Open Door Restaurant in Constantia is the latest venture by restaurateur and sommelier Neil Grant and business partner Barry Engelbrecht (of Burrata and Bocca). We catch up with executive chef, Annemarie Steenkamp and chat about her busy life as a chef, her home life as well as a quick recipe for mint and almond pesto.
You've been busy! Isn't this the third restaurant you're acting in the capacity as executive chef? How do you juggle it all?
Yes that is quite right, this is restaurant number 3! It has been an amazing learning experience and I am lucky enough to have a great team in place at each restaurant. At Burrata, Stephen Du Bruyn, whom I worked with at Le Quartier Français, pretty much runs the kitchen. We have a great work relationship and I would trust him with my life. Lauren Case [previously from Mondiall] is running Bocca. We worked together for a short time before I had to move over to launch Open Door, and she is great.
Tell us something about the name, Open Door?
The name was chosen by co-owner Neil Grant. The idea really was to have a name that evokes a very warm welcome to diners.
From where did you draw inspiration from for the menu, and what can diners expect?
At Open Door, I am enjoying the freedom of doing something diferent from what I have been doing for the past three and a half years at our two italian-inspired restaurants. I’m playing around with some interesting flavour combinations, of which parsnip with crayfish is one, which has been received very well. The aim at Open Door is to offer diners something different and adventurous to challenge their palate.
What's your favourite dish on the menu?
I would have to say the roasted pumpkin with curried fritters, seed crumble, buttermilk labne and ginger dish. Vegetarian dishes are my favourites to prepare. They are akin to desserts in that there is scope to do so much on a plate and make it really interesting.
What would you say you're doing differently from other restaurants of the same level?
I think what sets our restaurants apart is that we cater very much to the local Capetonian, our diners who will still be around when the the tourist season ends. We want to make sure that they will want to come dine with us over and over again, so we create a relaxed ambience, offer, great service, serve good quality food and offer a fantastic wine list.
Looking ahead, what are the plans for Open Door?
We’ll soon be open for breakfast—hopefully before the season starts.
Who has been the greatest influence on your culinary career, and why?
I am lucky enough to have had a great teaching ground. In my early years at Le Quartier Français, Chef Chris Erasmus was my greatest teacher. When I moved up into a more managerial role, Executive Chef Margot Janse taught me so much; not just how to run a kitchen and manage staff, but also understanding food, flavour combinations as well as textures and the structure of a menu as a whole.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
With Open Door being open seven days a week, I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I do, my partner Nic and I love doing wine cellar tastings and attending wine events. I really enjoy learning about wine. Of course, we dine out a lot too.
Who does the cooking at home? And what's a typical dish?
When we do find the time to cook at home, it’s usually a team effort. We split the tasks, and most often create ‘one pot wonders’ that last for the rest of the week. Nothing fancy!Either a curry, a stew or a pasta.When I go home to visit my family, I usually fly back with enough meat to last us a couple of months. Then we dine on steak, sweet potato, chips and salad.
Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs?
My advice is to explore the internet and find out what is trending in food globally. It’s also helpful to see which other chefs are doing great and interesting things. It is vital to know what is going on in the industry, if you want to become a good chef.
And, for home cooks?
Get a good set of knives and a sharpener—preferably a steel one. You can’t create great food with bad equipment.
What drink would we hand you at a party?
When I arrive you can definitely hand me a glass of MCC, then later on in the evening I’ll enjoy a glass or two of a Swartland Chenin and round off the evening with some Disaronno Amaretto.
Annemarie who describes herself as ‘strict, hard-working and happy lives with her fiancé, Nic, in upper Woodstock with their 11-month-old English Bull Terrier, Jesseppi.
Annemarie’s mint and almond pesto
100g flaked almonds, toasted
40g mint leaves, picked from the stem
60g Parmesan cheese
10ml lime juice
150g olive oil
1. Add the almonds, mint leaves, salt, Parmesan and olive oil into a food processor, blend until everything is mixed together.
2. Finish with the lime juice and blend until the mixture is semi-smooth.
Spaanschemat River Rd, Constantia, Cape Town, 7848. Call 021 794 3010