SEA FARE

Chef Rudi Blaauw has the bounty of the ocean at his feet

By Bianca Coleman 10 September 2021

Hermanus locals have fairly conservative tastes, so chef Rudi Blaauw is catering for that. (Photo: Supplied)

Despite the easy availability of catch from the Big Guys, this chef sources fish for The Marine in Hermanus from local fisherfolk.

Bianca Coleman

Hermanus is such a pretty place, especially at this time of the year when spring is approaching and the whales are frolicking in the bay. As long as you don’t take me with you.

Historically, when I am around, the mama whales and their babies decide to take the day off. Many a time I have sat on a rock gazing at the ocean, or walked along the coastal path, or listened for the town’s whale crier to announce the presence of these amazing creatures. And every time there is nothing but beautiful flat blue sea, with nary a spray or splash in sight.

So it was with this Eeyore glumness I walked across the lawn in front of The Marine hotel. The great thing about having low, or even no, expectations is that it limits disappointment. I took some pictures of my bubbly and then… hark! My name was being called with great excitement, urging me to come see the whale. Heaving a hopeless sigh, I ambled over to the sighting spot.

Nothing, obviously, I thought.

But there she was, breaching magnificently. Only once, blink and you’d miss it, but it made me feel infinitely better about life in general. It really doesn’t take much.

Chef Rudi Blaauw now leads the team in the kitchen where he once worked as a commis. (Photo: Supplied)

The Marine hotel – and its Origins restaurant – overlooks the whales’ playground and with that kind of view, seafood immediately comes to mind. Rudi Blaauw, who was appointed executive chef in March 2021, takes this to heart by supporting local fishermen in Hermanus and Gansbaai, who are disappearing in the shadow of commercial fisheries.

“After a long look and a long search and asking a lot of people, I got one guy – Pikkadow, I don’t know if it’s a nickname or his real name,” said Blaauw. “He goes fishing in the morning on his boat and when he comes back, he brings his fish and sells it on the roadside. It was kind of weird in the beginning; I had to stand in a line with everyone else – all the locals know about him. We just use whatever he’s got and put that on the menu. 

“If we support the big fisheries, with their trawlers and nets – and bycatch – then what happens to all these guys? People who are trying to make a living? So instead of supporting a big company we do this. This is all line caught. It’s not always easy and your variety of fish is not that big – kingklip, yellowtail, Cape salmon.”

Supporting small independent fishermen is important to chef Blaauw, and dishes on the menu are literally the catch of the day. (Photo: Supplied)

We talk a bit about yellowtail, and that intensely flavoured dark meat that runs along the spine, the blood line. I love it, and Mrs Blaauw does too. And the skin. I cannot understand why so many people throw those bits away. The missus goes for the fish heads too, including the eyeballs. What a woman. She makes me think of this quote by Anthony Bourdain: “To live life without veal or chicken stock, fish cheeks, sausages, cheese, or organ meats is treasonous.”

In this case, when the menu says “catch of the day” it is literally that. We had kingklip for lunch with artichoke gratin, chive velouté, baby fennel, heirloom tomatoes and pancetta. If you want something less fancy, craft beer battered hake with triple cooked chips, caper aïoli and pickled onions is on the menu (and on special on Fish n Chips Fridays).

Kingklip with artichoke gratin, chive velouté, baby fennel, heirloom tomatoes and pancetta. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

The local clientele and market in Hermanus tend to be a bit on the conservative side, which Blaauw and his team have to keep in mind. While he has a strong background in Asian cooking and flavours, the diners want dishes that are comfortable and recognisable. 

“This is probably the 13th five-star hotel I’ve worked in, so I’m no stranger to this. The menu we have works well for the locals. I started off with a bit of an Asian influence, but it didn’t go too well… not bad either, but they weren’t familiar with it,” said Blaauw.

“So here I try to work with the best fresh produce and present it the simplest way I can. I like people to see what they’re eating. I don’t want to hide things away – fish, sauce and vegetables on the plate,” he said. “A tomato is a tomato.  The produce is amazing, and it’s important to me. Why do I want to do too many things? It’s already amazing. Cut it, put it on the plate, season it correctly. You can’t go wrong.”

