Walking into Cloete’s, at the Alphen Hotel in Constantia, you are transported back into the sophistication and colonial style of yesteryear. With huge sash windows, roaring fireplaces and wing back chairs, it offers comfort and a welcoming warmth that flickers in the candle light.
Simon Kemp is newly at the helm, and is responsible for the impressive and seriously delicious fare that floats out of his small kitchen.
He smiles shyly as he talks of his experiences and becomes more animated as the topic of food envelops him. Simon is a man who reveres the magic of spices, and has created his very own style of beautiful food with unique flavours, while remaining true to the classics.
He is no stranger to diversity. As a young man and river guide down the Orange River for some months, Simon would make bread in dug-out holes and serve canapés on the boats between rapids. He has served a thousand people in under 8 minutes, and 40 000 in two days at the Cape Town Jazz festival. Intense stuff.
After years of the relentless lifestyle of 5 star banqueting, Simon has opted for this smaller, more intimate experience. To bring him closer to the plate, and really able to personally pour all that wonderful passion into each dish.
We had the happy delight of eating at Cloete's. Click here to find out more about the food.
And I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a good chat with him...
Q: Where did your love of cooking begin – can you pinpoint an incident or moment when you knew this would be your future?
A: My first job in a kitchen was actually as a pizza chef for a busy little Trattoria-style restaurant under the supervision of a very skilled German Chef, Marcus Klein. I showed interest in what he was doing, and tasting items like abalone, and tender kudu fillet with a dark chocolate jus, sparked my taste buds to a new world of limitless possibilities. My friends and family soon became my guinea pigs for what was then to me the unknown passion for cooking.
Q: You’ve worked at a couple of interesting locations around the world. What was the highlight for you and why?
A: A traditional German restaurant in the Allgau, in the south of Germany. Everything was new. The language, the ingredients and products, the methods, the unbelievable efficiency of a smooth operating kitchen for around 300 to 400 covers a day, operated by only 5 of us in the kitchen. How nothing was wasted and only the best ingredients used, it wasn't difficult to understand why the restaurant was so popular.
Q: What is the most exotic thing you have ever cooked with /tasted?
A: Nothing too exotic, at the game reserve we used a good selection of venison. Beluga caviar in London, fresh perlemon here in Cape Town and truffles.
Q: What, in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient?
A: Fresh mussels.
Q: What is the one thing in your kitchen that you cannot do without?
A: My spice grinder.
Q: What is the worst meal you’ve ever cooked?
A: In the early hours of the morning after a big party whilst a student, completely smashed, I took everything out the cupboards and put it all together, I thought it would be great, but no one touched it!
Q: What is the best meal you’ve had in 2009?
A: A tiny Lebanese restaurant in Sea Point. The Cedar restaurant. A little family-run place, with authentic Lebanese food, what a treat!
Q: What is your most successful seduction meal?
A: I don't think there is one single choice, but if it involves love, seafood, wine and chocolate, then you can never go wrong!
Q: If you could have anyone to cook for you – who would it be?
When she's old enough to cook, my daughter.
Q: Who would you like to sit down for dinner with – anyone in the world?
Madiba or Lance Armstrong. I can’t choose!
Q: What would be your top foodie destination?
A: Spending a few weeks eating in the south of France, Greece and Italy.
Q: Your top recipe book of the moment?
A: An older book, but still further ahead than so many others – simply called "Tetsuya".
Q: Favourite place to eat out in SA?
Q: Your best foodie memory?
A: Discovering traditional Austrian food as a child
Q: Food hero?
A: My parents.
Q: Food villain?
A: Fast food chains.