TGIFOOD

STUD TO TABLE

Michael Broughton’s next move in Stellenbosch

Cucina’s menu is small yet comprehensive, supplemented by a daily blackboard meat special using Brenaissance beef. (Photo: Jenni Elizabeth)

Brenaissance Wine & Stud’s owners will bring their wine, beef and other produce directly to four new restaurants to be managed by award-winning chef Michael Broughton, formerly of Terroir.

As we approach the one-year Covid/pandemic/lockdown milestone, the broken and wounded restaurant industry is splitting, like a bad Hollandaise, in different directions. Tragically, there have been fatalities for whatever reason, whether financial or loss of the strength to continue; some have risen from the ashes of announcing permanent closure to the triumph of reopening. And then there are the new restaurants, defiant in the face of a worldwide health disaster.

This is the ambitious tale of not one, not two, but a cluster of four related places opening in Stellenbosch over the next few months. That’s remarkable enough in itself, but the concept has its roots in the farms behind them, which will supply produce and meat directly to the four restaurants. From behind the scenes of menu creation, to the face of front of house, chef Michael Broughton is managing all of them.

Michael Broughton and Tom Breytenbach. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

The first to open is Cucina (9 March , 2020), a classy Italian-inspired eatery with lightning-quick order turnaround and pavement seating. Next up is The Stud Burger, and last, Ember, an intimate flame and grill experience with 44 seats. Betwixt that and The Stud Burger is a wine and tapas bar which had not been named at the time of writing. 

Between Brenaissance Wine & Stud in Stellenbosch (wine, export plums, heirloom vegetables and cattle) and two cattle farms in North West, owner Tom Breytenbach says the integration of the produce into restaurants has been 15 years in the making. 

“We are still bulk suppliers of meat to the restaurant industry in Johannesburg but we wanted to create critical mass in our breeding and our farming operations that will allow us to own the value chain all the way through to the end result, to the restaurant,” he said.

Breytenbach believes in simplicity, small menus and quality wines. This is what you’ll find at the 250-seater restaurant on Brenaissance. “We also have an operation in France, at a 45-year-old hotel in Aubeterre-sur-Dronne,” he said, modestly adding that this is his small involvement in restaurants. 

“My focus all along has been to try to bring what we produce – without trying to own the brand – to a final farm to fork kind of combination. We’ve looked for the right location in Stellenbosch for years. 

“Then Covid came along, and in the downtime we got creative and instead of sitting around, we decided to become more assertive. Colleagues and friends of ours are landlords and property people; we’re also landlords around the country, so we have that connection and they came with some options.

“Some would say how could you consider going into the restaurant business right now, are you crazy? No. Because the short-term corrections that take place in any investment plan are always outweighed by the long-term consistency of a good solid objective. And our objective is in the right town, in the right kind of industry, in the right kind of zone within South Africa – Stellenbosch has survived 340-odd years, this is just another correction.” 

Boran beef biltong, avocado, feta, green figs and rocket with balsamic glaze. (Photo: Jenni Elizabeth)

The location in Plein Street is in the centre of Stellenbosch, opposite the town hall. It’s iconic, said Breytenbach. “And lo and behold, we have captains of industry as tenants in this building: ARC, RMB Private Wealth, FNB Private Wealth. The roots of our industry right now are being carried by us as simple farmers by being able to bring a solidity to what they are sitting on upstairs. It’s quite a symbolic thing.”

The combined restaurant space is 500㎡, something which didn’t intimidate Breytenbach, or his wife Hayley, with her background in property fund management and high level finance; they saw potential, dissecting it into four operations which will allow the holistic and even consumption of the produce from the farms.

“It’s no good having one restaurant that only utilises our steak cuts. What happens to our forequarters? What happens to our mince? What happens to the roasting? What happens to the offal? The way we need to attack this is to create a diverse arrangement of offerings that appeal to different demographics, with different price points – but with the same ethos of quality,” said Breytenbach. 

Recognising their limitations, Breytenbach turned his attention to finding the best person to bring the concept to life. “We want to build institutional businesses, and I think this is the town to do it in,” he said. “We went out to find the most iconic chef who is known for consistency, and for building a rock solid team.” 

Having lived at Kleine Zalze, where Broughton had his restaurant Terroir until the 2020 lockdown, Breytenbach was familiar with the chef’s reputation, and admired him. Phone calls were made, farms were visited, and deals were sealed.

Broughton will be moving from one restaurant to the next, running all four from top to bottom. “I don’t want to say I’m hanging up my strings; I can never do that. But I want to go into business and that option is here for me,” he said.

“I will be in every kitchen probably every day but my focus will be to have a head chef in each one. I’m excited – not because I needed the job – not as a head chef, I’m not your guy, but to run the show… I’m your guy.”

