It was a night for the books on Thursday as US chef Kent Rathbun and SA’s own Peter Tempelhoff fired up the smokers and grills on the terrace of Ellerman House in Cape Town for an event unlike any other.
The two chefs' wealth of knowledge, years of experience and love for cooking over the fire were on display as they prepared a carnivorous feast for those lucky enough to attend.
An Iron Chef America alumnus, four-times James Beard Foundation Award nominee and respected leader of the Texan restaurant scene for more than three decades, Rathbun is a force of nature when it comes to open-flame cooking.
Tempelhoff, one of SA’s most respected and acclaimed chefs, is culinary director at Ellerman House. He also owns and manages fine-dining restaurants FYN and Beyond, and is a fellow enthusiast of cooking with fire. In fact, he regularly hosts smoke-outs at the latter restaurant situated on the beautiful Buitenverwachting estate.
Produce is of the utmost importance when it comes to a collaboration of this nature, and the chefs were spoilt for choice thanks to Peter Theron, who rears Iberico pork, and Ken Forrester, the famed winemaker who also farms Wagyu beef. Overall, 11 cuts of meat were grilled, smoked and roasted to perfection.
The chefs collaborated on the menu, each learning from the other while bringing their own expertise to the fire. Highlights included a magnificent smoked oyster with a tomato and onion compound butter finished with a crispy cornbread crumb, and the American BBQ classic “burnt ends” — smoked and roasted cubes of brisket.
The pièce de résistance though was undoubtedly the Wagyu — an exercise in the sheer beauty of simplicity. The perfectly cooked slices of steak were riddled with a gorgeous labyrinth of marbling (for which Wagyu is renowned) and served with generous shavings of fresh truffle: two simple ingredients and a bit of fire, coming together to create a taste experience so much greater than the sum of its parts; the tender yet buttery steak with its rich umami profile complemented by the deep, earthy, nutty truffle slices. It’s not only clever cooking through and through but also a testament to the quality of the produce.
The meal was served family-style at each of the tables, accompanied by a selection of back vintages of Forrester’s impressive red wines, including the Two Halves 2007 (Mourvèdre, Grenache, Shiraz blend), the 2013 Renegade Red (Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvèdre) and the 2015 Gypsy (Grenache, Shiraz blend). The choice of the Rhône-inspired blends paired fantastically with the smokey, salty and slightly sweet flavours from the barbecued dinner.
This event was the second in the Ellerman Chef Sessions series for which the hotel will continue to partner with the best international chefs, offering curated culinary events.