South Africa’s top 25 restaurants have been announced by the Gourmet Guide, and Myoga at The Vineyard has once again been awarded plated status. Myoga has received this award every year since the guide’s inception. Executive Chef at Myoga, Germaine Esau, talks about his food ethos.
“Use everything from start to finish, as raw and unprocessed as possible. That’s my ethos. At Myoga, planning a menu is not just a matter of putting things together. It’s an art form here. It’s about having a profound respect for produce, a deep understanding of flavours and getting to the real essence of each ingredient.
“Carrots come in unpeeled with sand and fronds on them, the fish comes in whole, the beef comes in cuts with bones so we can butcher it ourselves. We control the process from start to finish; we control the quality of the product that we use; and we control the waste.
“It’s great training for my staff. They process each ingredient from start to finish and learn skills by doing that. We use everything. When the fish comes in, we fillet it, we scrape the bones for a tartare, then the bones get roasted for a fish stock. We even use the heads to make a fish-head curry for the staff. Nothing goes to waste.
“Same with the vegetables. We keep the peelings to make vegetable powders and when we have enough of those, we make a vegetable stock that we use to cook the vegetables before we serve them: a little homemade veg stock made with the peelings, a little water and some butter – that’s it. And we don’t mind the ‘ugly’ vegetables, we don’t want the straight carrots – we love the knobbly ones.
“I constantly engage with small farmers. I know the guy who runs Cape Honeybee – he supplies organic vegetables – and he connects me with them, tells me ‘Look this guy is growing this, maybe talk to him, maybe he can help you.’ And I do, and that’s how we find our suppliers.
“We also took the conscious decision to move away from serving things from other countries. We’re busy making our own miso, soy sauce, fish sauce, bonito flakes. In about six months, we’ll have our own. We’re trying to be more sustainable, ensuring that our carbon footprint isn’t as big as other places.
“It’s all about knowing exactly where your ingredients come from and how they were produced. We can’t be partnering with Abalobi to support small, local fishers and still be buying prawns that are red-listed around the world – it’s hypocrisy. Either we’re all in or we’re out. So we don’t serve salmon, we don’t serve scallops. We’ve got amazing local fish, mussels and oysters – why can’t we just use those?
“Similarly, we have an abundance of wild food all around us. I forage on the beach for a form of wild asparagus for a dish we serve here. For months and months I’d been looking for the species that grows inland. The other day, when I was putting the rubbish out at home, I saw it growing on my neighbours’ lawn! So now we’re serving the classic dish of asparagus with an egg – only, at Myoga, it’s four kinds of asparagus (two cultivated and two wild) with duck eggs.
“I’m from Stellenbosch and there are forests all around, so I’ve been foraging for years. When I was about 12, my grandfather and I would go mushroom hunting – that was part of our winters. He was a great cook – there are lots of great cooks in our family but I’m the only one doing it professionally.
“I fell into it by accident during university. My father said I had to study, but just before I was about to start my master’s I entered a cooking competition – I felt like it was now or never … And I won. And that was it. My dad was not happy – but he’s one of my greatest supporters now.
“I suppose my love for the land is what led me to do my BSc in Geology and Earth Science, but that love finds its true expression in my food. It is wonderful to be recognised by the Gourmet Guide, and I thank the judges.”
After completing a BSc at Stellenbosch University, Germain took a three-year diploma course in professional cooking and patisserie at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch. He has worked at a number of restaurants in the Cape, including Bread & Wine at Moreson, Delaire Graff, and Barouche at Blaauwklippen. A multi-award-winning chef, (eg Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year, Chaine des Rôtisseurs Jeunes, and McCain Tribute to Good Taste), Germaine is currently the Executive Chef at Myoga at The Vineyard hotel in Newlands, Cape Town.
Abalobi is an NPO that promotes ‘traceable, storied seafood provided by empowered small-scale fishers, in a manner that is not only ecologically responsible, but also socially fair. Because who fishes matters.’ Myoga and other restaurants are able to order fish via Abalobi’s Marketplace app, directly from the fisher who caught them.
This trailblazing restaurant rating equates to global standards, unique to South Africa. It is a trusted, impartial evaluation that begins with nominations from the public and industry. Restaurants are anonymously reviewed. The final visit is for validation, to meet the chef and is hosted by the restaurants – each establishment and chef therefore showcase their best possible experience. All restaurants are rated in a uniform, precise and detailed manner. Consistency is key, and evaluated over time, so chefs need to have been in the hot seat for at least a season in order to qualify for a possible plating.