Fresh and roasted baby tomatoes, basil, red onion and aioli on toasted garlic ciabatta. (Photo: Jenni Elizabeth)

Having been on his feet for 15 hours a day for decades, Broughton has earned himself a little sit-down, although he’ll still be out there on the floor meeting and greeting and making sure everyone is having a fabulous time. His face is a famous one, from behind the pass at Terroir, television, books, and this kind of golden touch will appeal to diners. Everyone likes the boss to come say hi, whether it’s their first time there or their tenth.

At Cucina, diners can look forward to sexy Italian inspired food, on big plates. The long kitchen is front and centre with the chefs providing entertainment along with the fettuccine Alfredo. About 65 to 70 seats will be outside on the pavement, European style.

Cucina’s menu is small yet comprehensive, supplemented by a daily blackboard meat special using Brenaissance beef. (Photo: Jenni Elizabeth)

“The meat is going to be on a blackboard, like a plat du jour, for example a very simple fillet with green pepper sauce, fries, salad and a glass of wine,” said Broughton. 

“Hayley and Tom’s brief was: ‘This is what we’ve liked around the world, can you do this?’,” said Broughton. “I’m the conduit from the farm to the plate, and for the brief for Cucina, I’m the conduit to put what they like on the plate. Can I make it nice? Yes.”

When Broughton says “make it nice” it’s an understatement of course, like when he promises traditional dishes and Stellenbosch favourites will come with his twist, his edge, and techniques he wants to play with. His prawn risotto is “nice”. You get the idea.

Classic caprese – wood-fired oregano and garlic heirloom cherry tomatoes and sliced whole tomatoes with fior di latte mozzarella, balsamic glaze and basil pesto. (Photo: Jenni Elizabeth)

The plan is to do a six-minute order turnaround time at Cucina, to accommodate up to 130 patrons between breakfast and lunch (a target already exceeded on day one). The last time Broughton did breakfast was 20 years ago, so that’s going to be fun.

Six minutes, you say? When Broughton was a long-haired 20-year-old fresh out of hotel school and in the US dodging conscription in South Africa, he worked at a restaurant which did this: every element of the dish is weighed and measured and partly prepared in advance. When the order comes in, it’s a matter of finishing it off and plating it, et voila. Like mise en place on steroids if you will. 

Critical to this procedure is a dark kitchen, which saves on space. It’s no random reason Ember, the fourth restaurant on the block, will be the last to open; for now, it’s Cucina’s dark kitchen. Once everything is up and running smoothly and Ember opens a few months down the line, the dark kitchen will move to Brenaissance farm. Where there’s a restaurant, remember?

“Chicken salad is the top selling lunch time meal in Stellenbosch according to the research we’ve done, so I thought we’d reinvent it,” said Broughton. “It can’t be done in six minutes but what I can do is in the morning we sous vide it, and on pick up I sear it, slice it and you’ve got the most beautiful tender breast of chicken. That’s the difference. We are not under pressure on pick up. The beef? Sous vide, ready to go.” 

The Stud Burger will make use of the mince from Breytenbach’s cattle. It’s directly next door to Cucina, and will be mainly takeaway but pavement tables will seat around 45 to 50 hungry customers. Looking to the future and the day (or night) curfews will be lifted, the plan is to lay on one heck of a Midnight Mass burger with all the trimmings and a 250ml can of Brenaissance wine (or beer) on the side, from 11pm till 4am. Can you imagine!

“We are targeting the student market; we need to be very relevant to what’s going on,” said Breytenbach.

The mince for these burgers won’t be coming from just any old cows. The Stud Burger is called that because the cattle are stud-bred registered animals. “I can give you the code of the animal we are eating and you’d be able to go online and you’ll see who her parents were,” said Breytenbach.

I wanted to know if you could also see a photo of your steak when it was still alive (thinking The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe in a way) but apparently this is not a joke other than in my weird head; the cattle are registered as calves and it’s simply not practical to track a thousand head of cattle through their entire lives. 

The free roaming cattle munch on about seven types of grass, and the restaurants will offer diners single origin beef, from one farm, in one location – one type of animal with 42 bloodlines, said Breytenbach. “Hopefully it will be the most consistent produce across the board. The flavour profile and herbaceousness come through strongly, and are characteristic of what the product is.” 

Pizza topped with tomato, wood-roasted chicken, chorizo, red onion, mushrooms, rocket and finished with chilli oil. (Photo: Jenni Elizabeth)

Farming will be adjusted as the restaurants settle into what they want, need and demand – based on Broughton’s menus and customers’ preferences. “That’s really the most fantastic thing a farm is able to do. if you’re relevant and have direct access to the market we could probably put it on a plate at a relevant price point without going through the extremely heavy cost added codes, to give you organic sustainably farmed product on the menu,” said Breytenbach. “Cut out packaging, cut out everything we can – we’re not there yet but we will be in a short space of time…three or four months. 

“This is something new and unique to Stellenbosch. Not that the game isn’t high already but I think we’re perhaps going to push the envelope a little and show how simple farmers with the right kind of collective approach can really change their position. That’s the message we want to send out.” DM/TGIFood

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