After Chef Dirk Gieselmann transferred to the Four Seasons Hampshire (“We like to share!” says F&B Manager Matt Barber), the industry has been waiting with bated breath to find out who’ll be heading up Four Seasons The Westcliff’s fine dining restaurant, View. Well, wait no longer! Chef Farrel Hirsch has taken up the reins and from mid-September guests will be able to experience his take on fine dining. We sat down with the chef to find out a bit more about him, his vision for the restaurant and his urban foraging exploits.
A little introduction
Born in Durban, Farrel moved to England when he was 13 and studied cooking at college. His interest in food was sparked first by his father, who encouraged him to try blue steak and oysters after he initially turned his nose up at them, and later by a girlfriend’s father, who was a chef. “He took me to fancy restaurants, and really opened my eyes to what being a chef could be, what food could be.” After college, he completed his apprenticeship at the Nottingham Playhouse – “crazy busy but awesome!” – and then worked at Tonic restaurant, with a bar on the lower floor, and a fine dining space above.
After deciding to return to Durban, he worked at the Oyster Box Hotel before moving up to Johannesburg, where he was part of the opening team for the Radisson Gautrain in Sandton. His next move saw him spending 4 years in Cape Town “playing with food and finding out what’s out there.” It was while in Cape Town, working in restaurants such as The Test Kitchen and the Greenhouse Restaurant, where he fully cemented the food vision he’s bringing to Four Seasons The Westcliff.
The search for perfection
“When I discussed the position with the team from Four Seasons The Westcliff, we had the same mindset,” says Farrel. “The search for perfection. We want to be the best. We want people to have the full experience.” F&B Manager Matt Barber adds that they wanted a South African chef for the position: “There’s talent in the country and a growing Johannesburg food scene – we wanted to be part of that movement.” Farrel will head up the View kitchen, which will create dishes for both the View’s fine dining tasting menu, and snacks designed to accompany drinks and cocktails at the Preview bar. The two spaces will be separated by a glass barrier, allowing guests in both areas to enjoy their full experience, but enticing guests through to the fine dining space.
At the time of our interview a month or so ago, the menu was still under construction, but “South African produce, French techniques, with a touch of Japanese flavours,” is how Farrel describes what’s in store for diners. For Preview, think snack-filled Bento Boxes offering a taste of what’s to come at View. There, dishes such as Ostrich tartare will be accompanied by a crisp mirin-infused sushi rice cracker; beef tendon crackling, sweetbreads and frozen chive oil were also enticingly discussed. What is for sure, though, is that there’ll certainly be surprises in store for guests. “When I worked with Peter Tempelhoff at The Greenhouse Restaurant, he always used to say ‘It is what it is, but what is it not.’” says Farrel. He explains that it’s all about playing with perceptions – creating a perfect, beautiful chocolate fondant and then (literally) breaking it down, adding milk, popping it into a siphon canister and creating a light and airy foam with all the flavour of fondant.
Farrel got his first taste of foraging at Greenhouse Restaurant, where chefs would explore the Cellars-Hohenort gardens for ingredients. Obviously, it’s a little trickier in Johannesburg, but plans are afoot for the Four Seasons The Westcliff’s vegetable garden to soon supply some of the produce for the restaurant. Farrel has also had fun sourcing Japanese ingredients for the menu, exploring one of Joburg’s foodie landmarks, Derrick Avenue in Cyrildene. “After first finding someone who spoke English, I found silken tofu, shiso and a King Oyster mushroom the size of my forearm!”
We can’t wait to see the finished product when Farrel’s new menu launches mid-September at Four Season The Westcliff’s View restaurant, and look forward to him shaking up the Joburg food scene!