Chef Shaun Schoeman
It might come as a surprise that Franschhoek — the “French Corner” of the Cape Winelands also known as South Africa’s culinary capital – offers more than bouillabaisse and coq au vin. Rather than turning to Europe for inspiration, 31-year-old Shaun Schoeman, who is the head chef at Solms-Delta’s Fyndraai Restaurant, is looking towards his own heritage for dishes that speak the rich languages of South Africa,
A local boy, Schoeman started out prepping in the Bread and Wine and Chamonix kitchens during weekends and school holidays. He completed three years of Professional Cookery Modules at Cape Technikon, before returning to Franschhoek’s Haute Cabriere Restaurant, under the watchful eye of Matthew Gordon. After two further years at Cape Town’s legendary Aubergine, and appointments at top Franschhoek restaurants Monneaux and Mont Rochelle, Schoeman was well-versed in contemporary European fusion cuisine.
It was the opportunity to run his own restaurant at Solms-Delta that pulled Schoeman out of his comfort zone into a world of unknown ingredients, and back to his family’s own Khoi roots. Helping South Africans to take pride in their ‘rainbow heritage’ is central to Solms-Delta’s philosophy, and was the brief for the restaurant, to be translated in culinary form. Nearly four years ago, Schoeman began a crash course on the culinary history of South Africa and its largely forgotten indigenous ingredients, Today, he presides over a busy kitchen with fantastical dishes like wild mushroom and garlic risotto with Kalahari truffle essence, and marinated vegetable bokmelkkaas wrap with wildeknoffel.
Fyndraai’s unique menu weaves together the three influences on South African cuisine: Khoi, Dutch and Slave (Cape Malay,) in food prepared with classical sensibility. Schoeman’s dishes are also liberally peppered with indigenous herbs, grown on the estate’s Dik Delta edible fynbos garden. The result is genuine “food of this place” which Schoeman believes both locals and visitors will find equally exciting and delicious, as well as a true reflection of the land.
Schoeman’s greatest pride though is not his food, but his people. One would never know by the sophisticated looks and tastes that emerge from Fyndraai’s kitchen that it was launched with completely inexperienced kitchen staff. Shaun has found training and educating his brigade to be deeply rewarding, and a true manifestation of the Solms-Delta way.
At the moment, he is very excited about the restaurant’s latest menu, which reflects his expanding knowledge of Khoi seasonings. It includes dishes using the techniques he’s refined over the last several years to best extract flavours from his basket of native ingredients. Learning how to harness their heady flavours takes time and experimentation, he says. He is also thrilled to be rolling out products that customers can take home with them, like the newest line of lemon relishes and chutneys, spiked with ingredients like home-grown buchu and Gemoedrus, the fortified Shiraz made on the estate,
Fyndraai Restaurant has a very unique and local twist on popular Franschhoek restaurants. Situated on the Solms-Delta Wine Estate, it offers a modern take on traditional Cape cuisine whilst showcasing the history of the area. Click here for menu details -the cuisine like its adventurous wines and atmospheric farmstead, lives up to the Solms-Delta claim of being proudly Hiervandaan (‘from this place’).
Fyndraai Restaurant is a fine Cape kitchen where culinary heritage meets modern innovation.
Dishes explore the diverse culinary heritage of the Cape, uniting European, Asian and African flavours in a fusion of tradition and creativity. Syrups and sauces enliven veldkos; elements of Afrikaner boerekos, with its strong ‘Cape Malay’ (slave) influences, are blended with ingredients favoured by the Khoi nomads who lived in the Franschhoek Valley thousands of years ago. All appetisingly plated for maximum eye and taste appeal.
The new restaurant is part of a larger conservation initiative on the estate called the Dik Delta Fynbos Culinary Gardens, part of a greater 15ha fynbos and renosterveld park currently under development. A nursery is in the process of being established to propagate the most edible indigenous flora and so that Shaun Schoeman, the chef at Fyndraai, will be able to pick fresh local ingredients for his daily dishes.
Solms-Delta has become synonymous with genuine upliftment. In keeping with this policy, all waitrons have been recruited from the resident farmworker families or from the Franschhoek area, many of whom have lived on the farm ‘sommer van altyd’ (just since forever). Eager, friendly and smiling, they have undergone intensive training and really believe in the Solms philosophy that what is most local is most lekker.
No French cuisine, no wannabe anything, but a flavourful blend of the diverse and traditional Cape Cuisine: European, Asian and African. Not as revolutionary as it sounds: boerekos is strongly influenced by the food of the Malay slaves who accompanied their masters to South Africa.
Seasonal menus, with daily specials, break away from the Franschhoek norm. Living up to Solms-Delta’s celebration of everything Hiervandaan (from this place) they are “anything but French”. Instead, Fyndraai Restaurantexplores genuine Cape culinary traditions. This truly is ‘food of origin’.
Afrikaner boerekos, which has strong European and “Cape Malay” (slave) influences, mixes with ingredients first used by the indigenous Khoi nomads who lived in the Franschhoek valley thousands of years ago – but the emphasis falls on what is most palatable today. At experimental tastings, masterminded by acclaimed food scientist Renata Coetzee, most “everyday” Khoi ingredients proved too bitter for 21st century palates.
Sauces and syrups therefore liven traditional favourites on the Fyndraai Restaurant menu: calf’s liver and pickled tongue comes with aartappelvla and balsamic and cherry sauce; malva pudding takes on a new flavour with sour fig custard; rooibos and coconut cheesecake comes with a rooibos syrup with lemon sorbet. Expect kraakbrood, kaaings – and possibly koekemakranka. Right now, chef Shaun is “playing happily”. And yes, there is a glossary translating the unfamiliar local terms of traditional Cape Food for foreign visitors.