The gastro wizard

Gabriel le Roux, food magician of the Bungalow, talks to Chef Caro and Restaurant Editor Cath Shone.

by: Caro de Waal: Food24 | 07 Jul 2009

A beautiful mermaid floats demurely on the wall as you walk into the light and airy Bungalow in Camps Bay.

It is unpretentious with a sophisticated edge, and the best thing about it is its down-to-earth and wildly passionate executive chef, Gabriel le Roux, or Gawie as he prefers.

This young chef has come a long way in his 14 years in the ‘dysfunctional industry’ as he fondly calls it. He has worked in many local and international kitchens including an invaluable stint with Raymond Blanc.

Gawie is a modern day gastro wizard with a xyphen for a wand (a high pressure flask), and he is animatedly enthusiastic about the exciting new world of molecular gastronomy. His passion for flavour has allowed him to explode the boundaries of the classics, and rush head long into the multi-dimensional world that is food.

Gawie’s technique is all important, and he eagerly explains that the way that you cook something can make or break its flavour. For example, the simple carrot, if you blanche it, most of the flavour is lost, as you can clearly see in the orange water. But, a little olive oil, sugar and steamed in its own juices, brings you a carrot that has retained its flavour and something quite different from the norm. Simple but true.

He is dedicated to finding the best way to bring all these flavours to our tables and into our palates with the least ‘frilletjies’ possible, and an avand-garde touch of fun.

How about a ‘Nitro Dragon’? This is a ball of flavoured foam that has been plunged into -200 C liquid nitrogen. The frozen puff melts at once on your tongue, with the flavour engulfing your senses, and you look like a dragon as the harmless smoke rushes out of your nose. How super cool is that?

The Bungalow is soon changing its menu to be largely seafood, with some funky sushi that will show off Gawies' innovative and original style. So watch this space, we will let you know as soon as the new menu is unveiled.

Q: Where did your love of cooking begin – can you pinpoint an incident or moment when you knew this would be your future?
A: I went for an 'interview' at Peter Veldmans restaurant, Emily's. I enjoyed the adrenaline during service, the smells, sounds, screaming, swearing. After service that night, with the last garbage bags put out and all the glasses polished, the chefs sitting in the courtyard smoking and talking. Then I knew I want to become part of this dysfunctional, underdog, adrenaline-paced industry. And now 14 years later, I’m still wearing my white jacket with a lot of pride and respect.

Q: What do you think of Ferran Adrià and El Bulli?
A: I really enjoy reading the books of Ferran Adrià. Not so much his recipes, but he shares his thoughts on why he does things and what he searches for and he gives reasons. You understand the concept behind his dishes and the philosophy of El Bulli. He is, without a doubt, the most copied chef in the world. He showed us what can be achieved and that we are only limited by our thoughts and imagination. He changed the way I look at food, cooking techniques and flavour structure. I’ve got a lot of respect and admiration for what he is doing.

Q: What is the most exotic thing you have ever cooked with or tasted?
A: I cooked Heston Blumenthal’s controversial Snail Porridge dish. It was a 3-pronged approach. The snail stock, the oats porridge and the flavored butter. A very interesting dish that I enjoyed cooking. The combinations tasted great together. Heston is a master at what he does.

Q: What is the worst meal you’ve ever cooked?
A: I’ve cooked myself something to eat after a long night out with the boys. When I was finished with the concoction, I looked at it and, thought “there’s no way I’m eating this s#!t”.

Q: What is the best meal you’ve had in 2009?
A: It was on the beach here in Camps Bay. It was just after sunset we had some friends over and we had beautiful wines, fresh Italian bread, preserves, salads, cured meats and red wine poached figs with honey yoghurt. It was a perfect meal with candles and the fresh sea air. We were on the beach until 01:00 the following morning.

Q: What is your most successful seduction meal?
A: Myself with a jar of chocolate body paint – my wife loves it!
I won the annual Knysna oyster festival in 2008 for the Best Oyster Dish. It was oysters marinated in Sauce Vierge with Tarragon Jelly, Lime Foam and Caviar. That evening was amazing! (Wink Wink) The perfect seduction meal, every time.

Q: If you could have anyone cook for you – who would it be?
A: Nigella Lawson she is so sexy! Ha ha. Definitely Ferran Adrià.

Q: Who would you like to sit down for dinner with – anyone in the world?
A: Marilyn Manson, Anthony Bourdain, Jenna Jameson and Quentin Tarantino

Q: What would be your top foodie destination?
A: Thomas Kellers restaurant Per Se in the USA

Q: Your top recipe book of the moment?
A: I’m busy reading Nobu: The Cookbook at the moment, a book that I borrowed from Paul Kovensky the owner of the Bungalow.
I’m also reading Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavour. And, Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Constructivism.

Q: Favourite place to eat out in SA?
A: I get very little time to go and eat out. But once in a while when we go and visit my parents in Mossel Bay we go to a restaurant at the Point. They serve a bacon and creamy scrambled egg pizza. Perfect at 09:00 in the morning with a few beers, while watching the surfers trying to catch waves.

Q: Your best foodie memory?
A:While we were in the UK, my wife organised my birthday for me. She made reservations at Le Gavroche, Ramsay at Claridge’s and Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane. Where I met Michel Roux Jnr. and I got a tour through the kitchen at Claridge’s. Gordon Ramsay also signed the degustation menu I had, my wife bought all Ramsay’s cookbooks and he signed them for me!

Q: Food hero?
A: Pierre Gagnaire, Charlie Trotter and Mia my 2 year old daughter. She will eat ANYTHING I cook for her.

Q: Food villain?
A:I hate everyone who is not serious about food.

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