Words & Production Leigh Robertson
Photography Warren Heath
You may have all the trendy celebrity chef cookbooks and have watched your fair share of televised cook-offs. But just how confident would you feel if one of those heavyweights were to arrive at your home—without a magic basket of exotic produce and miracle ingredients—to conjure up a three-course lunch?
Fortunately Adam Mason, the young, but by no means green, winemaker at Klein Constantia Estate, had not pondered the question too deeply. If he had, he might never have allowed a chef of the stature of Peter Tempelhoff into his tiny kitchen on such a lazy midsummer’s day, more conducive to a chilled-out braai than a stiff gourmet affair.
After all, the chef in question has cooked in Michelin-starred restaurants in England and was the Sunday TimesChef of the Year for 2007 while heading up the kitchen at Franschhoek’s Grande Provence Estate. As Executive Chef for The Collection by Liz McGrath, he currently oversees all five restaurants at the three boutique hotels—The Plettenberg (Sand), The Hermanus (The Pavilion and The Seafood) and The Cellars-Hohenhort (The Greenhouse and The Cape Malay). Heavyweight? Check.
“I’d hoped at least to have brought home some fresh trout from Klein Constantia’s dam, but they weren’t biting,” says a barefoot Adam, suddenly concerned about the contents of his fridge. But Peter, also casually dressed, looks like he could easily be the guy from next door. “Hmm, maybe I can twist his arm to braai,” Adam thinks aloud.
The chef seems right at home in the bright, cosy kitchen with its black and white floor tiles and eclectic style, warming instantly to the easy-going ambience of the lovely Victorian house. That Adam’s wife, Louise, is an artist is patently clear (they met while students at Stellenbosch University), but creativity obviously runs in the family, with crayon drawings by their daughters, Ella, six, and Jessie, three, adorning fridge and walls.
The Masons previously lived on the farm, “which was fantastic for the girls with all its open space,” says Adam, “but it’s good to be able to leave work and come home to your own spot.” Peter agrees, with work requiring him to travel between Constantia, Hermanus and Plett hotels, “But luckily I spend most of my time at The Cellars-Hohenhort, which is great as I live fairly close by.” All the better for popping home to make supper for his wife, Angela, two-year-old Jason and 18-month-old Zara. “It’s easier if I do the cooking, but luckily our kids will eat just about anything. In fact, I experiment on my family all the time.”
It’s a tough call between more coffee and getting started on the wine, but there is, well, work to be done: part of today’s challenge is for Peter to prepare his three-course meal to pair with Adam’s choice of Klein Constantia wines.
The surprise is that Adam has chosen four vintages of the Klein Constantia Riesling rather than a selection of different varietals. “It’s the king of white grapes,” beams Adam, whose first harvest at the farm was in 2004. For years the wine was made in an off-dry style with distinct botrytis influence, but the estate’s move to a drier style is indicative of a wider respect for this noble German grape.
“Many people still associate Riesling with something sweet for the mother-in-law,” he chuckles. “Ours is a more serious style and we also hold it back for later release, which is incredibly rewarding.” He opens bottles of the 1998, 2004, 2005 and 2006 vintages to illustrate the excellent effects of bottle maturation on the wine; the ten-year-old is still amazingly fresh and fruity, and an instant hit all round.
Our chef is impressed: “Riesling is the ultimate food wine!” he grins. “It’s also so much easier to cook with than, say, Sauvignon Blanc, which can be so acidic, and Chardonnay, which can be quite buttery.”
“It’s also a very summery wine,” adds Adam. “Wine lovers like to talk about a Riesling revival, but now we just have to get more people to drink it.”
Inroads in that department are definitely being made in the kitchen, while Peter works his way through the kitchen cupboards and fridge in search of ingredients. That the Masons enjoy cooking is evident in the broad and interesting selection of ingredients populating the shelves, from couscous and quinoa to taco shells and an armoury of Asian condiments. Peter selects Arborio rice, white chocolate, gelatine powder (“I hope I can remember how to use it!”), oyster and soya sauce, nam pla (fish sauce), dried chillies (a super-hot kind which Adam smuggled back from Mexico), toasted seeds and, a fortuitous find, a packet of wooden skewers...
In the fridge he finds a piece of cob, fresh fennel, baby tomatoes, an avocado, a tub of cream cheese and strawberries, and in the freezer—among the kiddies’ Vienna sausages—a few chicken breast portions.
He also finds all the fresh herbs he could wish for in the Mason’s delightful backyard with its olive tree, Wendy house (‘Petal Cottage’) and vegetable patch, converted from a Klein Constantia bin used for packing wine bottles.
Inspired by the wine, Peter hauls out a notepad and scribbles a few reference notes before announcing his proposed menu: yakitori chicken with an asian dressed salad to start, followed by pan-fried cob with tomato risotto, and finished off with white chocolate and cream cheese pannacotta with riesling poached strawberries. The Masons are impressed.
