It was the first Sunday of December 2007 and it was a gloriously blazing Lowveld morning as I snaked through the dense bush with its majestic jackalberry, weeping boerbean and tambotie trees towards the gates of the five star Kuname River Lodge. The setting was perfect for the best of fine dining in the lowveld bush.
Manager and executive chef, Hanroe Esramus', whose trademark culinary style is to incorporate indigenous knowledge in fine dine cuisine hosted several members of the lowveld Chaîne des Rôtisseurs bailliage and other guests for a specially prepared Chaîne des Rôtisseurs lunch, the last of the lowveld bailliage's events for the year.
Hennalie Steyn, chairman of the lowveld bailliage, says they had three events in 2007, but plan to have about six in the coming year. The hour before lunch rushed by as we explored more of the lodge, including its five luxury rooms, each with its own character.
'We drew inspiration from the 'little five', the rhino beetle, elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, buffalo weaver and ant lions, for the design of the rooms,' says Hanroe.
Standing on the upper lounge level looking down onto the Kuvjenama River to the left and the set tables on the lower level under a magnificent 400 year old jackalberry tree on the right conjured feelings of deep appreciation - and anticipation of the culinary delights that were revealed on the menus artfully displayed in the hand made glasses on the tables.
Stacked roasted aubergine, tomato, Italian buffalo mozzarella and wild basil pesto with a tomato coulis and 'green oil' paired with a Hartenburg Rose 2006 set the scene for an afternoon that will for a long time vie for a prominent place in my neuro-scrapbook.
This was followed by a pave of smoked Scottish salmon and herbed mayo crab served with parsley flaked eggs and caper dressing with a 2005 Middelvlei Chardonnay. A 2006 Springfield Estate Cuvee Saivignon Blanc and the Cape wineland blue cheese soufflé with preserved figs and balsamic reduction lay softly on the palate.
A homemade tagliotoni pasta tossed in a sesame and ginger dressing topped with grilled prawn and roasted peppers complemented a 2006 Villiera Gewutztraminer and was followed by exquisitely prepared medallions of barbequed warthog fillet with a potato and feta galette, mushroom, red onion marmelade and pea puree complemented by a red wine reduction and a 2004 Anthony Smook Shiraz.
A delightfully decadent duo of organic white chocolate mousse infused with Amarula and organic dark chocolate mousse infused with weeping boer-bean extract and brandy served on a marula nut brownie was a fitting end to a lovely day.
Before the last serving, Hanroe explained how the weeping boer-bean seeds had been harvested and the extract prepared, as well as the preparation of the Amarula infusion and Amarula nuts for the brownie.
'I talk to the staff a lot to gain more knowledge and understanding about indigenous ingredients,' he said. 'Did you know in the past only headman in villages were allowed to eat marula nuts as it was believed it gives you strength?' as we discussed his culinary style afterwards.
Hennalie thanked Hanroe and his team, notably his cooks, Iggy Mathebule, Helen Maake and other staff, Koos and Tanya van Dam, Jade de Klerk and Sabrina Dixon for a truly unforgettable day.
When Hanroe (26) left school in Secunda he first wanted to become an attorney. After a while he knew litigation was not his strong suit and decided a six month conmercial fishing stint in Struisbaai would be just the thing to get his mind sorted on life.
His father persuaded him to join his computer business in Secunda where Hanroe stayed for two years. It was here where he finally knew he wanted to be a chef. He took on a waiting position at a Dros in Secunda until he was employed in the kitchen.
He was employed as a griller at the Steakhouse and later worked as a sous chef at the "Burnt Orange", a restaurant in Secunda, where he worked for six months before he was offered the position of executive chef.
In April 2005 he joined Kuname River Lodge as manager and executive chef, and in May the lodge achieved five star status after its first assessment. Hanroe is a member of the lowveld Chaîne des Rôtisseurs bailliage.
The Lowveld Branch of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs
The lowveld branch of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs was established last year. An ancient society devoted to "the pleasures of the table", the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs ('brotherhood of roasters') attracts top chefs and foodies from around the world.
Headquartered in Paris, the Chaîne has more than 30,000 active members in 123 countries, with South African gastronomes starting their own branch or bailliage in 1981. Since then the organisation has grown, until there are now five separate bailliaiges in the country.
These bailliaiges are usually located in major centres, where there are enough top-notch chefs to ensure the highest standards of wining and dining are upheld. Until 2000, only Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town were represented in the Chaîne's directory, but then the connoisseurs in the Garden Route and little Karoo got together to form the Outeniqua bailliage.
Hennalie Steyn, a member of the Chaîne for more than 15 years and a former committee member of the Chaîne's Pretoria bailliage, has taken the chair this year, for the newly established lowveld chapter.
Hennalie says that the lowveld branch met three times this year and will ideally have twice the number of meetings in 2008. These meetings are open to Chaîne members from the point of visiting other Chaîne establishments in their travels. Being a food and wine society, meetings are usually in the form of a black tie dining event, often with a menu created exclusively for the dinner.
Having a lowveld bailliage allows members of the Chaîne to strut their stuff in front of their counterparts in the hopes of eventually winning a coveted Blazon. The Blazon is a prestigious mark of approval awarded to a very select few members and denotes excellence in food and service.
Given that there are relatively few Chaîne members in the lowveld, there are a surprising number of Blazons in the area. For more information on the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, Hennalie can be contacted on 082 5777 921.