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Head chef Hennie van der Merwe

Chef Caro and wine ed Cathy Marston sit down at Glen Carlou.

by: Caro de Waal | 14 Jan 2010
Hennie van der Merwe

As you enter the cool restaurant you are met by a sweeping view of the Paarl valley through floor to ceiling glass doors that flank an enourmous stoep. Birds twitter and dive in the water bath in the fynbos garden below and you turn to your friend and go 'Ohhhhh'.

That's what Cathy Marston and I did anyway.

This is the slick Glen Carlou, owned by the wine lover, Donald Hess and also home to some of his enormous and world renowned art collection.

The wine was delicious, with my particular favourite being the 2008 Glen Carlou Quartz Stone Chardonnay which was amazing. See Cathy's take on it all here.

The man behind closed doors is Hennie van der Merwe. He is producing lovely fresh food out of a kitchen that was just meant for snacks and the odd hand wash. Quite brilliant really and I did wonder if he had a few extra arms hidden under his chefs jacket.

There are renovations on the cards as his talent for cooking has turned the previously tapas-only restaurant into a place to go for relaxed sunny lunches.

His long-term ambition is to start a chefs school for the under-privilidged to teach his craft and pass on his inner passion for food. How lovely and down to earth is that? We need more of him in the world.

We sat down for a chat:

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 loooove eating , so the obvious career choice would be a chef. I have been in this industry since after school – waiter, barman, manager. One day while managing a cocktail bar and restaurant in Stellenbosch, one of the kitchen staff didn’t turn up and I had to jump in and help. Wow, what a rush, since that day I was hooked on the pressure of the kitchen and the ability to create a master piece out of a few simple ingredients .
Q: What is the highlight of your career so far and why?

A: Cooking for the rich and famous aboard the Queen Mary 2, especially working with Todd English and Gary Rodes. Why? I got to see the world, while working with the world's best chefs.

Q: What is your style of cooking?

A: Classic French base with a little twist of South African flavours.

Q: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

A: Teaching the new generation chefs what it means to work hard for what you want in life!

Q: What is the most exotic thing you have ever cooked with or tasted?

A: Got to be frogs legs, sheep’s brains fritters with a foie gras jus.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Knowing that the food I produce can light up someone’s day.

Q: What is the worst meal you’ve ever cooked? What happened?

A: My final exam at collage. The dessert I had to make was an ‘ tarte de pommes a la Normande’ or apple tart. I totally forgot about it in the oven and when the chef asked me to present my dessert… needless to say it was charcoal!

Q: What is the one implement in the kitchen you cannot do without? Why?

A: For necessity, my chefs knife, I do everything with it. For convenience, my KitchenAid mixer which makes life so much easier in the pastry department. For luxury, my ice cream churner, mmmm homemade ice-cream.

Q: What in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient? Why?

A: Tomatoes  -  you have so many different varieties, they're available all year round and you can make so many flavorful dishes like gazpacho, Napolitana sauce, rosa tomato and goats cheese tartlets just to name a few.

Q: What do you cook at home?

A: As little as possible. My fiancé does most of the cooking at home and if I have to cook, I light a fire and put a steak on the grill.

Q: What is your most successful seduction meal?

A: I shouldn’t give away secrets, but I can tell you there is nothing like a rich chocolate mouse with crystallized orange segments.

Q: What do you think of Ferran Adria and molecular gastronomy?

A: I think its great and everyone should try it at least once… but that’s where it should stay – in his kitchen produced by himself – the man is an artist and visionary but not everyone should attempt it.

Q: Who would you like to sit down for dinner with – anyone in the world? 6 people.

A: Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, Anthony Bordain, Robert de Niro, Bruce Willis and Al Pacino – imagine the conversation around these guys!

Q: What would be your top foodie destination?

A: Thailand.

Q: Your top recipe book of the moment?

A: Cook and Enjoy – what a classic for all-time favorite recipes.

Q: Favourite place to eat out in SA?

A: Ginja.


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