By Louise Liebenberg
KURLAND chef de cuisine Leon Coetzee has an enviable kitchen garden and all the organic bounty of the fertile Garden Route at his masterful fingertips.
Leon, who hails from Cape Town, joined Kurland Hotel and Villa in The Crags in June last year and his diverse culinary skills and impressive international credentials made for a seamless integration at the world-class, five-star establishment.
During our stay at beautiful Kurland, Leon prepared a special tasting menu so we could sample dishes from his recently launched summer menu, which is available for lunch and dinner.
In-house guests and day visitors may both dine in the restaurant although those who stay over receive preference if the hotel is full. Advance bookings are essential.
Kurland is also in the process of adding another bistro-style restaurant which is expected to open soon, in time for the summer holidays.
Given our love of all things Spanish, Salvelio and I were especially impressed by Leon’s authentic gazpacho, a cold tomato soup that some chefs are quick to overcomplicate.
His organic lamb tartare with coriander and palm sugar pesto, hoisin dressing and micro-greens was another triumph, as were the warm goats’ cheese rounds with fresh herb leaves, balsamic reduction and pear and vanilla chutney – the recipe which is appearing on the Global Table blog today along with a Question and Answer session with Leon – just scroll down below. This dish would also make a good tapa if you enjoy entertaining the Spanish way.
For mains we enjoyed his innovative take on a beloved British dish – pastry-encased Springbok Wellington served with wild fungi, butternut and Madeira jus. We ended our tasting menu with a memorable pistachio creme brulee for Salvelio and devilishly good chocolate fondant for me.
“We wanted to present the very best of seasonal ingredients with the new summer menu and concentrate on the freshness of the herbs and vegetables organically grown on the property and also menu items that complement our new wine and champagne list,” said Leon, whose career highlights include top hotels and restaurants like Five Flies Restaurant in Cape Town, Knorhoek Lapa Wine Estate in Paarl, where he was executive chef and assistant manager, Boschenmeer Golf Estate and the famous Royal Mirage in Dubai, where he trained with British bad-boy chef Gordon Ramsay.
Leon’s warm goats’ cheese rounds with pear and vanilla chutney and balsamic reduction
Ingredients and method for the crumbed goats’ cheese rounds
250g organic goats’ cheese; 100g flour; 2 whole eggs; 150g Chinese breadcrumbs; oil for frying
Cut the goats’ cheese into 2 cm thick slices. Dip the cheese into the flour then the egg and then the breadcrumbs, repeat the last two steps by dipping it into the egg again and then the bread crumbs, this will prevent it from melting when you fry it.
Ingredients and method for the pear and vanilla chutney
850g pears, diced; 1 Tbs oil; 150g castor sugar; 150ml white wine vinegar; 2 vanilla pods scraped out or 1 cap vanilla essence; 1 clove chopped garlic
Sauté your pears for 3 min on a high heat with the oil. Add the sugar, vinegar, vanilla pods / essence and the garlic. Reduce everything on a low heat until all the liquid has reduced to a syrup.
Ingredients and method for the balsamic reduction
500ml balsamic vinegar; 1 cup castor sugar
Place together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and reduce on the stove until a thick syrup is formed. Cool.
Plating the dish
Place the pear chutney on three areas on the plate, then place a goats’ cheese round on top of the chutney.
Make a small salad with mixed garden leaves and then drizzle the balsamic reduction on top of the goat cheese. If you want you can also drizzle it on top of the salad.
Q&A: Kurland’s Leon Coetzee
1) When and how did your love of cooking start?
At the age of 16 I knew I was born to cook. I was always working with my mother in the kitchen and my cousin was a head chef, so I started helping him over weekends and then decided to work full time with him.
2) How would you best describe your particular style of cooking?
I would say my cuisine is modern international with a slight influence of traditional French and really promotes local, organic produce.
3) Who are your culinary role models and why?
Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of them and they have guided me a great deal. They inspire me to reach the same level.
4) What has been the most interesting or unusual function you’ve had to cook for?
The most interesting one was when I did Nelson Mandela 90th birthday party at Victor Verster Prison – for 3000 people. Now that was a lot of work and it was also hectic to work with all the convicts around.
5) Where does your culinary inspiration come from?
It comes from all my past chefs I’ve worked with and seeing a guest really enjoying a meal; also, experimenting with ingredients and creating a unique culinary experience for guests.
6) What are some of the ingredients you are particularly excited about at the moment, and why?
I just found the most beautiful white, fresh asparagus and this has now been placed on the new summer menu at Kurland. It is not something that you can get every day, so it makes it even more special.
7) Have you cooked for any celebrities / well-known personalities and what was the experience like?
Yes, for Nelson Mandela, the Spice Girls, Mariah Carey and others. Each was a wonderful experience and getting their feedback was great.
08) What are your top five current kitchen staples, and why?
The right chefs’ knifes because it makes your work a lot easier – I use Global. Then, a gas stove like my Vulcan as it just cooks the food so mush faster; my copper pots that give the food the most awesome taste; my new Unox oven from Italy – the only thing it does not do is talk to me; and my new scale – now everything can be weighed absolutely correctly and precisely.
9) Which kitchen tool or gadget can you not live without, and why?
My knives. For everything you do in the kitchen you need a good set of knives.
10) What is the best advice you can give someone who wants to become a chef?
Work hard for what you want and listen to your head chef as he/she knows best. Don’t do it if it’s just a job – do it because it’s your passion. Love what you do until you do what you love.
11) What are some of your favourite local foodie haunts / hunting grounds for ingredients?
At Kurland we are really passionate about supporting local businesses and products. Fortunately due to our extensive organic herb and vegetable garden most of our produce is right on my kitchen doorstep.
12) When not cooking for yourself, what are your favourite Eastern Cape / Garden Route restaurants (excluding Kurland)?
Sand at The Plettenberg is now one of my favourites and also Emily Moon – they make the best sushi on the Garden Route.
13) When simply cooking for yourself at home, what kind of meals do you favour?
I love Cape Malay so I enjoy making a curry or a good stew. But like any South African I love my braais too.
14) Do you have a favourite kitchen tip or trick to share?
Keep all your vegetable cut-offs so you can make soups or sauces.
15) And finally, if you could choose a last meal on earth, what would it be?
Sautéed foie gras and lots of caviar!