From soil to plate

If you are planning to dine at The Werf, be sure to allow enough time to explore the Boschendal estate, the second oldest wine farm in SA, dating back to 1685. Even better, plan an overnight, sophisticated ‘farm stay’ in one of the 40 cottages and experience a true working farm.  Boschendal (Bos-en-dal) means bush and valley, and The Werf, the kitchen.

Here happy cows graze and laze on the grass, producing more than their own numbers in offspring (thank you Mother Nature for twins!). Chickens and ducks are free, and more than 150 pigs feed in the forest (often on funghi that the chefs have earmarked for the menu).

Family memories and nostalgia were strongly evoked as we passed people picnicking on the lawns near the gazebos where we had celebrated many happy occasions. Before lunch and a quick chat with Executive Chef Christiaan Campbell, my friend and I wandered into the deli, the farm shop, the manor house and vegetable garden. We were quite relaxed and receptive when we settled into our seats overlooking the garden and mountains. After admiring his wooden name tag, our informative host Morné explained that here they don’t simply embrace sustainability, they live it. Upon careful scrutiny you will see sincere sustainability being exercised everywhere. Tables are made from wood from the estate, uniforms are made of hemp, wherever you look, nature is on display.

It is all part of the recent revitalization that encompasses the land, the people and the community that they have termed, ‘Soil, Soul, Society and Celebration!’ It was with that philosophy that we began to enjoy our lunch. The food is stylish, yet earthy and humble. The menu is devised to devour what is being harvested prolifically in the garden. Accomplished and humble, Christiaan is embracing the opportunity to pay more attention to sustainability on the whole estate as his talented team rise to the challenge of crafting cuisine that is worth returning for. From the first bite of bread and (whipped) porcini butter, I was entranced. The vichyssoise dish (made because there were tons of pink bikini potatoes harvested), shows that this kitchen chooses to feature food that they have produced on site.

There are always two dishes and a dessert on the small, bespoke menu for vegans. “Our thinking has changed. We use what we grow.  Here carrots are not delivered by a supplier, clean and of the same size. Here we wash them – we take them from soil to plate. We are confined to the garden but it forces us back to our feet. We used to chop, now we try to show the whole ingredient – an expression of the whole vegetable,” claims Christiaan proudly. “We use a combination of techniques, from modern to hot smoking and boiling in salt. There are not a lot of ingredients in a dish, just three or four main components. We do not use miso or soy – we make our own umami, like bokkoms.

The menu is presented in four sections – garden, ocean, pasture and sweet. The flavours of carrots with parsnip dumplings and dates put a smile on my friend’s face, the roasted aged beetroot with quince, num num and Eugenia berries, a smile on mine. The farmed trout, warm, with a cucumber broth and cold potato salad, worked beautifully. Pasture took centre stage – pork neck – a salt-baked rib terrine with porcini mushrooms and smoked red pepper for a happy happy friend, the grilled Angus steak with pine ring mushrooms and crispy onions for me. It was heavenly. At this stage we warned our charming waiter to hold fire on dessert and that we were unlikely to manage them. Then they arrived, and we devoured them, unashamedly.  The jersey milk mousse with dulce de leche and malted milk sorbet presented on a Sable Breton biscuit had sweet and salty harmonising beautifully. The passion fruit with dark chocolate, meringue and macadamia nuts too, was perfect.

After savouring every morsel of our leisurely lunch we had a quick chat to two key members of his team, right hand Stella, and pastry chef Genevieve, who too have embraced the philosophy and holistic approach to sustainability practised, not just preached, on the estate. Christiaan then walked us to the block where they will be cultivating organic wines, and then showed us their trump card, The Treehouse, where children forage, cook on an open fire, create crafts and have fun, whilst learning about provenance, and their parents dine at The Werf. This will ensure that the next generation cares and understands origin, authenticity and an ethos that is good for people and planet.

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