The Links head chef Bradley Castle makes chocolate fondant

St Francis Links head chef Bradley Castle. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

By Louise Liebenberg

THE Global Table team recently visited the luxuriously laid-back St Francis Golf Lodge, whose guests often favour dining nearby at The Lighthouse, the elegant restaurant of that award-winning course, the St Francis Links.

Knowing just how fired up we get when meeting fellow foodies, our host, Barbara McMinn, introduced us to Bradley Castle, the highly-promising head chef at The Links.

And Bradley was an absolute revelation. Now just 30, he has been working in kitchens since his early teens – a trained-on-the-job approach that has clearly served him well. Like one of his great culinary heroes, Heston Blumenthal, whom he recently met in Cape Town and who is also self-taught, Bradley loves experimenting in the kitchen.

He also believes in making everything from scratch if possible, including all his sauces and stocks, and has even begun producing his own cheeses like feta, halloumi and parmesan in small quantities.

But Bradley’s current passion is dabbling in food science or molecular gastronomy. This global food trend gained momentum in the early 2000s and has seen famous chefs like Spain’s Ferran Adrià embracing research, technological advances in equipment and the creative use of natural gums and other substances.

Bradley has used this approach to create blueberry caviar, which looks just like the real thing and even has the same “pop” effect when you bite into each tiny ball.

On The Global Table blog below he shares recipes for one of his signature desserts – dark chocolate fondant with macerated strawberry mille feuille which, you guessed it, goes perfectly with his blueberry caviar! We are not sharing the blueberry caviar recipe though, as that is likely to be a little too high tech for the average kitchen cook!

Also scroll down further for a Q&A with Bradley, and a little more on The Links and the St Francis Golf Lodge.

Chocolate fondant with macerated strawberry mille feuille and vanilla ice-cream. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Recipe: Chocolate fondant with macerated strawberry mille feuille

Serves 8

Bradley has shared his recipe not only for chocolate fondant – flourless nogal! – but also for the macerated strawberry mille feuille which he likes to serve alongside the fondant. If, however, the strawberry mille feuille seems a little intimidating to make (even with store-bought pastry as per my suggestion!), he suggests you simply serve the fondant with a berry coulis (a recipe is also provided for this further down) and some good-quality vanilla ice-cream. Do note you will need 8x 125ml ramekins for the fondant, as it serves 8.

PS – Bradley says if you have a gluten allergy you can also use the fondant mixture to make a flourless chocolate cake. In that case you will bake it at 150C for 45 min and let it cool in the oven for 3 hours.

Ingredients for the chocolate fondant

200g 70% dark chocolate; 4 eggs, separated; 150g castor sugar; 180g unsalted butter; 1 Tbsp corn flour; 1 tot brandy; 8 chocolate truffles (you can use good-quality bought ones, but Bradley makes his own); butter for greasing the ramekins; 50g grated dark chocolate for dusting the ramekins.

Method for the chocolate fondant

Melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler. Cream together the egg yolks and half the sugar.Whisk the egg whites with the remaining half of the sugar until stiff.
Mix together the brandy and corn flour until the ingredients are incorporated.
Butter the ramekins and sprinkle them with the grated chocolate; then leave them in the freezer for 5 min.
Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk and mix thoroughly, then add in the brandy mixture (Bradley says it may seem at this point that the mixture looks like it wants to seize, “however do not stress yet”).
Add 1/3 of the stiff egg whites and whisk it into this mixture until all incorporated (you will see the mixture loosen up again). Add in the rest of the whisked egg whites and soft fold them into the mixture until it is all incorporated.
Spoon the mixture into the ramekins until they are just under half full, then place one chocolate truffle in the middle and top up the ramekin until  full. Place the ramekins in the fridge for 30 min to and hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C (it is very important the oven is at this temperature before you put the fondants in). Place the ramekins in the oven and drop the temperature to 165C; bake for 15 min.
The mixture will rise like a souffle over the top of each ramekin; this is what you are looking for. However, once you take them out of the oven you must serve them immediately as they will drop.

Ingredients for the strawberry mille feuille

500g frozen strawberries; 125g castor sugar; 50ml brandy; puff pastry (Bradley makes his own but you can use a good-quality store-bought, thawed puff pastry); 250ml cream; icing sugar for dusting.