The Marine is part of The Liz McGrath Collection, which includes The Cellars Hohenort and The Plettenberg. Peter Tempelhoff worked at Greenhouse at Cellars, and Blaauw worked with him at Ellerman House, a Relais & Châteaux property. Blaauw was executive chef at Delaire Graff’s Indochine for five years – another Relais & Châteaux property. It’s a series of intricate connections, and The Marine is tucked away in there too.

“I used to work as a commis here about 15 years ago,” smiled Blaauw. “Liz McGrath actually taught me how to make scones. I was busy in the kitchen doing that and she came in and said ‘no no, this is how you must do it’.” 

The Death By Chocolate a very retro dessert which Blaauw reinvented in her memory. “It’s tiramisu with African flavours – Amarula, spekboom – and it’s decorated with a tiny skull. Skulls are beautiful and they are in fashion at the moment as well.”

Wesley’s Fynbos Canelés de Bordeaux is another dessert, and rather a special one. Wesley Abrahams is Blaauw’s sous chef and a beekeeper. “I wanted to incorporate one of my staff members because he told me about his honey a couple of months ago, and I based the whole dessert on him,” said Blaauw. 

The Marine’s sous chef Wesley Abrahams is a beekeeper in his spare time, and his honey is used in the hotel’s kitchen. (Photo: Supplied)

A canelé is the most French of pastries, with a soft custardy middle and a dark caramelised crust, and in a particular shape and no other. At Origins, it’s served with Madagascan vanilla ice cream and three honey gummy bears.

Abrahams keeps his bees in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, on a friend’s smallholding in Kleinmond, and another in Stanford. From the three locations, he harvests three types of honey: fynbos, blue gum and floral. They are seasonal – flowers in spring of course, summer and winter fynbos, and blue gum around January to March – with some overlapping.

“I will work out at the end of the blue gum and the beginning of the fynbos, you can taste that the two have combined. Blue gum has a richness to it, and fynbos has a bitterness,” said Abrahams, who has been keeping bees for six years.

How did it all begin? “Well, that’s a hell of a story!” he replies. Naturally, I leaned in for this.

“I was a very sickly child. I couldn’t eat sugar, so honey was my go-to. I grew up in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. My parents are very nature-orientated so we would go hiking and away for weekends. I had the knack for finding wild beehives all the time,” he said, clicking his fingers on All. The. Time.

Canelés de Bordeaux features sous chef Wesley Abrahams’s own honey in the form of three gummy bears. (Photo: Supplied)

One day when he was 11 years old, Abrahams was in the Helderberg. He could smell the honey. “I found a little dam, went in and saw a beehive inside a tree. But I never knew bees could sting you at that time. So I went to get coals, embers from the previous night’s fire, put it there because I’d watched National Geographic about this. My cousins were running away but the bees just parted like that and I put my hand in. And today I think to myself … they didn’t sting me at all.”

Now, he sends videos to his mom of his lip “like this” – he indicates with his thumb and forefinger well apart. “For humour man,” he laughed. “I said, ‘Mummy, if anyone asks if the honey is pure, please show them this’!” He has the proper outfit of course but the bees get into the smallest places, said Abrahams.

After a colony nested in his parents’ garden in Lansdowne, Abrahams paid attention to the signs from Mother Nature and did a course on beekeeping at the Honey Bee Foundation in Maitland.

“The bees chose me. I didn’t have much of a choice,” he said. “I love doing it. It’s hard work but it’s one of the things – milk, olive oil, honey – in the Bible.”

Abrahams’s honey, under the Beeloved label, is still very underground. It’s in the gummy bears at The Marine (that canelé is scrumptious by the way), and jars are sold mainly via word of mouth by his parents, at markets and churches in Cape Town. It might be easier to take a drive to The Marine. You might even see a whale. DM/TGIFood

Specials at The Marine include Roasting Sundays, and Food & Wine pairing events to showcase the wines of the region. For more information, click here.

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The writer supports The Service Dining Rooms, which has been preparing and serving hot meals to those in need since 1935.

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