NOBLE VICES

Jozi food and wine festivals subvert the norm

By Nikita Singh 28 June 2019

Chefs at work for the Noble Vice festival.

When you think of a food and wine festival, you picture either a formal sit-down dinner where you need to watch what you say about the tannins and bouquet or you might picture people drunk on cheap wine, chowing down on greasy food-truck burgers. You’d be wrong on both counts.

Food and wine events like Noble Vice, or pop-ups like The Commissary x Publik collaboration, have transcended the traditional wine-tasting blueprint. Top bistro chefs are using pared-down cooking techniques to create upmarket, refined cuisine in a casual setting, outside of the comfort of their kitchens.

The Noble Vice festival is a carefully curated event celebrating the truly noble vices of fine food and wine.

Benjamin Cox, the festival’s creative director, developed the concept over many years: “The philosophy behind Noble Vice is all about embracing local, sustainable and stripped down methods of wine-making, and culinary innovation. We love to collaborate with chefs who hold the same philosophies.”

The outdoor fine wine event, taking place mid-July, will be the first of its kind in Joburg. Set in the rolling hills of Muldersdrift with harvest-style seating and blazing fire pits, the festival creates a warm, inviting ambience. This is a welcome shift from the traditional, and often clinical, style of wine tasting which takes place in a mall or conference room.

Six leading contemporary Joburg chefs serve a single dish, cooked on an open flame. Each chef creates a menu course in their signature style paying homage to the terroir and tastes that inspire them.

The chefs heading up the hedonistic harvest feast are James Diack from Coobs, Kyle Blows from La Boqueria, Pellie Grobler from Tin Roof Café, Coco Reinarhz from Epicure, Shayne Holt from Thief and Alex Windebank from Farro.

South African wine enthusiasts will be familiar with Storm, Intellego, Thorne and Daughters, David and Nadia, Fram and Testalonga – some of the new wave producers offering tastings at the festival. The carefully curated list of 30 winemakers are the pioneers of experimental wines in South Africa, spotlighting lesser-known varietals like cinsault and mourvèdre.

Chefs cooking at Noble Vice have two hurdles to address when conceptualising their dishes: what pairs well with different styles of wine and which ingredients lend themselves to the smoky flavour of an open flame?

Sambal Matah tuna helped along with bare flame at The Commissary

Pellie Grober, chef at Tin Roof Café in Pretoria, explains how he developed his signature dish: “We needed to make a dish that displays culinary genius, but also one that will work with the wines.

We went for a dish with a bit of umami that gets your palate ready for great wines,” says Grobler.

Grobler will be serving slow-roasted lamb over the open fire, in a steamed bun, with sticky pineapple and pomegranate kimchi. He looks forward to cooking on an open flame: “It brings a different dimension to food. A simple thing like the fat dripping onto the flame, and that sort of smoky steaminess which you can’t achieve in a different way.”

Shayne Holt, chef at Thief Restaurant in Parkmore, will be preparing a fall-off-the-bone braised beef short rib: “We’re gonna braise it for around 12 hours on a low heat, and then finish everything over an open flame.”

The beef short rib is braised in a Mexican mole sauce, then topped with sour cream, pico de gallo, and fresh coriander.

Holt explains that his bold Mexican-inspired flavours need a bold wine to go with them: “I would pair it with one of the bigger chenins like Thorne and Daughters, Kaapzicht, or even Craig Hawkins’ stuff, if he’s got some of his orange wines there, it would be amazing with that.”

Boutique food and wine events are becoming more popular because it’s a curated experience where good food and wine is celebrated on a small scale (Noble Vice has a limited 500 tickets on sale) where the intimacy allows guests to properly engage with the food and winemakers.

Gone are the days when you need to rock up at a wine event in a suit and tie,” says restaurateur Simon Widdison from Cape Town-based bistro The Commissary.

Last month, The Commissary collaborated with Publik to create a five-night pop-up eatery at the trendy Rosebank wine bar.

The Commissary is the latest creation of Simon Widdison and chef Wesley Randles (also co-founders of The Shortmarket Club with Luke Dale-Roberts). It’s a small bistro serving unpretentious, upmarket food at communal tables. Their concise menu comprises of street-food-inspired, flavour-intensive small plates.

The team brought the essence of their eatery to Joburg: “It was the same way we serve food here in Cape Town: enamel bowls, plastic baskets, greaseproof paper. Very much street-food-inspired,” says Widdison.

The menu we chose to do in Joburg was determined by the equipment that we had to use. Obviously, in Cape Town, we’ve got all these fancy things like flat tops and a pizza oven where we do all the roasting. We have a lot more equipment to use. So the dishes that we chose had to be finished on a little induction heater or cooked on the barbeque.”

Publik is a hole-in-the-wall bar with an even smaller kitchen. The Commissary team devised innovative techniques to retain all the flavour and impact of their usual menu: “We did a dish where we were barbequing prawns. Funny enough, we were cooking from a half-barrel drum, in the car park behind the bar, under a gazebo, so that was quite rustic. Prawns cooked on the barbeque, with a sambal of peanut, lemongrass, ginger, coriander, coconut milk, and coconut oil, and that gets poured over the prawns once they’re cooked.”

Other Asian-inspired small plates included seared tuna medallions with an aromatic sambal oelek, and sous vide pork belly with Szechuan XO dressing.

All the dishes come in small packages but with loads and loads of flavour,” says Widdison.

Creative cooking by The Commissary x Publik collaboration

It’s fun we’re always open to doing these outside events, pop-ups, collaborations. Wes and I have done a lot of outside catering over the years. It’s always good fun to get out of your comfort zone, and general cushy restaurant environment and do something a little bit different.

The team didn’t prepare specific food and wine tastings, but resident Publik sommelier, Jaco Smit, directed customers to a lighter red or fruitier white to pair with The Commissary’s bold, aromatic flavours.

Casual wine and culinary events are on the rise. They offer a creative outlet for chefs, an accessible environment for timid wine tasters and an intimate food and wine experience. DM

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