At this point he encounters his first minor obstacle: used to cooking on gas, he has to get to grips with the couple’s electric stove with its very hot plates. Adam seizes the moment to unleash his plan: “Why don’t we do the chicken on a fire outside?” Peter is, to Adam’s relief, delighted by the idea.
Peter, meanwhile, is also grappling with the microwave so he can melt the chocolate and defrost the chicken. “How do you work this thing?” he grumbles. He also has a few pots on the go (the Masons’ quality cookware gets a thumbs-up), while frenetically peeling and chopping produce, and preparing the pannacotta so it can set by the time we’re ready for dessert.
For the risotto he’s making a tomato ‘fondue’ (“Not like the cheese one; this is more a smoor or chakalaka”) by slow-cooking tomatoes with fried onion, garlic and olive oil, as well as a tomato ‘essence’: chopped tomatoes with a small bit of cucumber and celery, blended and strained through a cloth over a bowl. “I’m going for a really intense tomato flavour for this dish; there’s nothing more summery than tomatoes!”
The chicken yakitori idea is a direct result of Peter’s recent working sojourn in Tokyo: “It’s very popular there; you can buy it on the streets.” That the Masons have everything needed to make the sticky-spicy sauce is serendipitous. The coals ready, we head into the garden, glasses of wine in hand, to watch our chef at work basting the skewered chicken with a brush.
The mood is delectably casual and carefree, dictated by the heat as well the sense of fun permeating the occasion. Soft jazz drifts on a light breeze as the chatter moves between anecdotes of family life, food and wine. When it comes to entertaining at home, the Masons are limited owing to the relatively tight space inside, so usually end up around the fire. “And we’ll often take people to the Klein Constantia dam, which has amazing views of the Cape.”
The chicken cooked, the skewers are set on a simple salad dressed with a tangy toasted seed vinaigrette, with a spoonful of spicy avocado mousse (“my Asian version of guacamole”) on the side.
Then it’s back to the risotto. Having par-cooked it, he now reheats it, adding the tomato essence and, once cooked, stirs in the tomato fondue. The cob is pan-fried in a heavy skillet, while Peter finely slices fennel bulb for a crunchy salad to go on top of the fish, rounded off with a warm tomato and olive vinaigrette.
Everyone grabs forks and crowds around the kitchen table for this very informal lunch, served on communal plates. Fresh bottles of all four Riesling vintages are brought out, to be compared at leisure with both dishes. The verdict? The contented sighs, empty plates and drained bottles say it all: a match made in heaven.
As if it could not get any better, Adam presents a bottle of Klein Constantia Rhine Riesling Natural Sweet to accompany dessert. The pannacotta is garnished with extra white chocolate shavings and surrounded by the Riesling-poached strawberries. It’s a splendid finale to a meal that was fresh, full of flavour and yet remarkably simple. How did our chef do it? “To be honest, I was a little lost in the beginning,” laughs Peter. “I think Adam’s braai idea saved the day.”
Barbecued Chicken Yakitori on Asian Dressed Salad with Avocado Mousse Click here for Recipe
Pan-fried Cob with Tomato Risotto, Olive & Tomato Vinaigrette, & Fennel Salad) Click here for Recipe
Riesling-poached Strawberries with White Chocolate & Cream Cheese Pannacotta
Click here for Recipe
Served with four vintages of Klein Constantia Rhine Riesling (98, 04, 05, 06)
Klein Constantia Rhine Riesling Tasting Notes, by Adam Mason:
1998: “Floral, litchi-like aromas with some terpene character as a result of bottle age. The palate has a wonderful freshness due to the acidity still coursing vibrantly through the wine yet is also dense, with a certain weight from the residual sugar.”
2004: “Heady floral scents and a touch of spice, almost like sandalwood on the nose. The palate is still tight, belying the almost 10 g/l residual sugar. The wine is really starting to fill out now, showing what a little bottle age can do for this great variety.”
2005: “Inviting scents of naartjie peel, citrus blossom and jasmine on the nose. The familiar steely character of Klein Constantia Riesling is evident. Lively and refreshing with tingling acidity, akin to Granny Smith apples. Waves of juicy sweet fruit flavours on the palate, leading to tight, grapefruit pith characters and the familiar steely, texture often found in Riesling.”
2006: “A nose of candied fruit and tangerine zest. The palate is marked by a steely acidic backbone which reigns in some of the floral, citrus-like aromatics for now. I firmly believe that this wine is going to mature and develop very well for the next 10–15 years due to the combination of the screwcap closure and the fine acidic backbone, a feature of this year’s wine.”
Watch the Video
For a video clip of Peter rummaging through Adam’s cupboards, him cooking the chicken or a wine pairing by Adam, visit the Video Lounge. Recipes and wine tasting notes are also included.
Click here to go to the Good Taste Video Lounge