Bushmans Kloof Retreat: on Rock Paintings and Rooibos
Exploring the breathtaking Cederberg Wilderness Area, we take refuge at Bushmans Kloof.
After the winter rains, the ground covering the Cederberg Wilderness area famously explodes into tapestries of wild flowers, the subject of innumerable paintings and photo essays. The Cape Floral Kingdom contains the largest variety of wild flower species in the world. But, I am too early for that this year. The landscapes morph into otherworldly shapes and patterns as we drive along the N7 from Cape Town. Craggy ochre mountain faces and bizarrely shaped weathered sandstone formations capture us as we drive towards the Cederberg Mountains and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat, situated on a private 7500 hectare nature reserve that forms part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 170 year manor house, a colonial style, thatched and white-washed building was carefully restored in 1995 and I wonder if the food at Bushmans Kloof, prepared by seasoned and long-serving chef Floris Smith will echo a taste of a bygone era. When I ask him about his cooking style, he says, “My grandmother was a great inspiration. I also get inspiration from great chefs such as Charlie Trotter, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and many more. There is just so much to learn and absorb when it comes to food, it’s a great journey.” So that settles that.
To work up an appetite, we hop aboard a rugged safari vehicle to explore a part of the reserve’s flora, fauna and famed rock art paintings. These paintings are representations of life up to 10 000 years ago (the scientific data archiving the precise dates is scant), drawn by the original inhabitants of the area, the San people otherwise, and perhaps controversially known as ‘bushmen’. While some paintings depict hunting scenes and tribal domestic life, others portray conversations with ancestral spirits, a vital part of the culture.
The terrain of soft orange sand and layers of rock is dotted with hardy indigenous fynbos plants. Rooibos or red bush being the South African fynbos claim to world-wide fame. It is enjoyed brewed as a tea or used in skin care preparations and renowned for its anti-oxidant properties. Chef Floris uses rooibos and the plants and herbs he grows on the estate in his recipes too.
“As we all know this is fynbos and rooibos country. They are indigenous to this area and for that reason we try and incorporate them in our menus as much as possible. Other than that we are lucky to serve some of the best lamb in the country, ‘Karoo lamb’. In and around the Clanwilliam area there are also a lot of local producers of citrus, vegetables and fruit. Plus we have our wonderful organic gardens. We are very lucky with what is on our doorstep,” he explains.
The dining options at Bushmans Kloof, a Relais & Châteaux property are one of a cumulative of reasons the property has won so many international travel and hospitality awards and they range from the dining room of the manor house to outdoor experiences such as an old candle-lit shepherd’s house and in a sandstone amphitheater, under the stars.
The night temperature drops quickly in the area, fires are lit, warming drinks served and a night of feasting with great wines, commences. The flavours, however experimental, are pulled together to represent the unique South African produce. Chef Floris adds, ”Keeping it truly South African I enjoy adding a sweet element to meat dishes. One of the ‘crazy’ combinations includes chocolate with game meat. My favourite dish at the moment is a savoury white chocolate and wasabi crème brûlée. This is the great thing about food, there is just no limit.”
The plate I enjoy most is Floris’ version of old fashioned South African game meat pie paired with a local wine that tells the story of the earth in its ruby tannic notes. Naturally, the pie is dollied up. And after the last morsel is scraped clean off the plate, I end the meal with a cup of rooibos tea, a familiar and comforting ritual.
- On the way, we stop in Clanwilliam, a small town made famous for the antioxidant-rich rooibos (redbush) tea, a variety of fynbos grown exclusively in the area. At Netmar’s teahouse we are guided through a seemingly endless variety of red and green rooibos teas from local farms, some flavoured with chai spices, other’s enticingly labeled ‘winter’ and ‘bourbon vanilla’.
- Spectacular hikes that are suitable for the fit and unfit are possible from Bushmans Kloof and surrounds.
- Spa treatments at the Boma, with the river gushing past in winter, or the doors wide open, inviting the sounds of the nature in summer, are highly recommended. The therapists here are excellent.
