The first thing you’ll find out when you book your event at chef Mynhardt Joubert’s Station Street Kitchen in Paarl is that your menu is going to be a surprise.
Not too much of a shock for guests with any one of the dozens of food allergies and dietary requirements going around these days though; those will be taken into account. The rest you’ll discover when you get there.
“I’ve found that when people go out they don’t necessarily want to decide on what they’re going to do, they just want to have a lekker time and enjoy themselves. I think South Africans are more adventurous eaters than we give them credit for,” says Mynhardt. This has the added advantage of giving him the freedom to cook whatever’s fresh and available. “It keeps it seasonal, and it keeps it interesting for me too,” he adds.
Every event is a new creation, from the décor and fresh flowers, to the food and even the background music.
“It takes three days to put it all together… polishing the glasses, starching the napkins…it’s a gedoente (affair),” says Mynhardt. “We love it. Everyone who works with me loves it.”
The Station Street Kitchen is exactly what its name promises: it’s alongside the station in the Cape Winelands town of Paarl, and above a taxi rank.
“It’s right plonk in the middle of real South Africa where things are happening.”
This is where Mynhardt lives with his husband Ian Engelmohr, a CA who creates ceramics in his “spare” time. They’ve been collecting art together since they met about three years ago, and this is vividly expressed in the venue.
“I do feel it’s like a true artist’s house. There’s always some sort of creativity happening here, and we love sharing the space with people because it’s so special,” says Mynhardt, who not only cooks but does photography as well, capturing stunning food images.
“When I met Ian the house was very white and minimalistic; with him in my life everything was changing and the colour came. We discovered we are both passionate about the same things so what’s happened inside here – even the paint on the walls – works so beautifully.”
Stepping through the door is like stepping into a wonderland. To the left is the open plan country-style kitchen, to the right the long table set up for lunch, a wild display of the promised fresh flowers from one end to the other. Beyond this and down three stairs, is the lounge, where the walls are painted bright and bold, and filled with paintings and prints in eclectic styles. There are flowering orchids almost everywhere, and greenery on all the other available surfaces. A wall feature of framed vintage Springbok Hits record covers from the 1970s was created by Ian; allow your eyes to wander further and you’ll discover all sorts of items lovingly collected and displayed. Remember to look up, and down.
“For the people coming to eat here I try to get them to experience everything, not just the food, not just the wine… they are coming here to experience a bit of my life and this beautifully restored building. That’s the essence of it,” says Mynhardt.
The art and food combine wherever possible. A trip to Russia in December 2018 (on purpose, to experience the extreme cold, says Mynhardt) brought unexpected inspiration in this respect.
“I was so blown away by how they absorb all the art and the beauty around them,” he relates.
“On a Sunday we would go to a museum, it would be snowing outside, and there were queues of parents with little kids waiting to get in to the art museum. They are so proud of their heritage.
“We went specifically for that – museums and exhibitions – because when you stand in front of an original Renoir or Matisse or Chagall or whatever it makes such an impression on you, you’re never the same again. You can look at things in magazines and books but you never get that essence. I thought some of it is so overblown and commercialised but once you stand there and breathe it… I thought it would be nice to bring that back,” he explains.
When Mynhardt was doing his research he came across the story of Monet, his gardens at Giverny, and how important eating and socialising around food was for the artist. Apparently, if the dish warranted it, he would insist upon sketching it before anyone ate. And here we are rolling our eyes when our friends do a quick Instagram snap.
“The art and the food all tied in for him and his friends, and that’s what I try to do here,” says Mynhardt.
“I like to gather like-minded people around a table and throw out all the beauty and the essence of expressionism to capture the fleeting light and fleeting beauty, and the taste; experience it and it’s gone.”
To this end, we indulged in a feast which began in the lounge with bubbly and canapes, before sitting down for a starter of beetroot and cherry panna cotta with asparagus, fresh trout en papillote in bouillabaisse topped with a prawn, and tender pork cheeks bourguignon-style.
For dessert was a smear of white chocolate cheesecake with macarons, nougat and berries.
“It’s the first time I cooked pork cheeks,” confessed Mynhardt. After all, how hard could it be?
“I began with a stock with lamb bones and garlic and onion and carrots, lots of herbs and lots of red wine, and reduced that down. Then I fried onions, garlic and cheeks in my pressure cooker with red wine and cooked them till they were soft.
“I got some beautiful yellow fine mielie meal from the Free State where I grew up; my sister posted it to me, and I used it to make a creamy polenta.”
Everything Mynhardt does is laden with his personal touch – like a handwritten thank you note at the end of the afternoon, when it is we who should be thanking him, along with recipe cards to try his dishes at home.
The Station Street Kitchen and impressionist experience can be booked for private groups of 10 or more, or for events, launches, dinner parties, product shoots, and business networking events. DM
Book at mynhardt.co.za, call 076 033 1839, or email [email protected]
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.