Method for the strawberry mille feuille

In a small pot, put strawberries, castor sugar and brandy over a very low heat (the sugar must melt but it should not be bubbling); leave for about 45 min (this process is called macerating the strawberries).
Roll out your chilled puff pastry and cut into strips of about 3cm x 6cm. It is important the pastry is not rolled out too thin. Cut out 16 strips, place them onto a baking tray and dust the top with icing sugar.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C for 8 to 10 min, until golden on the top. Remove from the oven and let it cool before using it further.
Whip the cream until soft peaks appear and add half of the strawberries, blend it further until the cream is stiff and the strawberries are pureed into the cream (it’ll go a beautiful, soft pink colour).
Cut the baked puff pastry in half horizontally, as if to open them to be stuffed, spread the bottom piece with the cream, place three macerated strawberries on top, place another piece of pastry on top and repeat the process. Place the piece dusted with icing sugar right on top of the last layer of strawberries.

OR, if you’re skipping the mille feuille entirely and only serving the fondant with a berry coulis…

Ingredients for the berry coulis

250g mixed frozen berries; ½ cup sugar;  1 vanilla pod; 1/4 cup of water

Method for the berry coulis

Place the frozen berries into a small saucepan, cover with sugar, split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the berries. Add the water, bring up to a soft boil and allow to simmer for about 15 min. Puree in a blender, then place in the fridge to cool. Once cool, put it into a squeeze bottle for use.

Plating tip

When plating the simpler version of chocolate fondant, berry coulis and ice-cream, you first drizzle some berry coulis onto the plate. Next, put about ½ tsp of biscuit crumbs on each plate, on which to position a nice ball of vanilla ice-cream… the crumbs prevent the ice-cream from sliding around on the plate. Genius! Now just place your fondant on the plate and you are good to go!

Bradley's bubbles... his intriguing blueberry caviar. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Q&A: Bradley Castle of St Francis Links

1. Who are your foodie heroes and why do you admire them?

This is quite a decision to make as I have so many, but I will narrow it down to the six most influential food heroes I have! They are Auguste Escoffier, Marie Antoine Carême, Harold McGee, Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria and Gordon Ramsay. Without Escoffier and Carême it would be hard to imagine where the restaurant culture would be today, and how modern cooking would have been affected. I admire McGee, Adria and Blumenthal for what they have done for modern cookery and for the science of food, flavours and human perception they have brought forward to all chefs – and for not being selfish about it either. Finally, Ramsay shows there are two sides to every chef… However I have read several of his books, including his autobiography, and as pompous as he comes across in some of his TV programmes, he is not always like that professionally or half the chefs working for him would never have lasted that long!

2. Where do you find your culinary inspiration?

Books, books and more books. I try to obtain as many old and new cookery books as possible and work my way through experimenting with them. I like marrying old-school recipes with new techniques, which does come with its ups and downs!

3. If you could have a last meal on earth, what would it be?

This is a really difficult question, as it would entirely depend on my mood and surroundings at the time. There are times when I just feel like a pasta arrabiatta and it may at that moment in my life be “the best” arrabiatta I have eaten, purely because I wanted it so badly.

4. When cooking at home for you and your wife, what would you typically make at dinnertime?

My wife worked in the hospitality trade some time ago and is now a “home executive” looking after (and predominantly raising) our two precious little girls. I cook a lot of pasta at home. Being a chef means there isn’t much time with the family and kids and pasta is always easy to put together. I do have a little fetish for ostrich at the moment, especially ostrich wors with tomatoes fresh basil and maize pasta.

5. When cooking a meal for some special dinner guests, what might you serve for starter, mains and dessert this winter?

This depends on both the occasion and the guest, as I enjoy cooking food that best suits occasion and guest. I might go for oven-roasted butternut and feta panzerotti with a sauce of mixed bell peppers, baby marrow and fresh farm butter to start with. Main course would then be a chateaubriand with a rich beef and port jus, mashed potatoes and crispy onions (like the one I served you guys) and for dessert I might do warm cape brandy pudding with fresh, whipped cream.

6. Which kitchen tool or gadget are you currently in love with? 

My Bamix – it is the most incredible tool and can be used for so many applications.

7. Which five ingredients are your kitchen staples and why?

Cheese, onions, fresh farm butter, parsley and tomatoes – you can transform so many things with those five basic ingredients.

8. You put great emphasis on buying local and, wherever possible, organic. What are a few of your favourite producers from your area?

Viking Bakery is the little bakery that does most of my breads. They don’t use additives like most bakers do these days, and I can specify the flours I’d like them to use. They are willing to try anything even if they haven’t done it before.

