Ferran Adrià's retreat from the molecular limelight a couple of years back cued us to a fresh wave of simpler, authentic, more wholesome meals. For The Collection's award-winning executive chef, Peter Tempelhoff, at the heart of his internationally recognised technical skills was always a locally sourced, ingredient-based ethos. He has passed on his vast knowledge and prowess to a handful of talented young chefs, who appear to be having so much fun that they have no immediate plans to leave the nest.
Among them is head chef Ashley Moss. Having grown up at the beach in Kommetjie, his daily cycle to work past Muizenberg now instinctively involves some dune foraging for "new" ingredients en route. Combining dexterity, creativity and observance of his natural surroundings, he takes diners on a nightly multicultural and multi-flavoured journey.
Earliest memories of food?
As kids, we used to help my mom in the kitchen quite a lot. She was born in England and studied to be a chef, but never pursued a career in food. I worked a bit from about 14 years old and started in a restaurant as a barista, then I was a waiter, but could see that the fun part happened in the kitchen and realised that's where I wanted to be. It was a toss-up between studying film at AFDA or food at the SA Chefs Academy. Food obviously won. Where was your first job in the kitchen? The academy is hands-on, so you cook there except it's not a real kitchen. I think I graduated on a Friday and started at the Mount Nelson that Monday. That was my introduction to a professional, five-star hotel kitchen.
What attracted you to a more technical style of cooking?
I think there is a need for an artistic place to make this sort of food and it's a bit more expressive. What's happening around us influences what we do and what people want. We started off at The Greenhouse in 2007 and it was very technical cooking with a bit of molecular, but now our cooking is ingredient based — it's about getting the right ingredient and working with it. It's not lab cooking; the food we do here is real and practical, made using simple techniques, artistically represented through different flavours. We focus on ingredients and flavour combinations and how to enhance them.
What have you prepared for us? The ink fish dish. I used calamari, octopus, scallop and cuttlefish ink and put together little raviolis with black sauce, ink fish, tomato, spring onions and olives. It's a really fresh, light dish.
Why did you choose this dish? It came from an idea I originally had that was a take on a West Coast mussel bed. So I made little raviolis that looked like mussels and started to work on that. Then we had the red tide that lasted about four months, so there were no mussels or anything available. The logical evolution of the dish was to take the rest of the ingredients, octopus and calamari, and make them the heroes. And I think it became something better.
What does this dish say about your food journey? It's very locally based. I grew up in Kommetjie, surfing and on the beach often, so it resonates with me. It's as if we're right on the coast and I use a lot of those ingredients. We've got the Cape vulgaris octopus, coastal seaweeds and things from around here in the dish. The region is where I'm from and influences my style of cooking. There is a lot of technicality in the way we cook at The Greenhouse, based on what I've learned from Peter Tempelhoff and my time in England, and the rest is artistic representation. From fish and chips and Sunday roasts to leading the way — a decade ago, we would never have used Britain and food trends in the same sentence. London especially has definitely become a melting pot of cultures. It's so diverse, like our menu now. Some of it is Japanese, such as the tuna sashimi-like dish with Ponzu sauce and those types of Asian flavours, and we've got tempura sea spaghetti. And then you go down the menu to find very South African ostrich with foie gras, which is very French, with a tartar. And we've got a dish with Jerusalem artichokes from our garden. Our beef dish is basically braaivleis or shisa nyama with umngqusho (samp and beans), which we've cooked like risotto to make a samp rice and added fermented black beans (black beans and beef is quite an Asian dish) and then some mascarpone that's quite Italian.
Where do all your ingredients come from? We do a bit of foraging. Outside of our garden, we came across dune spinach, which we have often on our menu, depending on the seasons. I go cycling almost every morning, take a little bag with me and stop off in Muizenberg to pick a few and we put that in a dish called tempura dune spinach. We do a lot of research and reading and then try to do a whole lot of different tests in the kitchen. The community of chefs around here is also quite small, so a lot of the other head chefs are friends and we've worked together at some point, so if you find a supplier with really good produce then you pass on the contact. We're using some goat's cheese from Pepe Charlot in Kommetjie. He has his own goats and makes his own cheese. On our Malay fish dish, we wanted a little lemon atchar pur.e. We wanted to make our own, but couldn't get it right and one of the guys knew a woman who made it for markets. We got lemon and kumquat and it tasted amazing, so why make it ourselves when we can support her and buy kilos?
INK FISH WITH LEEKS & SCALLOP RAVIOLI
4 whole calamari
1 octopus, legs only
10ml olive oil blend
50g unsalted butter
A squeeze of lemon
Salt, to taste
Chives, for garnish
Clean calamari and separate head and legs. Score inside of the head, rinse off octopus legs and steam calamari and octopus for one-and-a-half hours until tender.
Pull skin off the legs and slice into half-centimetre disks.
Sauté calamari heads and legs in a hot pan with a little oil and butter, then add octopus legs.
Season with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and chives.
10g squid ink
3 egg yolks
20ml olive oil
Bring squid ink and water to the boil and set aside to cool.
Combine flour, egg yolk and oil in a food processor and blend
into a breadcrumb texture, then knead into a smooth dough.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Using a pasta machine, roll out to a thin sheet.
4 baby leeks
Salt, to season
Remove the tops and bottoms of the leeks. Slice in half and
cook in a butter-water emulsion until tender.
1 egg yolk
15ml vegetable oil
Salt, to season
Blend two scallops, egg yolk, cream and salt together in a blender to form a mousse.
Cut remaining scallops into small blocks and sauté in a hot pan for 30 seconds with oil and salt. Remove pan from heat and cool in the fridge.
Cut leek into small blocks the same size as the scallops. Cook in oil until soft, then mix scallops, leeks and mousse together.
Place 10g balls of scallop mixture on half of the pasta sheet, fold over and seal. Cut out pasta to form half-moon shaped ravioli.
Blanch in boiling squid ink water for four minutes. Make two per portion.
10g squid ink
50ml white wine
6 olives, de-pipped and cut into blocks
1 tomato, deseeded and cut into blocks
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Salt, to season
Juice from half a lime
Bring squid ink and wine to the boil. Add cream and reduce by half.
Add remaining ingredients and season with salt.
ONION & STAR ANISE PURÉE:
4 onions, sliced
4 whole star anise
Salt, to season
Sweat onions in butter until soft.
Add star anise and cream and reduce by two thirds.
Remove star anise from the mixture and blend until smooth.
Pass through a fine strainer and season with salt.
8 sprigs bronze fennel
20g crispy wakami
Place sauce on each plate, then follow with four dots of purée, two raviolis, one calamari head and one calamari leg per plate.
Scatter octopus legs, bronze fennel, baby leeks and wakami over the ravioli.