A Reverie of Music & Food – The Ellerman Sessions

It starts with Cat Stevens…

But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

The first song Ard learned to play, long before he would become the front man of well-known and loved South African band, Just Jinjer. Over the course of two decades, singer and songwriter, Ard Matthews, has been honing his craft and charming people the world over.

His lyrics and melodies led the way to the incredible success of the band’s album title ‘All Comes Round’, becoming one of the biggest selling rock genre albums of all time in South Africa, achieving double platinum status in its first year.

We’re seated in the dimly-lit wine gallery of Ellerman House in Cape Town, a venue that has become, over the course of the Ellerman Sessions, a home of inspirational music, food, wine and company each month, with top musos and chefs telling their stories to hypnotised audience after hypnotised audience.

We start with the first courses of the night, creations of world-class chef, Peter Tempelhoff, whose own story is weaved alongside Ard’s.
In between each song, Peter, Executive Chef at The Cellars-Hohenort’s Greenhouse restaurant in Constantia, introduces himself and the evening’s cuisine.

He tells us about how his journey began… “My mom, a Canadian, was so bad at cooking when we were growing up in South Africa that I had to cook for the family or help mom cook. I wasn’t exposed to food in any big way but I knew that carpentry and tree-felling were not for me. I followed food and worked in the United Kingdom and then came back to South Africa 12 years ago. It’s great to be cooking in South Africa and to see how the culinary scene has taken off.”

And then to one of the primary reasons Ellerman House guests and Cape Town fans have come together for the evening:

“Tonight I’m going to take you on a journey of my culture, of South Africa. We will start with a range of breads, which came about somewhat by mistake – how the best inventions are made. You’ll taste ingredients like foie gras, which is part of my essence as a chef, pistachio nuts, black truffles from a farm in Kokstad, flavourful and pungent, and maples (inspired by my Canadian mother and her love for maple syrup).”

“We then have a Japanese inspired dish, born out of my love for the country and its cuisine, using kelp we foraged from our own Cape beaches and tuna that is fermented to make digestion easier. And before the final chocolate bento box, we have a Camembert cheesecake, which is the kind of dish that stays with you for life as a chef, it’s just so perfect.”

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

Ard follows his Cat Stevens’ cover with an original, the well-known Shallow Waters, a song of heartbreak, of losing a true love, a song he wrote about an ex-girlfriend who moved on “way too fast”.

I’m leaving shallow waters, I’m leaving all my dreams of you, I can’t go on, I want to run away… I think I’ll go today.

His song, Father and Farther follows and then those lyrics…

Sugar man, won’t you hurry
Cause I’m tired of these scenes
For a blue coin won’t you bring back
All those colors to my dreams

A cover of Sugar man, by Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, known professionally as Rodriguez, an American singer-songwriter whose songs become the soundtrack to many South Africans’ lives in the 70s and 80s. A man of myth and mystery, whom many thought had died, on account of that myth and mystery.

Ard tells us about the phone call that let him know that the muso, the great idol, was well and truly alive – the day Sixto’s sister called Ard to say that Rodriguez had heard Ard’s version of his song, Sugar man, and “really loved it”. A call for Ard to continue on, if ever there was one…

“I never sit down to write,” Ard adds, sitting on a chair with his guitar resting on his knee, microphone standing tall in front of him. “I let it come to me, I never force things. The song comes to me in an instant. Like any art. I have such gratitude for this process. Sometimes I have the melody first and then the words come.”

Before starting his next song, What He Means, Ard tells us that the message of these lyrics is as important today as it was back when he wrote it: a message of “peace, love, more tolerance…” and, “Freedom, kindness, warm deliverance.”

With a little bit of ease and a little bit of calm
Acceptance is the key to all we know
What about a stir of compassion and lenience
What about some understanding
What about some sympathy

Ard continues to weave his tales about gypsy life, about having moved 30 times with his dogs and bags, about following the music, and about what drives him: “There is enough negativity in the world, I try to sing uplifting songs. I mean there’s some heartbreak in there, but overall I’m trying to shine a light of hope.”

