As the vineyards of Stellenbosch change their colours from green to orange and yellow, there is a young chef who is embracing this quiet season to define her craft. Trips to New York and Spain are sure to broaden the horizons of Carolize Coetzee. Her skill is obvious, demonstrated on every plate, her heritage forged with heirloom recipes from her mother and gran. ‘Plaas kos’ and foods that evoke memories and nostalgia are her trademark. This cuisine is different from the legacy left by chef Richard Carstens, from whom she took over at the end of 2018. He favoured Asian-inspired, gastronomy-influenced cuisine, Carolize favours whatever is growing in front of her eyes in the garden at Tokara.
We arrived at the estate allowing enough time to enjoy the setting, a wine tasting and to drink in the view. Tokara commands the best views of the valley, and with award-winning wines, Carolize has been given a great stage on which to perform. “Here we serve fresh, local produce, and every recipe and ingredient means something. New ideas come from the garden, old memories come to the fore. I remember my gran making biscuits and vetkoek whilst we were stealing raw dough and her hitting us on our hands,” Carolize reminisces.
Her first-choice ingredient is fish, which she sources from ABALOBI. “You can play it up, play it down, it is simple and versatile.” The Mauritian sea bass, farmed, is flown in daily.
It was the sea bass which she prepared with to perfection, served with fennel and pancetta (accompanied by Tokara’s Director’s White Reserve). My man had the lamb with ratatouille-style veg and smoked tomato paste, generous in portion and flavour, perfectly paired with Tokara’s Syrah.
Our starters too were generous, the beetroot and pea mousse for me, the parsnip with bacon dust and brioche for my man. Our desserts deserved applause and again, substantial yet delicately served. Gooseberry clafoutis with gingerbread crumb and basil ice cream was as delicious and rich as the chocolate fondant with coconut ice cream and passion fruit.
As I complimented Carolize on an impressive lunch I asked how she defines her cooking style. “You take a little piece of everyone, all the chefs you have worked with, to shape yourself. Some inspire, some show you what you don’t want to be, but everyone has shaped me.”