Yum: a new South African cuisine

24 January 2006

Two dances of the sea, four guises of salmon, iced peanut butter and kassler soup, chocolate risotto . yum, yum and yum again.

And these are just the starters.

These intriguing and tantalising dishes are available at Yum, South Africa’s 2005 Eat Out Johnnie Walker Restaurant of the Year, announced in November.

“I am very flattered, it is very generous of them to give it to us. It is a lovely accolade – we will continue doing what we’re doing,” says owner Dario de Angeli modestly.

He means it. De Angeli is a no-nonsense person who doesn’t let awards and such stuff go to his head – because his head is too busy coming up with more great creations.

Sam Woulidge, the editor of Eat Out, says of De Angeli: “Since winning his first of five Top 10 awards (at Soho Square Cafe), Dario de Angeli has emerged as the undisputed trendsetter of his generation, although fame hasn’t cost Dario his passion.

“His creativity has blossomed because talent learns from itself as well as from others and he is the creator of both intense flavours and beautiful presentation.”

Eat Out: The Restaurant Guide of South Africa is an annual listings guide featuring independent critics’ reviews of more than 800 restaurants across the country. These critics visit restaurants unannounced and always pay for their meals.

Together with a staff of seven chefs, De Angeli is going to change his menu every week this year, he says, in an effort to keep his dishes exciting and innovative. So if you fancy the soup or risotto and any of the other wonderful things on the menu this week, you had better get there quickly.

Yum has been in the top 10 restaurant list five times previously, and De Angeli, 33, won the chef of the year award in 2003.

No formal training
He has been in the industry for 16 years and dishes up his talent with no formal training. While at school he worked in a coffee shop in Hillbrow, then at a pizzeria, always in the front while angling to be in the kitchen. De Angeli then applied for a job as head chef. “It was out of my league,” he says. But he got the job, and thought, “Now I’m in trouble.”

He rushed out and bought 10 recipe books, and read them from cover to cover. He also read about the world’s famous chefs and their styles and cultures of cooking. He still actively researches them, usually via the internet, enhancing his knowledge, like any good artist.

But there’s also lots of at-the-table learning going on. When he goes on holiday he has lunch and dinner at different restaurants every day, tasting and observing food and its presentation.

De Angeli’s menu consists of only six items per course. But that doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to choose – they all sound delectable. He is unimpressed with the American-style restaurants in South Africa that offer huge menus with repetitive food, in most cases simply adding another ingredient, for instance, to the long list of pizzas on offer.

He takes the same principle through to the decor of his restaurant; the tables are simply decorated with classic white tablecloths, white serviettes, white crockery and white chairs. A single fresh sunflower decorates each table. Although he can cater for more than 80 people, he limits it to that number.

“I want to focus on people, then food,” he says.

Favourite chefs and restaurants
Chef Charlie Trotter of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, in the US, which is regarded as the world’s best restaurant, is one of De Angeli’s role models.

“He is just clever,” says De Angeli, “he takes traditional dishes and alters them slightly, but always retains their intrinsic goodness.”

Spaniard Ferran Adria, described as the “world’s most experimental chef”, is next on the list. Then it is Heston Blumenthal, whose restaurant Fat Duck in England is the winner of three Michelin awards, one of the industry’s most prestigious awards.

All take cooking one or two degrees beyond the norm – experimenting and setting trends. This is something De Angeli likes to do too, like his vegetarian bunny chow with atchar and mango sorbet, or his seafood trifle, with layers of champagne jelly, steamed mussels, white fish, caviar, prawn tempura and tuna steak with saffron ice cream.

Locally he lists his favourite chefs as Bruce Robinson, formerly of one.waterfront in Cape Town; Richard Carstens of Lynton Hall in KwaZulu-Natal (the 2005 Eat Out Chef of the Year); and Mike Basset of Ginja in Cape Town.

His favourite Joburg restaurant is Lucio’s in Blackheath. “It serves nothing adventurous, just good, good food.”

Others include Versace, in Illovo – “natural flavours, stunning food”; Auberge Michel, in Sandton (in the 2005 Eat Out Restaurant of the Year top 10); and Pigalle, in Sandton.

Food conceptualising
So, De Angeli will be getting down in 2006 with his two head chefs every week for some serious “food conceptualising”, to compile the following week’s menu. “I want out of the box thinking and the fun of trying new dishes.”

He describes Yum restaurant as presenting “new South African cuisine”, which is “our interpretation of global food from South Africa – world food by South African people”.

In two years when the lease on the restaurant expires, he won’t renew it, De Angeli says. He’ll close down – and doesn’t know what he’ll do next. Ultimately, however, he wants to move to Hermanus and open a small restaurant, with 20 seats, “for fun”.

In the meantime, he returns to his kitchen, pops a finger into a pot, savours the mixture and says to one of his chefs: “Too sweet.” Then turns to the next pot while reaching for a checklist of ingredients, ticking them off, getting ready for the midday rush.

Source: City of Johannesburg