And then… the audience breaks out cellphone lights and candle flames to sing along with that song… a song we all seem to know and love, a song that closes the night beautifully and leaves us in a dreamlike reverence for the great talent of South Africa, for the genuine power of music to unite and move and inspire, and for, well, that Camembert cheesecake slipped onto the table in front of each of us.

And there, she lies
There is no sound
For all I know
We dream the same

She knows, just what to do
Only yesterday
Speaks for yesterday
She finds all my weaknesses
She knows, just what to do

As for the full menu of Peter Tempelhoff’s treats for the night… take a look below.

Bread on the Table
Crispy lavash with pumpkin mousse, pecan granola, pickled maple, onion brioche with foie gras and pistachio, onion compote, Karoo truffle

Big in Japan
Bluefin tuna tataki, seaweed, compressed apple, wasabi furikake, sesame, tsukemono, paired with a Chenin wine

From the Braai
Koffie Bokkie, lacquered shallots, mushroom ragout, Parmesan pap, paired with Pinotage

Camembert Cheesecake
Pineapple compote, pine nut biscotti, extra virgin olive oil, paired with Paul Cluver NLH

Chocolate Bento Box

The Ellerman Sessions are the more special with their collaboration with like-minded partners, such as BMW, Bvlgari and Moët & Chandon. Take a look at future Ellerman Sessions here.

10 Questions with Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge’s Head Chef

We sat down with Head Chef, John Roux, the man behind the delicacies of a truly special corner of the Nambiti Private Game Reserve in South Africa – Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge. Get to know him for yourself in our insider’s Q&A.

1. What is your first memory of cooking?

As a child, the very first things I learnt to make were cakes and sweets. My sweet tooth has always been talking to me.

2. What makes Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge so special?

Our personal interaction with guests, the amazing experiences on game drives and unforgettable dining moments (like personal bush lunches and the boma outside under the stars), and our showcase of the unique cuisine that South Africa has to offer.

3. Favourite time in the bush and the best way to spend it?

Sunrise, looking out at the horizon and watching Mother Nature paint perfect pictures, and then sunset and moonrise, to see the sun fading away and the moon making its appearance over the mountains, the stars starting to shine in their own time and the sounds of night life filling the air.

4. How do you bring a taste of the region to your dishes?

I grew up on a farm in South Africa, working with game meat and nature’s produce, and I add this experience and influence to what we create at Esiweni, which is modern gastronomy using and celebrating local and fresh produce.

5. Describe the cuisine at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge…

It is nothing you will find in South Africa. We infuse French and South African cuisine on one plate. We are inspired by the unique flavours, methods, presentations and deliciousness of both countries and love merging the two in unique ways.  We are motivated by this and by that Michelin star and what it represents in the rest of the world.

6. Most unusual dish on the menu?

The zebra tartare, for sure. And all the wild game meat we use in our dishes.

7. What five things has working at Esiweni taught you about yourself, life and love?

– To be calm, to enjoy life and to connect with nature

– The beauty of the produce we get here in South Africa and how to work with it in special ways

– Our small dream team is like a family and we help each other a lot, enjoy each other’s company and help to lift each other’s spirits. It has shown me great love and joy.

– To love Mother Nature even more, to use what she offers, but most importantly to give back and look after her… planting trees, saving water and reducing pollution in our air and water

– Keep people around you that share the same dream.

8. What inspires you – in life and work?

I drive all my energy and positive thinking into my creations and get a lot back from seeing guests happy when dining with us and enjoying safari life… To take on a challenge and let the guest have an experience of a life time – that is what I strive for. They don’t have to remember every taste, but I’d like them to remember how we made them feel, wherever they are in the world – to just look back at the good times they shared with us and smile.

9. Favourite ingredient right now?

We have amazing cuts of meats from our local butcher. I love working with these organic natural meats and creating something beautiful with them on the plate, a taste of South Africa.

