Legendary chef Chris Erasmus, of Foliage in Franschhoek, has come on-board at The Small Restaurant for a programme of mentorship and training—and plenty of foraging—for the team of chefs.
General manager of The Robertson Small Hotel, June Bouwer elaborates on the decision to train the kitchen team in this way. “The kitchen had an incredible amount of supressed raw talent, and all that was required, was for the right approach and the right person to train them. The magic would look after itself. Empowering your staff always has a positive wave throughout your establishment. Pride is a by-product of the passion ignited. Chris’s approach in recognising the intrinsic characters of ingredients, coupled with his unpredictable creativity and love that he exudes for the industry drew us to him. We wanted this to be the fundamental foundation of our kitchen.”
Chef Chris Erasmus takes a moment to describe his involvement.
Describe your approach as a chef in a sentence…
Be true to each ingredient and know where your produce comes from.
Tell us a little bit about growing up in the Karoo.
I grew up in the Karoo in Middelburg. My mom is a keen gardener, forager and preserving expert so we had to cook, grow and pickle for pocket money!
Describe your involvement with The Small Restaurant:
I’m acting as a mentor for the chefs as well as training them up, with the idea to promote from within. I regularly train the chefs and create new dishes with them at The Small Restaurant. We go on foraging expeditions, and the chefs are even showing me new places in the valley. Additionally each one of The Small chefs do a week training at my restaurant Foliage in Franschhoek on a rotation system to learn our ethos and to build on their knowledge.
What drew you to this project?
My grandfather lived in McGregor for years, and I love the valley! There is a certain sense of food innocence connected to the town of Robertson that appeals to me.
What Robertson produce excites you and the team?
I love the waterblommetjies! Also recently we’ve found some foraged gems such as soutslaai and goosefoot.
Tell us about some of the foraging you and the team are doing in the Robertson Valley?
Every week we find some new things as we’re getting to know the area. We have found white clover, wood sorrel, chickweed, nettle, goosefoot, a few different edible flowers, maroggo—just to name a few.
How exactly are you influencing the dishes being made at The Small?
We are keeping it as local as we can by sourcing, and foraging produce from the area.
Can you elaborate on some of the changes in the menu?
A few South African favourites have made it on the menu such as bokkoms, Karoo lamb and waterblommetjies.
What can guests expect from the dining experience now at The Small?
Lots of wild herbs and flowers!
What has it been like mentoring the chefs—what has stood out for you?
That passion and willingness is sometimes stronger than just experience.
Any advice for young chefs starting out?
Stay humble. Treat every day as a new beginning.