Markus Farbinger and Liezie Mulder are the energetic duo behind Knysna’s beloved Ile de Pain, the super-special bakery-cafe on Knysna’s Thesen Island which Louise just HAS to visit whenever a trip to South Africa’s Garden Route is on the cards. Markus, a baker, and Liezie, a chef, established Ile de Pain (which means ‘Island of Bread’) in 2002 after carving out successful careers in their fields in the US. They recently also opened a smaller outlet, Mon Petite Pain, in town (see details in the ‘Foodie News and Events’ section).
1) How did your amazing partnership at Ile de Pain come about? It was love at first sight; big crusty round loaves and simple delicious food followed.
2) Did the runaway success of the enterprise come as a surprise at all? When we opened we did not think about it much, we just did it! We had faith and believed in what we did. We wanted to bake bread and make delicious wholesome food, and we did. And thankfully our guests love what we love.
3) Do you have a formula for Ile de Pain and why does it work so well? The formula is to have love for life. And life is everything around you – staff, produce, guests, producers, beauty, efficiency, trust. Stay true to what you believe. On a more practical level, investing in your staff, quality of product and consistency in food and service make a difference. We love what we do, so we are here everyday. We keep thing fresh and exciting by constantly implementing new products and ideas.
4) How did the idea for Mon Petite Pain get started? First there was a beautiful building and a developer who likes beautiful things; then we asked our key staff and then we went ahead. We wanted to create a smaller, simpler, quicker version of what we do at Ile de Pain; a concept store that could be duplicated when done with the right people who share our vision and philosophy. We have many co-workers who’ve been with us at Ile de Pain since the beginning and we wanted to give them chance to move on to something more, where they could take ownership.
5) What is your own favourite dish from the menu? Liezie: At the moment the duck leg confit with grain salad and fruit chutney is my favourite. Markus: Each day I feel different, but the Tuscan steak, medium rare and with shaved parmesan and truffle oil, does it for me often – and a small dessert with coffee always!
6) Which dish do patrons seem to favour the most? Probably the chicken salad. Nobody can believe a chicken breast can be so tender and juicy.
7) Many Knysna residents make a point of buying their daily bread and sweet treats from you. What flies off the shelves the fastest? At the beginning that choice was easy; now it gets a bit more difficult. New items are added; others taken away to keep our guests guessing. The idea is to constantly play, change, improve, find new ingredients, increase the quality, and sometimes go back to the old things… However, if we had to choose one category, our chocolate desserts made from Felchlin Grand Cru Chocolate are what dreams are made of.
7) Which kitchen tool or gadget couldn’t you run your kitchen/ bakery without? Liezie: My hand blender. Markus: The oven peel.
8) What’s the most important lesson to remember when it comes to baking bread? Love (and sometimes a prayer).
9) Running Ile de Pain – and now taking charge of a second outlet on top of that – must be extremely demanding. How do you relax? Liezie: I do yoga at the Lotus studio here in Knysna. I also love going for long walks at Buffels Bay while Markus is surfing, or just relaxing on the beach and reading on Mondays. I also enjoy activities such as researching and writing my book, which is in its second edition. It brings a lot of new knowledge, appreciation and interesting people into my life.
10) What advice do you have for anyone wanting to enter the restaurant industry? Liezie: You must love what you do – which means leaving your ego behind. It took me 20 years to understand what that means. And, although everybody speaks about “passion”, I believe (in) being conscious in every moment, every action and every thought – though it’s not always achievable, at least for now!
Recipe: Ile de Pain’s blueberry pancakes with mixed berry compote
Ingredients for the pancakes
1 1/2 cups cake flour; 3 tsp white sugar; 3/4 tbsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp bicarb (baking soda); 1 tsp salt; 1 cup buttermilk; 1/2 cup milk, 2 large eggs; 1 1/2 tbsp melted butter, slightly cooled, plus extra for frying; 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Method for the pancakes
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a mixing bowl.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk, milk, eggs and melted butter in a separate bowl.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and stir very gently just to combine the ingredients. Don’t over-mix – it should still be a little lumpy. Heat a frying pan over medium heat, and melt a small knob of butter – just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
Use about 3 tablespoons of batter for each pancake: spoon the batter into the pan, top with a few blueberries and cook over medium heat for a minute or two. Bubbles will appear on the surface when they’re ready to turn. Cook the other side until golden brown.
Serve immediately with mixed berry compote, or just a little of the syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.
Ingredients for the berry compote
1kg fresh or frozen mixed berries; ½ cup white sugar
Method for the berry compote
Combine the berries and sugar in a saucepan. Cook for a minute or two until the sugar is just melted. Don’t allow the mixture to boil: the berries will turn to mush and you’ll lose their vibrant colour.
Scoop the berries into a bowl with a slotted spoon. Reduce the liquid by boiling uncovered to a syrupy consistency. Return the berries to the sauce. Allow to cool.
* When blueberries aren’t in season, use frozen berries. Rinse under running cool water, drain and spread onto kitchen paper to dry. This prevents the berries from ‘bleeding’ and turning your pancakes grey.
* If you don’t have buttermilk for the pancakes, add the juice of one lemon to 2¼ cups of milk. Stir to thicken. Liezie also uses natural yoghurt if she doesn’t have buttermilk on hand.