‘We wake to the early morning sun, drink strongly brewed coffee and indulge in a hearty breakfast of fluffy omelettes that spill perfectly cooked cherry tomatoes and wild mushrooms onto the plate. There’s an excitement about as we chat with mutual anticipation, aware that we’re about to share a unique culinary infused treat in the Cape Winelands
Joining a Cooking Wild Safari, I’m one in a group of six that will be spending three days meeting the experts, being guided by Chefs, tasting and blending wine and taking lessons in food making from those passionately in the know. On arrival no time is was wasted and after checking in to Basse Provence Guest House, Jan van Huyssteen welcomed us, giving an overview of what to expect over the coming days.
From there it was directly to the Rickety Bridge Winery for a private cellar tour and tasting. This historic estate has a long-standing tradition of winemaking, with the new winery completed in 1997 and the old cellar converted into a barrel fermentation centre. We walk between the towering tanks and bottling section, where Winemaker Wynand Grobler’s carefully crafted Paulina’s Reserve, Foundation Stone and Rickety Bridge range is labelled, as well as my favourites, the Rickety Bridge Brut Rosé MCC.
Lunch is served in their Paulina’s restaurant, named in honour of the original owner of the property in 1797, Paulina de Villiers, and takes the form of beautifully presented half and full sized bistro style portions, allowing the opportunity to sample and share dishes.
With the mood set, the afternoon takes us into Franschhoek village for a craft beer tasting at the recently opened Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, while those with a sweet tooth are appeased with a lesson in the worship of the cocoa bean and the art of chocolatiering, as well as a tasting at Huguenot Fine Chocolate.
Later, the highlight of the day, cooking lessons with Chef Brett Nussey of Stir Crazy Cooking School, who partners with Cooking Wild Safaris to mentor and teach, drawing on his years of expertise. As we enter the kitchen, we are met by neatly laid out prep tables, a pantry section heavy with ingredients and recipe rich clipboards reminiscent of Masterchef.
Paired into teams and sporting Cooking Wild Safari aprons, we are set to work mixing, chopping, flavouring and nurturing the dishes assigned to us. All the while Brett moves between us offering guidance and advice.
His enthusiasm and love for food, fresh ingredients and the way that coming together to make and share a meal connects friends and communities is palpable, and we all strive to please him. Once ready, the dishes are garnished and set on the warm pass while we top up our wine glasses with a well-matched Rickety Bridge, before helping ourselves eating together, by now friends in food and life.
The second day brings the privilege of a morning spent foraging on the land with Nick the Sous Chef from Foliage and his team. Bringing essence to what would otherwise simply be consider wild greens, we are talked through the carefully selected items and offered ideas on how to use them.
Its always different says Nick, who starts each day in search of handpicked ingredients from which to create his dishes alongside famed Chef Chris Erasmus. We pick a lot of wood sorrel, dandelions, chickweed, goosefoot, wild cress, lupine and wild peas. Although it is the mystical mushrooms that captivate in their size and colour and the use of nettle to make pesto, that sticks in my mind.
Later that day we eat at Foliage, seeing how the morning’s harvest is put to use in the kitchen. A serene and quiet atmosphere driven by soulful chefs in touch with nature and the ingredients they use. My chosen dish is a roasted cauliflower head served with herbs we picked ourselves, it brings a triumph of flavour.
Another first awaited as we gather inspired by the lessons learnt, to blend our own wines back at the estate. It’s more intimidating than one might think and I have renewed respect for the art as I add a touch of Semillon to my Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc mix, before corking it and applying my hand drawn label. Something I never imagined I’d do.
That night we couldn’t wait to get back into the kitchen with Chef Brett to take more lessons. This time we even master the art of crème brulee. Although my personal takeaway is that risotto will always challenge me, and even though under the watchful eye of Chef Brett I get it just right, I’m yet to achieve the same result at home. Practice, practice, practice – one day it will be so.
As our time at Rickety Bridge draws to an end, I can’t help but think forget Tuscany or France, learn to cook in Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands. It’s Africa’s top premier culinary and wine destination for a reason.
The impassioned days feed into the need for experience-based holidays with a hands-on approach and celebration of the ingredients, and where they come. It’s an opportunity to look at food differently, in this case through the eyes of the professionals who celebrate it and serve it to patrons daily.
The Cooking Wild Safaris are always slightly different, determined by group size, season and interest. Other inclusions could be the Aphrodisiac Shack on the languid and picturesque banks of Theewaterskloof Dam, world-renowned for their Charcuterie as well as a variety of cheeses and other gourmet goodies.
Also a tour of the 3,5ha garden of cultivated fruit and vegetables at Babylonstoren and a visit to Boschendal, one of the oldest wine estates in the country. In between you have the option of fynbos walks and cycling, as well as time spent relishing the surrounds.
The program suits the novice and the seasoned cook, with the immersive experience touching on the delicious cuisines of the Southern African continent from aromatic Cape Malay sweet curries to local slow-cooked country-style delicacies.
In addition to the countless memories I take home a bound cookbook containing recipes and am presented with a certificate of achievement. Although the true lesson is in the humility of the passionate and talented people I’ve met and how intricately food and nature are tied together.’
Accommodation is offered in the 300 year old oak tree engulfed Basse Provence Guest House with its 1855 thatched Cape Dutch Manor and adjoining Country House that blends traditional Huguenot heritage with stylish modern luxury. There’s a swimming pool and sunny garden patio from which to enjoy the mountain backdrop and delicious farm style breakfast. Alternately the 19th century Manor House at Rickety Bridge can be requested. Both are just over 3km to Franschhoek village.
To book or for more information take a look at Cooking Wild Safaris and contact Jan Van Huyssteen at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cindy Muller at email@example.com. The package rate varies from about R3750pp for one night to R10500pp for 3 nights. There are scheduled weekly departures and a minimum of two pax is required. Rates include accommodation, all meals and cooking lessons; local wines and activity related transport, but exclude spirits, gratuities, personal items and transfers ex Cape Town. Non-cooking partners are welcome to join you.