol): oak smoked tuna, charred aubergine, sago and chicken of the wood.

Wines: Doson & Lepage Recolte Noir NV, France; Cave de Pomerols Cap Cette Picpoul de Pinet 2009, France.

oak barrel smoked tuna, charred aubergine, sago, chicken of the wood. Pic Danie Nel

Course 2: Mynhard Joubert (Sommelier Melusi Magodhi): snoek fish cake, caramelised cinnamon sweet potato, roasted cumin bread sea sand

Wines: Torresella Pinot Grigio 2010, Italy; Pico Maccario Estrosa Monferrato 2101, Italy

Course 4 (Eric Bulpitt) & Course 2 (Mynhardt Joubert). Pics Danie Nel

Course 3: Vanie Padayachee (Sommelier Josephine Gutentoft): exotic mushrooms, deep fried wanton, ‘peking’ pancake, 5 spice fig sauce

Wines: Paul Cluver Pinot Noir, 2009, South Africa; Salentein Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Argentina

Course 3. Pic Danie Nel

Course 5: Rudi Liebenberg (Sommelier Carl Habel): impala loin, roasted onion & cauliflower puree, truffle dauphinoise, baby vegetables.

Wines: Hermanuspietersfontein Swartskaap Cabernet Franc, 2008, South Africa; Salentein Numina Gran Corte 2007, Argentina

Course 5 Pic Danie Nel

Behind the Scenes

Are the Chefs willing to win at any cost? What’s the atmosphere in the kitchens like? Boxing gloves and swear words a la Gordon?

Will you be disappointed to know that it’s chill factor, jokes and smiles? I certainly was!

The calm and camaraderie carried over to competition day too, my sources tell me.

one teeny section of the Mount Nelson kitchen

I had a snoop around the afternoon before while Vanie and Rudi’s team were prepping.

working together- Vanie and Rudi’s Sous Chef Dion

Chef Vanie




Sous Chef Verdi at work


Winner’s announced 16 May 2011- stay tuned!

Print pagePDF page