- Archery, fly-fishing, bird watching and extraordinary dining experiences at venues around the property, must be booked in advance.
Interview with Chef Floris Smith
1. Tell us about your culinary highlights
It all started at home – I enjoyed spending time in the kitchen from a young age. I then went off to study Hotel Management at the Free State Technikon Hotel School. My training in the kitchen at the HYATT in Rosebank Johannesburg was my first encounter in the real world and I learned an incredible amount under the management of Executive Chef Joseph Eder. I then moved on to Hartford House in the Natal Midlands were I become the Head Chef and was allowed to create and experiment – it gave me the opportunity to find myself. It was a proud moment when Hartford House got rated as one of the top three restaurants in Natal and made it into the Top 100 restaurants in SA WINE Magazine for 3 consecutive years.
I then took the position as Head Chef at Bushmans Kloof, where I stayed for the next three years. My highlight was when I cooked for Celebrity Chef Daniel Boulud from New York. He had great appreciation for the cuisine at Bushmans Kloof and gave me a signed copy of one of his books. After my first three years at Bushmans Kloof I moved on to take the Executive Chef Position at Londolozi Game Reserve – a wonderful Big Five experience but I missed the element of fine dining. I returned to Bushmans Kloof for another two years and then left for Hotel Izulu in Ballito. After three years in Natal I returned home to Bushmans Kloof in 2009 – and I am not planning to leave again anytime soon!
In all these years I had wonderful experiences, travelled a lot and had fantastic meals but the one meal that really stands out is one I had in Cape Town cooked by Chef Ettienne Bonthuis .
Describe to us the produce indigenous to the Cedarberg, specifically where Bushmans Kloof is situated.
As we all know this is fynbos and rooibos country. They are indigenous to this area and for that reason we try and incorporate them in our menus as much as possible. Other than that we are lucky to serve some of the best lamb in the country, ‘Karoo lamb’. In and around the Clanwilliam area there are also a lot of local producers of citrus, vegetables and fruit. Plus we have our wonderful organic gardens. We are very lucky with what is on our doorstep!
What are your favourite flavour combinations?
Keeping it truly South African I enjoy adding a sweet element to meat dishes. One of the ‘crazy’ combinations is chocolate with game meat. My favourite dish at the moment is a savoury white chocolate and wasabi crème brûlée. This is the great thing about food, there is just no limit.
Who inspires you and your cooking?
My grandmother was a great inspiration. I also get inspiration from great chefs such as Charlie Trotter, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and many more. There is just so much to learn and absorb when it comes to food, it’s a great journey.
What’s growing in your herb garden?
The Garden of Eden! We have a little bit of everything in the garden. Herbs, berries, stone fruit, citrus, grapes, and more fruit, nuts, vegetables, olives. The list is endless. All of this is very seasonal and we harvest and process accordingly.
The food and wine pairings are very popular. Describe the process that you adopt to create these dishes paired with the wines you select.
We start by having an intense tasting of all the wines that we plan to use. We then identify food items that would pair well with these wines; once we have cooked the principle ingredients we have another tasting to identify other flavours that would enhance the taste of the principle ingredients, as well as pair well with the wine. We will then have a couple of experiments and tastings before we put the final menu together. The next step is to send it to the winemaker who will also comment and make suggestions. Only then do we confirm the final menu for our Food and Wine evenings.
Our most recent collaboration was with Bouchard Finlayson. To give you a couple of examples of pairings, as starter we had Wasabi & White Chocolate Salmon – Pink Salmon, rolled in sushi rice, with my beloved wasabi and white chocolate crème brûlée, soya reduction and a preserved ginger and lemon gel. Peter Finlayson matched this with hisBouchard Finlayson 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve. For the main course we served Slowly braised Lamb Shank Ravioli with oven-roasted tomatoes, field mushrooms, thyme and sage, which was accompanied by Bouchard Finlayson’s award-winning 2011 Galpin Peak Pinot Noir.
Disclaimer: I was invited to attend a food and wine pairing weekend at Bushman’s Kloof in order to write this article. I paid for my own spa treatments.