At the annual Eat Out Awards that took place late last year in Cape Town, Chef Kobus van der Merwe was announced as the S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna Chef of the Year. Chef Kobus heads of Wolfgat in Paternoster, a small village on the West Coast. Here, his menu demonstrates simplicity and provenance, with most ingredients sourced within a 10km radius of the 20-seater restaurant.
“The menus at Wolfgat usually come about very intuitively,” says Kobus. “We are inspired by the West Coast landscape with its dramatic seasonal transformation, and unique Strandveld Fynbos plant kingdom. Dishes are adapted according to the weather and the season, led by what we find on our daily exploration of the coastline.
“The Wolfgat kitchen is deliberately unindustrial. We like to cook simple dishes that showcase the unique ingredients. Because we serve things that people often haven’t tasted before, such as indigenous succulents and herbs, those elements in the dishes are mostly served raw, or with minimal manipulation.”
Before opening Wolfgat two years ago, Chef Kobus made a name for himself at his parents’ country store Oep ve Koep, also in Paternoster. He headed up the kitchen Oep ve Eet where he focused on local heritage food as well as foraging. “The reason we pick the plants that we do, is our way of sharing our unique location with guests,” he says. “In picking and cooking with the succulents and seaweeds and wild herbs that naturally occur on this coastline, we attempt to capture the ‘genius loci’ or spirit of place of the West Coast, and to share that with visitors from around the world. It’s also about diversification of diet, and a rediscovery of ingredients our generation has forgotten about. Even if the buzzword is killed, and the trend blows over, we’ll still be cooking with dune spinach, soutslaai and klipkombers.”
Winning the S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna Chef of the Year award was a complete surprise. “It is an incredible honour, and something I thought only happens to a chef much later in their career… it certainly came very unexpectedly,” he says. “The recognition means a lot, especially coming from a group of industry experts led by the inimitable Margot Janse.”
As part of his prize, he’s received a trip to the annual Care’s event in Italy, a ground-breaking conference that brings chefs from around the world together to discuss, debate and workshop vital issues around sustainability and ethics in gastronomy and identify the best way forward for global fine dining.