Regardless of your field of expertise, if your resumé includes the names Gordon Ramsey and the Windsors, chances are you’re at the top of your class. But when your particular field is food, and you’ve worked both with the world’s most famous chef (Ramsey) and the one who cooked for Prince William’s wedding (Swiss chef Anton Mosimann), your status as world-class is all but assured.
A staple of South Africa’s culinary scene, chef Bruce Robertson has both learned from and cooked for the best. After a decade spent traipsing the world as a cook/culinary adventurer—a journey that brought him from the London Ritz to the Belfry in Bulgaria—he returned home to South Africa. Well versed in South African cuisine, he’s made an indelible mark, first as head chef at Boulders Lodge Singita, and most recently with his most personal venture to date, The Boat House.
The Slow Road caught up with the top chef to discuss his cooking style, Table d’Hôte, and the importance and perspective that travel brings to cuisine.
Q&A with Chef Bruce Robertson
The Slow Road: Your website describes you as a “culinary adventurer” and an “Afro-gastronaut.” Can you elaborate on what those phrases mean to you? For you, how are food and travel connected?
Bruce: I am an adrenaline junkie, sky-jumper, advanced scuba diver, mountain unicyclist, speleologist (cave climber) and professional hitchhiker. I have to find the rush in food, a sort of radical dining road show. For me food and travel are very much interlinked, you cannot have one without the other. I enjoy the adventure of trendsetting culinary lifestyles, cooking in places that most people will never see.
Let’s talk about South African cuisine. How would you describe it to someone who’s not familiar with it at all? What might one expect to taste and experience from South African cuisine?
Traditional South African cuisine is a melting pot of cultures and is far too broad to pinpoint. Most traditional African food is cooked on an open flame, in a potjie (a three-legged pot) or braai (barbecue) style, on an open grill. Traditionally South Africans are big meat eaters, with a starch included in the dish.
I focus on seafood and am most influenced by the Cape Malay sweet and spicy fusion of east-meets-west flavours. Cape Malay food enhances a mature taste, it is genuine food, proper food, and typifies South African home cooking. I incorporate the Cape Malay flavours with international trends.
Getting a little more specific, what is the “Art of Table d’hôte”? How does one experience it?
The definition table d’hôte is a French phrase that literally means “host’s table.” The term derives from the fact that such a meal resembles a meal served to guests at a home gathering, where the host has predetermined what the guests will be served.
I welcome people to come and experience my beautiful home in Scarborough, to spend some time with me and enjoy a “yummy” seafood meal, prepared with locavore ingredients and paired with local, international award-winning wines.
My home is your home away from home.
You’ve travelled pretty extensively, so this question may be difficult, but do you have one story or moment that stands out from your travels that you can pinpoint as being one of your favourites?
Radical dining in the Cederberg Mountains! Preparing, hosting, setting up and cooking a six-course, five-star, fine-dining experience with live chamber music for super model Gina Athens.
From base camp it took 52 sherpas/students, a professional mountain climbing team (supported by a medical team) six hours to carry all the equipment and provisions needed into the Wolfberg Crags to create a dining experience never to be repeated. It was a race against time to make use of the one hour of natural sunlight within the chamber. The guests abseiled to their seats and were entertained on a little ledge in the centre of the chamber. The elegant six-course meal was served within 90 minutes.
(Editor’s Note: You can see a video of this impressive feat below, and check out the Chef Bruce Robertson Facebook page for even more clips of him at work.)
UPDATE: As of April 7 2014, Chef Bruce will relocate to Simon’s Town with the launch of The Flagship, where he’ll continue to offer the same relaxed, intimate gourmet vibe for which he’s become known.