Open Letter to David Higgs at Rust en Vrede

To: David Higgs,


Dear David

Excuse me for saying so, but I was not supposed to really enjoy last week’s media lunch at Rust en Vrede. Being part of the team responsible for the event I was busy ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ like yourself ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ busy with a lot of backroom grinding. Organizing, translating fact-sheets, planning the flow of the event with Coenie, Kobie and Jean, arranging photographs, burning CDs, arranging with the esteemed members of the SA wine writing fraternity, and so forth.

This was, when hosting the cr?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëme de la cr?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ëme of SA’s wine media at Rust and Vrede, a pleasure, but one is sure kept on your toes to ensure it will be alright on the night.

When I thus plonked myself down in the restaurant as part of the media lunch, I was more concerned with the contentment of our guests than my own personal well-being. Despite what some like to say about us PR’s, this was true!

You had the bulk of the task, obviously. Conjuring some 20 four-course servings in the glare of the press, where the expectation is tremendous. As SA’s numero uno chef, the pressure to deliver each day must be what AB de Villiers faces each time he goes out to bat!

In any event, what you delivered illustrated the power food can have in determining the flow and tack of an organized event. True art cuts through the grist of organization like a hot knife through foie gras, allowing the pleasure of the consumer to determine the pace and quality of the gathering.

Look, when the first course of Cured Springbok, Rooibos Gel, Avocado and a Shitake and Grape Salad hit the table I looked at the presentation and smiled, as I knew that like me our guests would breathe a sigh of relief with the instant realization that they were not to be disappointed.

The dish captured a lot of Rust en Vrede’s essence: meatiness complemented with shiraz grapes, and in the glass the Rust en Vrede Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.

Like Robert de Niro hitting the stage of a broadway play, everyone knew we were on the right track.

The second coursed rolled in, an angular piece of pigeon with fig, goat’s milk and pistachio cream rounded off with a pickled beetroot puree.

Do you know how delicious this was? Once again, beautifully presented with diverse, exciting flavours centred round the delicate meaty and slightly gamey flavour of pigeon breast. A decadent richness was present, but not an overwhelming one. Satisfying and sensual, without forced unctuousness.

Together with the two wines, the marvellously juicy Rust en Vrede Shiraz 2008 and the powerful Estate 2007, this dish created a sense of well-being only a double dose of Pethidine or a hot oil massage from Uma Thurman could match. It caused a contagious outbreak of conviviality at my table, where conversation drifted off to Mexican cuisine, French viticultural practises and wedding parties.

The kind of talk one would expect where good wine and food bring people together.

Now Chef, your third dish put me over the edge.

Is South African lamb the best in the world? I’ve done the Welsh spring stuff, New Zealand over-grazed monsters and the creatures from Normandy who have grazed on grass salted by sea-spray from the Atlantic.

That our lamb is destined for greatness was underscored by your perfectly cooked, soft and subtle lamb loin standing next to some strips of fatty, golden brown lamb shoulder. Braised Brussels and endive, gnocchi and creamy yuzu completed the act.

I tasted exceptional quality meat prepared with monstrous skill and not the slightest touch of showmanship. This was honest, direct food with the crispy shoulder evoking myriad memories of home-cooked lamb in farmhouse Agas, but taken to another level with herbs and sauce, and good things only a great chef knows about.

Now I was drinking the Single Vineyard Syrah 2008 and the Giant, the Rust en Vrede 1694 Classification (Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon), the rhythm section to the lead guitar the lamb was playnng.

I’m not a chef by any stretch of the imagination, but I can only imagine how challenging it must be to prepare dishes to match the monstrous grace of these fantastic wines.

I dabbled at the cheese dessert as some of our friends were leaving and I had to hand out wine and media CD’s. ,I wish you could have seen their faces, David. Happy and content, and smiling and joking, brothers and sisters galvanised by the magic of extraordinary food, some of the best wines in the country and each other’s company.

Thanks for allowing me to be part of this. Experiences such as these are enriching, etched away in the cranial hard-drive.


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