Everything associated with the name Cavalli has an air of sophistication, the Wine Estate in Stellenbosch is clearly no exception. Born on the clash of art, food and wine – the restaurant is beautifully positioned with breath-taking views of the Helderberg Mountains.
The décor is simple but it can’t be bought – it’s the natural beauty that surrounds you. I can’t tell you what hung on the walls or the colour combinations in the eatery – the most spectacular paintings were real-life mountains draped like works of art around the restaurant.
I’ve heard great murmurings about the new head chef, Michael Deg, I was curious to find out what this concept of ‘One Ingredient’ is all about.
Before pouncing on the chef with the obligatory who, what, when, where and how – the food had to be sampled to get a clearer understanding of his technique.
Through each course, I understood Chef Deg a little more. I gauged that he believes in keeping ingredients simple, yet in the same space, he elevates the taste to an untapped taste experience.
Simply put, he can transform a tomato into a marshmallow foam cube, keep the flavour in tact, plate it eloquently with a pinenut brittle and buffalo mozzarella, then make it taste like a work of art – and he did.
More impressively, he has created a complete vegan course – with bells, whistles and pureness – of fine-dining quality, that sits on the menu, not hidden away to not offend the traditionalists.
I am never going to be vegan, I love meat too much. But I tried the corn, with cauliflower salsa, heirloom beetroot, shave fennel with a miso dressing, and concluded that he is going to have vegan traffic climbing over the walls for more.
While each dish is plated for photography, it is also designed to taste as good as it looks – a rare combination. His menu will engage your senses, all five of them, and your sixth sense will tell you that this won’t be the last time you will be dining at this fine establishment.
Michael Deg is indeed a chef to watch, I asked him 6 questions about his food… here’s what he had to say.
Q: How would you describe the dishes on the menu to someone who has not eaten at Cavalli?
A: Fresh, seasonal dishes, using local ingredients. Not overcomplicated food, but rather good food that tastes and looks great.
Q: What was the need to create a vegan menu, is there a large demand for vegan dishes?
A: We get a lot of requests for vegan dishes, from either people who have booked or who walk in. Rather than making a dish up for them in 2 minutes, which usually ends up being a rushed dish, I thought it would be a good idea to have well thought out vegan dishes on the menu so when they eat at Cavalli they also get the same experiences as other guests.
Q: What inspires your dishes, the concept ‘ONE at Cavalli’ and the menus you create?
A: I get a lot of inspiration from my team, before making a dish we will talk about it and try out a few ideas. We will refine the dish many times until we are happy with it and the dish must be seasonal, using local sourced produce, so it fits in with the rest of the menu. I like to have small menus so we can focus on the quality, at the moment we have 6 starters, 6 mains and 6 desserts.
“ONE’ at Cavalli is a fun idea of taking one ingredient using it on the menu in different ways and making recipes with it. For December we will creating delicious dishes with tomatoes as our hero ingredient.
Q: You have created new tasting menus paired with Cavalli wines, could you elaborate on these?
A: Yes, we have two tasting menus available for dinner both are 8 courses, with one of them being completely vegetarian. We have paired each dish with Cavalli wines so it’s an estate menu. We also have a few surprises on the menu along the way, such as the surprise fish course which changes every night and is served by a chef from the kitchen.
Q: If there is any chef you would like to work alongside, who would it be and why?
A: Gregory Czarnecki from Waterkloof, his plating of his inspired dishes is the best I have ever seen. He works really hard, never takes short cuts and puts a lot of effort and passion into his food. A true role model for any young chef.
Q: When people dine at Cavalli, what experience can they expect?
A: In my opinion we have the most beautiful wine estate in the winelands, with the most amazing gardens and stunning setting for a restaurant. I want the food to be as good as the rest of the experience at the estate. I want guests to leave feeling relaxed and to have enjoyed their all-round Cavalli experience.