We chatted with Chef Marthinus Ferreira, executive chef of dw eleven-13, as he celebrates his restaurant’s seven year anniversary.
How has the South African culinary landscape changed since you started dw eleven-13 seven years ago?
Business was tough in the beginning and Johannesburg’s eating scene (as we know it today) was just starting. Restaurants such as Auberge Michel, Il de France and a few foodie establishments in Greenside were starting to push boundaries – although the food was good, it was traditional and often inconsistent.
At the time, the food at dw eleven-13 was seen as ‘too risqué for the Joburg public.
And then suddenly, programmes like MasterChef and cooking shows with Gordon Ramsay started airing and the cuisine scene really exploded – people became more food-oriented and started to care about where their food was sourced from.
It was then that people started appreciating my food, but I was also still finding my way.
Do you think the intention/vision of the restaurant has changed from what you first intended when you opened the restaurant?
Over the last seven years, the food at dw has evolved. What started off as rustic is now almost art. It’s at a point where although it’s still fine dining, it’s no longer intimidating. People who used to go only for special occasions, now dine here once a week.
The two menu options – either a nine-course tasting menu, or à la carte – take customers on a culinary journey of epic proportions. When paired with wine, the journey takes a different turn entirely.
The one thing that has been clear over the last seven years is that consistency is key. Our food takes risks, both with the flavours and the interesting combinations, but our kitchen cannot be risky, we have to deliver the right way, every time. The preparation, cooking, technique and serving has to always be consistent, and we constantly strive for better.
I am still so passionate about what I do – the ingredients, food, style and the way it all comes together. I am really focusing on ensuring that well-thought out ideas are delivered with absolute precision and combine old and new flavours – like a 400-year-old cucumber ketchup recipe with cured Norwegian salmon.
What have some of the notable challenges been on the fine dining landscape?
The biggest challenge has been the changing concept of fine dining. 10 to 20 years ago, fine dining meant silver cutlery, stiff white table cloths and fancy crystal glasses. But now, fine-dining is more about the exploration of the food. The other challenge has been getting customers to try new things – programmes like MasterChef, for example, have done a lot to educate people on different food and encouraged people to try new things. Customers are also becoming more appreciative of the quality that a fine dining establishment offers. But on the down side, everyone now thinks they’re an expert in the kitchen.
And the highlights?
The stand-out highlight for me has been having a full restaurant every night for the last seven years – with regular customers returning year after year. I am passionate about what I do – my job is to feed people and make people happy. Knowing that I have accomplished that every day, and continue to do so, is a real measure of success for me. My teams’ efforts have been recognised over the years – not only by being included in EatOut’s list of Top-20 finalists – but also a number of other awards and accolades such as being awarded 3 stars in Rossouw’s Restaurant guide, a 2016 Diamond Award for our wine list by Diners Club and an American Express Platinum Fine Dining Award this year.
How do you stay relevant in an industry where culinary and eating trends move in and out of fashion so quickly?
The food at dw eleven-13, and The Grazing Room, has never been focused on keeping up with trends but rather on inventive dishes that have an element of longevity. We use fresh, seasonal ingredients and combine them into inspired dishes which provide something really special for our customers to enjoy. However, we are constantly evolving. Our team does spend a lot of time researching new techniques and ingredients, and developing new menus and dishes. I am also constantly eating out to see what others are doing, and speaking to friends in the industry to see what they’re doing.
What’s next for you?
I am busy exploring the opportunity of a pop-up restaurant concept – an all-inclusive food and wine experience for small groups and special occasions. It’s still very much in the initial planning stages, so we’ll keep you posted!