Scott Dressels, Head Chef at AtholPlace Restaurant, Johannesburg, sums up our food philosophy as having “a seasonal approach with locally sourced produce used to create modern South African cuisine with a Asian-French twist”. But there is more to this story,
Seasonality is very much at the forefront of all food at AtholPlace Hotel & Villa… asparagus and artichokes are two of the most eagerly anticipated products for Spring/Summer. How will you be using these in your menu?
Asparagus in my opinion needs nothing more than a light blanch in salted water. We serve this with a roasted shallot dressing, seven-hour Sous Vide egg, chorizo soil and Parmesan foam. I have taken a subtle approach to the good old artichoke resulting in my creation of Artichokes Done 3 Ways, which is served alongside sole paupiette, polenta, olive soil and caramelised pearl onions with shaved young fennel.
Delicious Summer fruits are also on the horizon. Which Summer fruits are your favourites and do you have any special recipes using these ?
Citrus is my all-time favourite and is often used in many of my dishes. This season I have decided to experiment with a new idea using papino (papapya). Our dessert menu includes this delicious papino and white chocolate mousse, mint ice cream, gin-soaked cucumber and salted butterscotch crumble.
You clearly have a passion for Asian ingredients – tell us how you discovered the tastes of the East and list some of your favourite Asian ingredients and why?
South Africa is a diverse, cosmopolitan place with so many cultures and cooking methods all syncing together to form our own unique stamp within the culinary world. My palate has been influenced by this “melting pot” and has developed and adapted in such a way that dishes are balanced in their flavour profiles. Incorporating sweet, salty, bitter, etc, enables me to experiment with various ingredients. Miso is a favourite of mine to add an extra umami sensation to most of my sauces and purees.
What is an example of a typical South African dish reinvented with French flair?
Samp and beans is a dish I am sure most South Africans have eaten a few times in their lives. My interpretation of this local classic is cider glazed 6-hour pork belly, lightly curried samp and beans, fermented apple puree, and char-grilled baby cabbage with bacon jam.
The French are masters in the kitchen but particularly in the bakery – which French-inspired pastries/desserts are on your menu and how have you reinterpreted these?
Sauce anglaise! This is a time-consuming classic that needs dedicated attention to prevent it from burning or curdling. I’m sure this seemingly simple custard has made many a chef break a sweat over the years. I have managed to simplify the method with the addition of an ISI cream gun. My dessert is layered fluffy anglaise with shards of meringue, vodka & strawberry coulis, mint powder.
South African has outstanding local produce and we are keeping up with international standards in terms of quality – what are your favourite local products to work with and what dishes have you incorporated these into?
Each season presents new opportunities which is really exciting. I can’t say I have an out right favourite but recently I have been workshopping two new dessert offerings. Textures of beetroot and chocolate with amasi ice cream. Amasi is a traditional dairy product of fermented milk that tastes like cottage cheese or plain yogurt. My basil ice cream sandwiched between 2 basil macaroons, extra virgin olive oil and yoghurt emulsion, kalamata olive and white chocolate tuile really showcases the flavour and colour of basil which is one of my favourite herbs.
South Africa is well known for its devotion to meat – which dishes from your menu celebrate this local love affair?
At the hotel we offer our guests that “Sunday family meal feeling” every day of the week, with our menu offering of traditional grilled fillet of beef, potato dauphinoise, sautéed selection of baby vegetables and red wine Jus. We use local grass-fed beef which has a fuller bodied beefier taste, less fat and more heart-healthy omega 3 fatty-acids.
AtholPlace Restaurant has access to the very best dairy products in the country – what selection do you like to present on your cheese board – what are some of the interesting relishes and preserves you serve… and which wine pairings elevate this experience?
We are using an amazing supplier called Cheese Gourmet. They source the highest quality and most diverse range of cheese from small independent producers from all over the country. Currently their Karoo Crumble, Boland, Vintage Gruyere, Blue Moon and Belnori Chevin are all stars on my cheese board, served with a pear and coriander chutney, gooseberry preserve and lavash. Wine is such a personal choice – I like guests to peruse our extensive wine list and select from the cellar, but of course a pairing could be done for them on request.
If you sat down and ordered from the restaurant menu – what dishes would you select and why?
My go-to options would be: olive oil poached prawns with wasabi and nori soil, compressed apple and smoked butterbean puree (quirky take on deconstructed sushi with a twist). Grilled fillet of beef, wild mushrooms and truffle jus (nothing beats a good uncomplicated classic) and our local cheese board with lavash and preserves (personally I always end my meals on a savoury note).
You work in a professional kitchen – which tools are indispensable?
Chef’s knife, Microplane grater, Thermomix and Sous vide machine.
You know you are a foodie in 2018 when…
You take a picture of your food and post it on social media before you taste it!
Do you enjoy guests showcasing your dishes on social media?
It is always an honour for any chef to have their meals showcased and to have their food add value to guests’ experiences.
What cookbooks feature in your library and which are your favourites?
Larousse Gastronomique, by Prosper Montagné – it is an encyclopedia of gastronomy.
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.
I really enjoy anything by Jamie Oliver and I’m a devotee of Alinea – which is not a book but a restaurant. Chef Grant Achatz is one of the most awarded chefs in the world and has a reputation for his innovative, emotional and modernist style of cuisine.
The Big Fat Duck Cookbook, by Heston Blumenthal is a modern classic and I refer to that a lot.
If you had the opportunity to shadow any chef in the world for a week – who would you choose and why?
Heston Blumenthal! I admire the way he recreates childhood memories with his books and TV shows and how he takes guests through the whole experience. Plus he pioneered food science and experimental cooking making it accessible to all.