Like every other Executive Chef at the top of their game—Margot Janse has decided to appoint a Head Chef for The Tasting Room; Gerald van der Walt (formerly of The Greenhouse in Cape Town). This creative collaboration is set to take the much-awarded fine dining restaurant to new heights.
“I am most certainly not leaving,” says Margot Janse. “I’ve appointed Gerald as there’s a gap at the top: taking nothing away from my team. I have incredible chefs. Gregory Caci my sous chef is fantastic and he and my team deserve the support. I’m travelling a lot and I think that it’s only fair that there’s another person at the top. This means I’ll be able to manage my time better, and that I can spread myself further without losing anything.”
“Gerald’s a great chef and I love the fact that he knows the food scene in the Cape. And I really like his nature; he’s not a prima donna… His passion is in the right place.”
We caught up with Gerald ahead of his appointment in July to find out more about this intriguing chef.
What excited you about working in The Tasting Room?
The Tasting Room has a great reputation, it’s one of the best restaurants in the country; and is all about progression and quality. The Tasting Room has been at the forefront for such a long time, how can I not be interested and excited about working there? It’s exactly where I want to be. There are a handful of really great chefs in the country, a lot of good ones, but a small amount of really great ones, now I have the opportunity to work alongside a second, I feel very privileged to have this chance.
Describe your philosophy and approach to cooking?
Food in a fine dining establishment needs to be thought provoking, not necessarily philosophical or sociological, it doesn’t have to change your political views either, but there has to be a few points during the meal when the diner has to query or ask questions. Questions such as, I wonder how they made that? That’s an interesting combination; I wonder why they put those together? It has to make you think a little, but only if you want to, of course, a meal should also be enjoyable without having the need to make one think, but it’s nice to make it a talking point, or at least a point of interest.
Food has to be carefully prepared with the focus on quality – never compromise on quality and authenticity; it can be the most complex of dishes with a variety of flavours and textures, or something simple, as long as all care has been taken to make sure it tastes good – and simple doesn’t always mean easy.
Your favourite ingredient?
I love mushrooms. The varieties are so versatile: crumbed and fried, pickled, puréed, as soup or fresh, served with chicken, fish, beef, lamb or by itself, basically any which way with nearly anything. I also enjoy foraging for them when I do get the chance.
What don’t people know about you?
If you don’t know about it, it is probably for the best… Only kidding, I’m not too secretive, I’m quite transparent, there isn’t a great deal people don’t know. I guess the one thing is that I’m trying to write a novel, and as you can see, I’m still slaving away in the kitchen, so it has not really been successful thus far.
Your thoughts on working with Margot Janse?
I am very excited about the opportunity. When I was a trainee chef, clumsily stumbling my way through chef school, I remember reading articles about her and what she was doing at The Tasting Room (not for a second, did I then, think that I would be where I am today). It is very humbling to have been given this chance, slightly nerve wracking, but very exciting, and I hope to learn a great deal while working next to her.
You’re moving to Franschhoek! What are you looking forward to exploring in the area?
Franschhoek is phenomenal, one of the most beautiful places in our country, Jean [Gerald’s wife] and I can’t believe we’re moving there, but I’m excited to experience the wine farms properly (quite difficult when you have to drive back to Cape Town, the wine has to be limited). Also eating at all the restaurants around the area and the surrounding walks and hikes up the mountains and forests.
Jean and I enjoy time out just wandering around, looking for mushrooms, when the season is right, or just getting lost somewhere. I also really want to try the Wine Tram, very keen on that one.
I know Margot and LQF do a lot of community work, and it will be great to get involved there too.
Other than cooking, what are your passions?
Music, food, sport, all sorts of storytelling and wine – we had a wine-themed wedding, yeah, I like wine a lot.
Describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, driven, grumpy – but funny grumpy, not too serious