Michelin-trained chef returns home to shake up SA's food scene

Chef Wandile Mabaso will be hosting a series of pop-up culinary experiences around the country, writes Shelley Seid

05 July 2017 - 14:19 By Shelley Seid
Chef Wandile Mabaso.
Chef Wandile Mabaso.
Image: Supplied

Wandile Mabaso is a new breed of chef.

Creative, driven, classically trained and determined to do things his way, Mabaso has worked in New York and Paris, notably for Alain Ducasse and even more notably at Ducasse's three-Michelin star restaurant at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée.

Now back in South Africa after 10 years abroad, the Soweto-born Mabaso has a clear plan - not for him the typical culinary path of working for decades in a hotel or running a restaurant.

Rather, he has set himself up as a "disruptor", with his first project a culinary tour of South Africa, which sees him hosting a series of pop-up gastronomic experiences at select clubs, restaurants and homes.

The initiative, called 'By Wandile's Invitation', starts in Johannesburg in July. 

Meanwhile, in what might be termed a dress rehearsal, Mabaso joined the team at the Sugar Club restaurant in the Beverly Hills Hotel, Umhlanga Rocks, as a guest chef for an exclusive lunch. Together with the restaurant's executive chef he fashioned the dishes offered at the food and wine pairing event held for a small group of foodies.

The Sugar Club is just one of the hotels in the Tsogo Sun stable to offer wines purchased at auctions and served at a fraction over their auction purchase price.

It's an interesting addition to a special night out and the hotel's sommelier can give you some fascinating information on the various wines, purchased either at the Cape Winemakers Guild auction or the annual Nederberg auction.

"You won't find these wines at a better price anywhere else," said Tsogo Sun group sommelier Miguel Chan.

It's unlikely you will find these wines at all. In some cases Chan bought up to 90% of a particular wine, and this man knows his stuff.

Chan is the Wikipedia of wine - telling about everything from the impact of climate change on wine to the death of the champagne flute, to fake wines, to the value of wines as an investment, he had everyone at the table in the palm of his hand.

Charcoal-smoked crayfish with baby apple, baby beets, rice papadum, oyster mushroom and flying-fish eggs.
Charcoal-smoked crayfish with baby apple, baby beets, rice papadum, oyster mushroom and flying-fish eggs.
Image: Supplied

We were welcomed by a glass of Stellenrust Chenin Blanc 2012 and then moved onto my favourite of the day, a 2008 Graham Beck Non Plus Ultra CWG Sparkling Brut.

It was perfectly paired with a generous serving of charcoal-smoked crayfish, served on the prettiest of plates surrounded by baby apple, baby beets, rice papadum, oyster mushroom and the most delectable flying-fish eggs.

An entrée of hartebeest loin and a 2009 Spier 21 Gables Pinotage followed, with an oxtail main accompanied by a Nederburg Private Bin R 181 Merlot 2006.

Like the Kanye West and Jay Z of the kitchen, Mabaso and Chan worked in magical synergy to produce the perfect culinary experience.

A cheese platter and a 2015 Groot Constantia CWG Chardonnay wrapped things up, leaving my stomach straining from far too much excellent food and a surfeit of wine, and my head stuffed with information.

If I had one small quibble it was that the Beverly Hills didn't offer each of us a room for an afternoon nap.


This article was originally published in The Times.