10. Your three fantasy dinner party guests?

The Michelin star chefs, the Roux brothers – to hear all about their stories and experience first-hand

My mother – she is always by my side, my rock, my supporter

The President of Ambassador from France  – so that he can experience how we use modern French food with our special African flair

How to Create an Island Eden in the Seychelles

The conservationist is a certain, often less common, breed of adventurer. Not going merely into the dark to explore untrodden paths, to bring back tales of worlds apart, they use more than words and images to do their storytelling and, more importantly, to do their real work: the work of restoring those already trodden paths, of undoing the detriment caused by human hands.

In those seas and wildernesses that excite the explorer, the conservationist’s every heart beat pumps not only for themselves but for the land too, for the endangered turtles of the sea or nearly extinct white-eyes of the sky.

In the private North Island, 7 km north of Silhouette Island in the Seychelles, conservationists have been essential to the creation of an island Eden.

Over 20 years ago, most of the original forest on North Island was cut down, replaced with a coconut plantation, driving the indigenous flora and fauna away. And then the conservationists moved in – adventurers with a will to see the unique wild corners of Africa and the Indian Ocean restored.

Their restoration programme goes by the name of the Noah’s Ark Project. Its goal is to restore the entire island ecosystem that was degraded and overrun with invasive plant and animal species, to its original natural abundance and diversity. It has been one of the most ambitious island rehabilitation programmes ever undertaken by a private company and a handful of NGO partners.

Currently, alien plants and animals continue to be removed, and over 100 000 indigenous seedlings have been planted and indigenous fauna such as the Aldabra Giant Tortoise reintroduced. The introduction of the Endangered Seychelles White-eye has been so successful that individuals can be relocated to other islands to repopulate them.

Since 1997, this “Noah’s Ark” island sanctuary for endangered and endemic species has seen many conservation successes:

 

  • Rewilding – 56 hectares of forest has been rehabilitated (almost 30% of the Island – an island the size of Monaco!), restoring the unique biodiversity of the Seychelles to the Island. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous trees and palms have been planted over the last 20 years, including rare species such as the iconic Coco-de-mer.
  • Habitat rehabilitation has naturally brought about the recolonisation of White-tailed Tropicbirds and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and many more seabirds around the Island in recent years, including the Greater Fregatebird, Tropical Shearwater, Brown Noddys, Lesser Noddys, and White Terns. Interesting migrant and vagrant birds visit, such as the Amur Falcon, European Honey Buzzard, Corncrake, Gargany, Common Cuckoo and plenty of waders such as Crab Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones and Greenshanks.

  • The rare Seychelles White-eye was brought back from the brink of extinction when they successfully reintroduced it to North Island in 2007, when its global population was just 350 birds and it was classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. From the founder population of 25 birds they now have over 100; part of the reason why the species has been downlisted to ‘just’ Vulnerable by the IUCN, and why it is now possible to use the population as a source from which to populate other islands in Seychelles.

  • Only a few tortoises remained in 1997, but now 80-100 Giant Aldabra Tortoises merrily roam the island free from harm. Two sweet new babies joined the growing family this January.

  • On average, the number of critically endangered Hawksbill turtles utilising the Island’s private beaches has doubled and the number of Green turtles has increased 6-fold. North Island is now believed to have the largest density of nesting Green turtles of any inner island in the Seychelles. Since 1998, over 200 turtles have been tagged with unique Titanium Turtle tags.

  • North Island remains dedicated to its scientific marine surveys, which have been taking place on the Island biannually since 2011, showing the diversity and abundance of fish, corals and invertebrates on the reefs over time, in the hope of helping the island gain Marine Protected Area Status. As one of the purest islands in the Seychelles, North Island continues to lead the way with new marine conservation initiatives this year, going plastic-free and joining the global ‘refuse the straw’ movement.

Learn more about the different initiatives that make up the Island’s Noah’s Ark rehabilitation project and meet some of the animals that call the Island home, from terrapins to charismatic Giant Aldabra Tortoises, with North Island’s special Travel with Purpose Noah’s Ark Project Itinerary on 24 – 28 September 2018.

Read more about the life of a turtle conservationist in Relais & Châteaux’s “10 unexpected jobs around the world.”