Then there is Papillion Organics. The owners are a dynamic couple who started growing a couple of herbs and their little business just kind of grew as demand from local restaurants began to grow. They are very reasonably priced and willing to grow anything; they also grow the vegetables that chefs dream of, like spaghetti beans, purple potatoes… anything really.

When it comes to seafood I try my utmost to stay away from fish that is not sustainably caught, as our seas are being stripped of their stock. I like to know where my fish comes from and one company that does that for me is Robberg, in Plettenberg Bay.

9. Which three restaurants, excluding The Lighthouse, are your favourites, and what dishes do you enjoy there?

I would have to say Narai Siam in Port Elizabeth as I always enjoy their fresh spring rolls, Edelweiss Restaurant in Uvongo, KwaZulu-Natal, which does an awesome Cordon Bleu, and a winelands restaurant called olivello which I like for their proper Mediterranean cuisine.

10. How would you describe your preferred style of food/cooking and how does that merge with what you are doing at The Lighthouse?

My preferred style of cooking is classic, as I’d like the classics to remain on the restaurant scene. They will always remain challenging to a chef and at the same time have a comfort factor that diners often look for. However I am also taking a newer, more scientific approach to cookery that I would like to try and marry into the classics. But this is still going to take a little more research before I commit it to my menus! On the lighter side, our lunch menu at The Lighthouse/The Links is based on “golf club food” and for me that means making “good food good”.

11. Your knowledge and expertise as a chef came through industry practice, not the conventional route of studying. How has this benefited you in your career?

I think this has been a massive boost to me personally, as I have worked my butt off to get where I am. I continue to have that same drive to further my career, as I never had the fortune of going to chef’s school and learning what is needed to get a job in the kitchen. Ironically I have trainees in my kitchen who are studying to be chefs and some of them have no passion or drive to learn as much as they can.

12. Do you have a favourite kitchen tip or trick to share?

When making sauces, stews or dishes that you want to stand out, always use good quality, home-made stocks.

13. Which kitchen tool or gadget do you think is most overrated?

The microwave oven! That was easy.

14. Lastly, what excites you most about being in the industry you’re in?

The possibilities are endless. I don’t think any one chef can ever say with confidence that he has done it all, or can do everything. That day will never come, as food, recipes, techniques, flavours and human perception are ever changing.

Bradley's fabulous chateaubriand. He says it's a favourite winter dish of his when inviting guests to his home. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

St Francis Links Fact Box

* This Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course was ranked in top 10 golf courses in South Africa by Golf Digest.

* It was voted Best new course in SA by Golf Digest 2007.

* It is the recipient of four consecutive “Five Star Golf Experience” awards by Compleat Golfer Magazine.

* It received the South African Bridal Industry Academy (SABIA) award for Best Club Reception Venue in South Africa for 2010.

* Contact the St Francis Links on 042-200-4532 or visit http://www.stfrancislinks.com/

The St Francis Golf Lodge overlooks the first tee of the famous Links course. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

About St Francis Golf Lodge

St Francis Golf Lodge overlooks the first tee of the beautiful Links course with its magnificent indigenous vegetation.

Known for its spot-on service, understated luxury and relaxed comfort, the lodge, which has German owners, is decorated in a subtle African style that foreigners love and locals feel right at home with.

The lodge comprises two separate serviced houses, each with five en-suite bedrooms and their own relaxed living areas offering stunning views of the course, the village of St Francis Bay and the ocean.

There’s even a secluded pool where you can take a dip in the warmer months – or you can head straight for the beach just a few minutes away.

Most of the bedrooms face the golf course and have spacious double showers and other must-haves like underfloor heating, heated towel rails and aircon.

We enjoyed a splendid breakfast with lodge manager Barbara McMinn, before heading back to PE. Barbara, who is absolutely delightful, told us the lodge had enticing out-of-season rates that made it a great option even when you’re not mad for golf.

For those who do enjoy the sport, like Barbara’s talented son David who is on a golfing scholarship in the US, she can arrange provide temporary membership of The Links so they might play the course at reduced rates while enjoying the facilities of The Links Club House, which is also where the Lighthouse Restaurant is situated.

The restaurant is open every evening and on Wednesdays Bradley, drawing on his KwaZulu-Natal origins, hosts a curry evening which is most popular with the locals of St Francis Bay.

Barbara says The Links is also sought after for weddings because of the gorgeous setting. Wedding guests especially like to stay at the St Francis Golf Lodge as it is so close to the Club House and so they don’t have to drive anywhere after the reception.

* The St Francis Golf Lodge is on 042-294-0028 or 079-895-8844, or visit http://www.stfrancisgolflodge.co.za/ for info.

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