This article first appeared in Wanted magazine and is entitled “Two Brothers from Another Sea”. Here I’ve adapted my original post slightly in order to make it blog-relevant.
Apart from the temperature, what do the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean have in common? A revolutionary move to bring together two chefs from two different continents has resulted in one of the most exciting collaborations to wash ashore on the Cape West Coast.
Incepted by Alexandra Swenden after experiencing a meal at Willem Hiele’s eatery in Flanders, Two Brothers from Another Sea is the celebration of a likeminded connection across two continents and indeed two coastlines. Noting how Hiele’s passion for foraged ingredients and heritage food mirrored that of Wolfgat’s Kobus van der Merwe, Alexandra sought to bring the chefs together in two exclusive events – one in Koksijde, Belgium and the other in Paternoster on the Cape West Coast.
Alluding to this synergy, Alexandra connected the chefs – citing her fascination with the concept of immunity as her driving force.
“The food industry has a story paved with it’s own immunities. For a long time, chefs were totally or at least partly disconnected from their own human needs, working to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. The worldwide food industry has tried to distance chefs from local products and seasonality.”
After meeting and dining with both Hiele and van der Merwe, Swenden saw the link.
“I couldn’t help but think that these two had found their profound and yet fragile life balance: being a creative chef in the most personal, connected, free and honest way, while protecting themselves from the siren call of the two “F’s”: Fear and Fame.”
Working in conjunction with local food talent like Oep ve Koep’s Adel Hughes and seafood stalwart Tamsin Snyman, van der Merwe and Hiele devised a menu that could transcribe their zeal for ingredients and methods endemic to each chef’s respective coastline.
The journey embarks from Oep ve Koep where freshly caught yellowtail is topped with watermelon and served sandwiched between the saline folds of soutslaai, the West Coast’s own heritage heerboontjies are puréed, combined with smoked angelfish and deep-fried into crispy croquettes and plump Saldanha Bay oysters are topped with tart gooseberries and sweet basil.
Next, a short peramble down to the ocean takes visitors along Paternoster’s main beach to the foot of the granite outcrop that supports the historic building that houses Wolfgat. Simultaneously theatric and yet welcomingly casual, Hiele and van der Merwe await their guests with a table of foraged treats – starting with a refreshing sip of verdant cucumber juice combined with wild fennel, duineselderei (dune celery) and soutslaai blossom. Limpets nestled on a bed of beach pebbles cooled in the surf are served topped with red capsicum, wildeknoffel and a squeeze of lemon and a seasonal harvest of West Coast Rock Lobster (Jasus lalandii) is swiftly minced into a delicate tartare made with van der Merwe’s own fennel and lime marinade. Taking the time to make mention of this red gold, Kobus’ signature strandveldkos makes use of kreef purchased from local fishers with permits. Citing the issue with campaigns like Skip The Kreef as not taking into account marginalised fishing communities, van der Merwe explains that it’s the large commercial fisheries that have in fact plundered crayfish stocks, catching out of season and with a disregard for size and quotas. The proceeds from crayfish caught by small-scale fishers with permits or purchased via Abalobi go directly to socio-economic improvement as well as aiding in the monitoring of crayfish stock levels.
“It’s important that we can once in a while taste kreef that’s been sourced through small-scale fishermen and initiatives like Abalobi that supports both the ecological and the human side of the story” says Kobus.
Each course is quirkily titled, with monikers like The Fisherman That Came Out of the Sea (the aforementioned feast) noting the raw seafood theme and My Brother’s Cappuccino alluding to a morning spent over frothy coffee and flaky pastry inciting curiosity within the diner. For the latter, here on the Weskus, breakfast consists of a silky bisque of white mussels and crusty sourdough bathed in bokkom butter. Almost clandestine in its simplicity, this course set the tone for tastes to come, with the soup inspired by Hiele’s own shrimp bisque served at the inaugural Two Brothers event in Koksijde. The use of white mussels – the West Coast’s clam – was van der Merwe’s solution to the shellfish allergy that previously prevented him from sampling Hiele’s creation. The fact that white mussels are a little-known local delicacy that is all too often used for bait? Even better.
A highlight of the menu was Hiele’s Seafire spectacular of thrice-cooked Jacopever. The selfsame title of his first cookbook, the course connected guests to the joys of seafood not oft found on city restaurant menus. Thanks to Abalobi – an initiative and app that links small scale fishers with chefs looking to utilize responsibly-caught seafood in their restaurants, “unfashionable” fish such as jacopever has been given a chance to shine.
Shielded from the December sunshine by his Tietiesbaai hat, Hiele worked from a kettle braai covered with coffee bags sourced from Columbine Co. in nearby Velddrif. The jacopever (a fish that has for many years been seen as undesirable by-catch) was simultaneously grilled, smoked and steamed – with Hiele casting handfuls of seawater over the sacks to facilitate the latter. An appealingly meaty fish, Hiele’s jacopever was made all the more alluring through this infusion of marine flavour – the hand-flaked flesh was served swimming in a seaweed and seepampoen broth and paired with Intellego Pink Moustache unfiltered Syrah/Cinsault/Mourvedre blend.
Keeping the event endemic, all of the featured wines were Swartland in origin – familiarizing patrons with the individual varietals produced in the area.
The common vein connecting each of these dishes is their perspicuity. The simplest of ingredients – soutslaai, seepampoen, strandsalie – amalgamate to become fare with integrity. And flavour. Consideration and respect for a unique coastline gives van der Merwe’s signature Strandveldkos gravitas, whilst Hiele is more more salt of the earth than smug celebrity chef, working methodically, his attention never wavering from the task at hand.
Up on the hill overlooking Paternoster beach, the fire is lit in a riot of scarlet – as is the sky behind it as kitchen staff, friends and guests enjoy a wrap party meal of spit-roasted Sandveld lamb with a heerboontjie salad. Buoyed by their mutual devotion to their craft, the two chefs link arms and clink glasses, their enjoyment of the day and each other’s skills palpable.
Perhaps in this case one might be so bold as to say that two have indeed become one.
I’m ashamed to say that although I’ve travelled the Cape West Coast extensively, I had yet to overnight in Paternoster. Fortunately I had the opportunity to experience true Weskus hospitality at Sugar Shack. A self-catering cottage that sleeps 6 in three double bedrooms, Sugar Shack has mastered laidback seaside glamour that spares no comfort. Featuring a rooftop terrace designed for drinks at dusk, the cottage also has a secret footpath that leads down to Paternoster’s pristine beach. A comprehensively kitted kitchen means that all manner of delicious dishes can be developed. Fresh seafood such as mussels, fish and in-season crayfish can be easily purchased from local fishers on the beach – making for the ideal holiday feast cooked over the coals in the built-in braai on the verandah.
Perfectly compact for a weekend break or summer getaway, Sugar Shack is also conveniently close to Wolfgat and other eateries and attractions – try Die Gaaitjie or Voorstrandt for lunch, Stone Fish Studio for beautiful handmade ceramics and the recently opened Paternoster Brewery for a taste of their “boetiekbier van die Weskus”.