Tuscany comes to Joburg courtesy of Luce's new winter menu

Southern Sun Hyde Park's executive chef Grant van der Riet gives Sanet Oberholzer some insight into — and a taste of — his latest seasonal creations

08 August 2019 - 00:00 By Sanet Oberholzer
Caccuicco di pesce alla Livornese – mussels and prawns in tomato soup with chilli.
Caccuicco di pesce alla Livornese – mussels and prawns in tomato soup with chilli.
Image: Supplied

The new seasonal menu at Luce in Southern Sun Hyde Park, Joburg, highlights all those delicacies that make the cold weather worth while. Masterminded by executive chef Grant van der Riet, and inspired by Tuscany, it's warming winter food served with elegance and style.

If comfort is what you’re after, you'll find it in every spoonful of the Caccuicco di pesce alla Livornese — mussels and prawns in tomato soup with a touch of chilli or in any of their selection of home made pastas.

Meat lovers will enjoy both the veal ravioli smothered in a creamy wild mushroom sauce, and the vegetarian pumpkin and ricotta tortellini served with sage-infused burnt butter and fresh black truffle. 

In keeping with fish and seafood-inspired dishes, the seared salmon enrobed with a squid ink chardonnay butter sauce is eclipsed only by the melt-in-your mouth lobster tortellini.

As a lover of savoury dishes, I am hard-pressed to prefer dessert to mains but Chef Van der Riet has outdone himself on his dessert menu, which captures the epitome of winter indulgence: warm apple pie cooked with mascarpone and cinnamon served with deliciously cold ice cream; a rich dark hazelnut tart served with torrone; an Italian nougat, and espresso-infused panna cotta served with coffee gel, mocha ice cream and honeycomb. You’ll want to try all three!

Served with coffee gel, mocha ice cream and honeycomb, Chef Van der Riet's espresso panna cotta is a thing of beauty.
Served with coffee gel, mocha ice cream and honeycomb, Chef Van der Riet's espresso panna cotta is a thing of beauty.
Image: Supplied

5 MINUTES WITH CHEF VAN DER RIET

Chef Van der Riet has been cooking up a storm in the kitchen of Southern Sun Hyde Park since the beginning of last year, after making the move from 54 on Bath.

We sat down with him to talk about the demands of his job, picking out a winter menu and finding inspiration outside his bustling kitchen.

What has your experience at Luce been like so far?

Very good. The work in this kitchen is a bit more challenging than the kitchens I’ve worked in before because we’re [sending food] out to the restaurant, the bar, banqueting, and room service – all from one kitchen. So that’s the most challenging. That’s where we have to fit in how we’re going to do a new menu going forward, and how it’s going to work when there are many things happening. So I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to do my menu so that it flows in the kitchen before it comes out to the diners.

Does seasonality play a big role in the menu that you prepare at the end of the day?

Yes. What a lot of chefs traditionally do is they look at what are summer items, what are winter items and they work around that. It’s not as simple as to say a stew is a winter food. Fair enough it is, but what goes into a stew? What cut of the meat? I have to start by speaking to the suppliers. With fruit and vegetables as well.

It’s not as simple as to say a stew is a winter food. Fair enough it is, but what goes into a stew?
Chef Grant van der Riet

If we’re having a very dry season, a very dry winter, that affects the herbs and root vegetables. We like to use baby rainbow carrots and candy striped beetroot and that, but if it’s a dry season I can’t use it; it won’t be available and it’s hard to predict that. So before you plan that you have to speak to the suppliers and find out what they can see is happening.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your new menus?

It’s hard to get inspiration when I’m here in the kitchen. I only cook on my off days — if I work today and I go home, I’m not going to cook. When I’m off I would go into my kitchen at home and cook for myself and my family and I will get ideas from that.

I also watch programmes. I usually go on YouTube and I like to keep up with what’s happening in Michelin star restaurants — whatever shows they have on that and your traditional guys like your Massimo Bottura, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal.

I like to watch [Blumenthal's] older stuff and see what he has done and see where he is going and see what he’s done with his trends. I like to go back and see what he did ten years ago.

What's the basic idea behind your Tuscan-inspired winter menu?

The main idea was keeping the menu traditional and simple but full of flavour; we also wanted to give it a modern flair and make it our own. For instance the Tuscan smoked pork belly, lamb loin with pan-fried gnocchi, and chocolate hazelnut torte. These dishes have true Italian elements with my own signature added.

What food trend are you enjoying at the moment?

What I’m enjoying at the moment is mixing [unusual] flavours with chocolate. In the past, if [people] made a  mousse or a chocolate tart, they would use one sort of chocolate and that’s it. They would try to make that work with nuts and with dried fruit. Now the guys are incorporating [different] foods and flavours with chocolate.

[I'm also interested in the way people are experimenting with Ruby chocolate]. They [make it] using no colourants, no fruits; they’ve managed to do so by using a red bean.

Luce's seasonal winter menu is available until the end of October. Visit tsogosun.com/luce-at-hyde-park