Pete Goffe-Wood interview

Food24 has a chat to SA's ubiquitous celebrity chef about life, restaurants and his new venture.

by: Cathrine Shone | 19 Apr 2010
Pete Goffe-Wood

There is really no need to introduce this man. Peter Goffe-Wood is a huge and respected presence on the South African restaurant scene and can also be found most Saturday mornings at the Neighbourhood Goods Market in Cape Town at his Kitchen Cowboys stand. A true foodie.

Food24 had a most interesting chat with him when we reviewed his new bistro, Wild Woods.

1. What is your style of cooking? How has it evolved and changed?
My style of cooking is referred to as Post Modern Neo Classical – no just kidding, I prefer a relaxed bistro style of food – that is what we are trying to achieve at Wild Woods.  It is continually evolving and will always remain a work in progress.

2. What is the highlight of your career so far and why?
2010 marks my 25th anniversary in the kitchen and I have been fortunate that my entire career thus far has been a highlight.  One of the highest points that I could single out was the privilege of being Albert Roux’s handlanger for 2 days while he  was cooking on a wine estate in Agter Paarl a couple of years ago. I was asked by the owners of the estate  if “I wouldn’t mind giving Albert a hand”. It was an unforgettable experience to be in the presence of one of the greatest chefs of all time

3. Which 6 people would you like to sit down to dinner with most?
Tom Robbins – author
Nick Hornby - author
Eddie Izzard – comedian
Neil Perry – chef
Uma Thurman - actress
Clint Eastwood - director

4. What was your most valuable lesson ever in running a restaurant?
Choose your partners carefully.

5. What do you think are acceptable margins for a restaurant to make?
I think that for an upmarket restaurant that a 30 – 35 % cost of sales is acceptable.

6. What do you think about celebrity chefs running restaurants?
What is a celebrity chef?  Most chefs who have been tagged with this horrid term have invariably had to prove themselves in the hospitality arena before being “elevated” to celebrity status. Provided the chefs deliver the goods they should milk whatever status they have to put bums on seats – we all need to make a living and I can assure you there is no money in being a celebrity chef in SA

7. Why do so many restaurants fold so quickly?
It has been my experience that an awful lot of operators go into ventures without doing their homework whether it be with regard to location, cash flow, market demand or a whole myriad of other factors including parking, foot flow, overheads, food cost -  the list is endless. There are way too many people who eat out a lot and think that running a restaurant is a doddle – swanning around with a glass of Chardonnay in your hand chatting to your mates!

8. How much time are you going to commit to Wild Woods and what will happen when you’re not there?
I am currently at Wild Woods 5 nights a week, when I finally get a night off there should be no discernable difference, all I need is to find a decent sous chef. The mark of a good restaurant is that  there should be no difference when the sous chef is on duty – if there is, get a better sous chef. Paul Bocuse was once asked who did the cooking when he was off travelling and he said “ The same people as when I am there”

9. What is your favourite dish on the menu at Wild Woods?
Our menu changes on a fairly regular basis so it is difficult to have favourites, but currently I am having an affair with veal brisket and our current version is braised in red wine and served on soft polenta with chopped tomato, parsley & capers added to the reduced cooking juices

10. How do you manage to keep the menu prices so reasonable?
Firstly we keep our overheads low and secondly we are careful about what we buy and our wastage, by changing the menu all the time. For example I am able to turn the last three portions of tuna into 10 portions of fishcakes. We use a fair amount of offal and cheaper cuts like brisket, pork belly & hangar steak

11. What is your favourite food and wine combination?
Currently sauté of veal sweet breads & porcini with Newton Johnson Pinot Noir 08

12. If you could have anyone cook for you – who would it be?
My first choice would be Thomas Keller but more realistically my wife. There is nothing better than sitting down to food that you have had nothing to do with

13. What do you think about corkage? What is your policy?
I have rather strong feelings about corkage, beverage sales make up aprox 30 –40% of turnover, every time people drink their own wine in your restaurant you are losing revenue. I have no objection with people bringing a special bottle of wine in fact I am quite flattered that they would drink wine of that quality with my food, but 90% of punters who bring wine do so to avoid paying for it. The restaurateur is expected to pay for and cellar the wines, provide glasses, spend money on chemicals and staff to clean those glasses, ice, ice buckets, train staff – the list is endless. In an ideal world I wouldn’t allow people to bring wine into the restaurant, you wouldn’t think of bringing your own food. We currently charge R30 corkage fee with a maximum of 1 bottle per couple.

14. What do you think about social media as a promotional tool?
I think that it is still operated on a small scale, we have connectivity issues and don’t yet have a grasp of the full value that broadband will bring. The social media is progress and like the fax and the answering machine will become second nature and those that don’t embrace it will eventually be left behind

15. If you have to go for quality or quantity in offerings to your customers, which would you choose?
We will always be driven by quality, by virtue of our pricing structure we are definitely price sensitive and would rather pass on an ingredient rather than use a cheaper version.

16. What is your most successful seduction meal?
I have no problem swapping recipes but seduction meals just wouldn’t work if they were to become common knowledge!

17. What in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient? Why?
Salt – there is virtually nothing we do in the kitchen that doesn’t require salt (desserts included).

18. What is the one implement in the kitchen you cannot do without? Why?
My knife – ever tried filleting a 60kg tuna with a soup spoon?

19. What would be your top foodie destination?
To date my favourite destination has been South East Asia – Thailand & Vietnam in particular.  I would love to spend time in the Americas – Mexico, Argentina & Chile. But if I were to visit just one city it would be Barcelona.

20. What do you, as a restaurateur, think of our Restaurant Referee blog?
I think it’s a great idea. One of the lasting legacies of the World Cup is going to be the repeat business in the years to come. We need the visitors to see what a gem we have here and how fab the people are, how beautiful the city is and how affordable it is in relation to the rest of the world. And those that are gouging prices now to make a quick buck are short sighted and doing us all a disservice. My only gripe with the site is that there isn’t a billboard on the side of the highway that everyone can see!

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