Relaxed Festive Dining with 2018 Chef of the Year

Kobus van der Merwe shares his tips for better holiday meals – minus the stress

Relaxed Festive Dining

Photography: Frances Marais | Styling: Charl Edwards

Kobus van der Merwe is 2018's Eat Out S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Chef of the Year. The local Weskus boy practices provenance to the extreme, and he's not exactly nipping down to the corner café either, and instead can be found foraging from the rock pools and sand dunes that surround his restaurant, Wolfgat.

Relaxed Festive Dining

There's a lot to be said for seasonal dishes inspired by weather and the mood of the person preparing them, and while we don't expect to recreate the same award-winning 'Strandveld food' that Kobus specialises in – there are lessons here for taking a simpler, more honest and a much less fussy approach to festive dining.

As a boy Kobus would spend summer holidays at Jongensfontein, where festive meals were prepared the day before so that everyone could relax and enjoy themselves on the day of the celebration. Later in life Kobus quit his office job to set up a family business in the countryside with his parents. Which is why we could think of no better person to help us prepare for our upcoming festivities.

Relaxed Festive Dining

This year, instead of worrying about a dry bird or lumpy gravy, apply Kobus' relaxed festive dining tips to your table so that you may actually enjoy yourself. Scroll down for our interview with the country's top chef and chilled-out strandloper living the holiday. 

Your life seems to be one long December holiday, which is obviously not the case, but humour us and share what you think might inspire the person reading this to have a better holiday.

Get up early and get out there. I am privileged to start every day at the beach, or in the veld, and it sets the tone for the rest of the day. I think work life balance is exceedingly important in these times. Also, never underestimate the importance of spending time in nature. Even if you live in the city, make a point of regularly visiting a local park or botanical garden, or the mountain or the beach.

Relaxed Festive Dining

Your focus has always been on serving truly local food. What tips do you have for more enjoyable festive dining?

I think South Africans are finally proudly appreciating the amazing products we have on home turf, instead of looking at exotic imports as superior. Buy local olive oil and regional wine, skip the exotic pink salt, visit your neighbourhood market and support local farmers, home industry and small-scale food projects. Also, take the time to make things yourself – avoid the ready meals and store-bought condiments.

Wolfgat's got what is arguably one of the better views in the world. How important is location and setting when it comes to enjoying a meal?

At Wolfgat we are blessed with an incredible view of the Paternoster bay. It certainly adds to the ambience of a lunch or dinner table if you are able to enjoy it in a beautiful location. But more important than the view, is the company you surround yourself with. One can have the simplest meal composed of humble ingredients, but being able to share it with friends or family is what turns it into a festive, celebratory scene.

Relaxed Festive Dining

Give us a hack for preparing a meal for a large group that can still be enjoyed by the person making it?

Choose a dish where you can prepare most of the components in advance, so that it's quick and easy to assemble once guests arrive. And skip the fancy plating – it's much more jovial to have a harvest-table where everyone can share.

List the kitchen essentials that no home should go without.

A sharp knife and a good chopping board, a sturdy mortar and pestle, a kitchen garden with fresh herbs (even if just a few varieties grown in a pot in the windowsill). Holiday homes should be for fuss free entertaining – as long as there's somewhere to braai, a braai grid and cast iron potjie, you're good to go.

So that we don't gorge ourselves on chips all day, can you please help with some healthier snacks that we can pick on in between meals?

Make seaweed or leaf crisps by lightly brushing with olive oil, sprinkling with sea salt and baking them in the oven.

Relaxed Festive Dining

What's goes into the coolerbox for a day at the beach?

Homemade bread, salty farm butter, local cheese, fresh fruit, cold MCC.

From appetizer to main to desert, and not forgetting drinks, what's the ultimate South African meal plan for festive dining?

Saldanha Bay oysters and MCC to start, followed by watermelon salad with soutslaai and bokkom. For mains lamb cooked on the braai, served hot or cold, with sweet-sour heerenbone, and roosterkoek. For dessert, homemade ice-cream drizzled with moskonfyt.

What are some of your favourite ways to spend the post-meal come-down?

I don't get post-meal come-down as I'm already happily planning the next meal with the festive lunch left-overs...

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