Q&A with Dax Villanueva

Meet the man behind the blog that is synonymous with going out in Cape Town - Relax with Dax.

06 Sep 2010
 Dax Villanueva

This guy was "blogging" when Jamie Who? and The Foodie (love you guys) were in nappies. Well, not quite, but Relax with Dax has certainly been the place to go if you're looking for a place to go, for some years now.

What started out as a newsletter in October 2004 (going out to a lot of people looking for a fun recommendation) has developed into one of SA's most recognised food/restaurant blogs. Dax writes about "the experience", and as far as foodie experience goes - he's got tons of it. We thought we'd share some tidbits with you, so without further ado...

Dax Villanueva's best and worst...

  Favourite restaurant meal ever?
I have to say that I do enjoy good quality seafood. So when I want to spoil myself (or when someone else is paying!) I like to order a seafood platter. But recently I dined at Nobu and allowed the chefs to create six courses of raw seafood (no sushi though), it was the most amazing experience. I learnt so much about what quality seafood can be like, now I use that as my yardstick.

2.    Worst restaurant meal ever?
I’ve had terrible experiences at Blues for some reason. At a special wine pairing event I had a steak which was too tough to eat, I sent it back and the replacement was just as bad. On a previous occasion I ordered calamari steak and it was just a piece of rubber,  I couldn’t have more than one bite.

3.    Favourite meal you make yourself?
My days in Durban have left me with a penchant for Indian curry. I love cooking up a curry and having people over for a Sunday lunch. There are a million curry recipes out there but the secret to a curry is in the spices you use. I buy mine when I am in Durban.

4.    Worst meal you’ve ever served to others?
When I was younger, someone gave me a recipe for chicken pieces baked in mayonnaise and chutney. I didn’t think it was too bad but years later over a few glasses of wine, some of the guests revealed that they had forced themselves to eat it. Now that the truth is out, they tease me about it relentlessly. It’s not nice.

5.    Favourite meal a loved one makes for you?
Paella! My father is Spanish and having been to Spain many times over the years, I’ve acquired a love for Spanish food and tapas style eating as well. A good paella is one of the tastiest dishes I know. We would make it on the fire in a huge paella pan (paellera) and we would have leftovers for weeks afterwards (it freezes really well) and still be sad when there was finally none left.

6.    Worst homemade meal you’ve ever been served?
The worst meal I was served was bad, not so much due to the recipe or ingredients, but due to the fact that the hostess just didn’t know how to cook. She had attempted roast chicken, but we were presented with chicken which was still raw inside and vegetables in various stages from raw to burnt. It’s quite an uncomfortable situation, because you can’t even pretend to eat as one bite of that chicken could kill you. Luckily she realised that she’d got it all wrong and we just drank wine and ate potato crisps. We didn’t tease her.

7.    Favourite restaurant?
I have many favourites, depending on the circumstances and mood. I’m going to say Miller’s Thumb and the reasons are because it’s always consistently good, it’s owner run, friendly, relaxed and reasonably priced. When I go there I don’t have to worry about anything, there is never any problem or let down. It’s always a stress free experience. (I recommend the cajun calamari starter, and the Dorado as a main, but everything is good there.)

8.    Worst restaurant?
I’ve eaten at so many bad restaurants, it’s quite difficult to choose. This will surprise some (because it’s always full) but I really dislike La Perla. The food is not great, the prices are too high and the staff have an attitude. Those three things together make for a most unpleasant experience.

9.    Most overrated ingredient?
Balsamic vinegar. It’s the quickest way to destroy a nice salad. They don’t use it as a salad dressing in Italy, I don’t know why we started doing it here.

10.    Most underrated ingredient?
Rabbit. In Spain they eat rabbit a lot (it’s called conejo) but people are very averse to eating it here. It’s a really tasty meat and it’s inexpensive. It’s a shame that we don’t eat more of it.

11.    Your favourite international chef?
I like Jamie Oliver because of the good work he’s been doing around children’s nutrition. I think it’s really important work and he’s the right man for the job. His TED talk was really interesting and inspiring.

12.    Your worst international chef?

I’m not a fan of Gordon Ramsay. I don’t think it’s right to abuse people the way he does. Whoever you are and in whatever scenario, respect for other people is important.

13.    Best food show on TV?
Even though I don’t like Gordon Ramsay, I like Kitchen Nightmares. Because I review a lot of restaurants, I find it fascinating (and a little disturbing!) to see what happens in the kitchen. It makes you not want to eat out ever again!

14.    Worst food show?
I can’t answer this question because to be honest I haven’t seen that many cooking shows. I watch them when I am staying in a hotel but I don’t have a TV at home. The ones I have seen have all been pretty good.

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