Student Testimonial by Sara Araujo

My Experience

Situated ever so elegantly, like a kiss on Constantia’s nek, La Colombe’s new location at Silvermist estate breathes fresh air into the restaurant’s food and service. The Constantia Valley landscape reflects a future of grand culinary excellence and possibility. Bordering the Constantia wine route, makes the drive up to the restaurant magical, with vineyard views rolling out from under your feet to as far as your eyes can dream.

And that’s just what the two months felt like, a dream. As a child, you have the pleasure of experiencing things for the first time, you are deeply affected and changed and inspired by those moments. As you age, you are, in essence, more familiar with how things feel and seldomly experience exhilarating moments that refresh your mind and feed your soul. However, when you do, when something unexpectedly brilliant washes over you, for a brief moment, a sense of hopeful purpose gets felt, you feel alive and your heart has again been relit. . .

It was 8am and I had arrived. Surrounded by nature I already felt at home, the excitement of wanting to go inside had subsided. I was in and the adventure had begun. The front of house décor is elegant and simple; the atmosphere is relaxing yet secretly formal, formal in a way that you know you are some place uniquely special. I was reintroduced to the kitchen; I had gotten the chance to experience it from all angles this time.

First things first, the secret hunt for every existing base pot and prep drop is underway, the coffee goes on, the boards are out and the knives get sharpened. Some go out for a good old ‘enchi’ – cigarette – to start the day. The smell of local, organic angus beef bone stock and staff chow are waving hello and the sight of busy bodies dancing across the kitchen, are all enough to jumpstart the brain and wake us all up from our slumber. Everyday you hear the sound of La Colombe’s heartbeat blaring through the speakers; from Queen, to Michael Jackson to some intense techno/trance beats – getting us all pumped up while we prep. The chanting never stops; you don’t go a minute without hearing a song squeeze through someone’s lips, to immediately be caught by someone else’s. The energy is immeasurable, leaving you in a euphoric state of withdrawal on your days off. The brilliant banter and soulful laughs keep the spirits running high. There is a quiet, youthful resilience about that place and those people; they are forever in a state of becoming – which holds so much potential and is so inspiring. I met some interesting and talented craftsman whom I had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with and learning from. To them I am so thankful. Without a doubt the most beautiful, valuable, well-rounded and worthwhile rollercoaster ride I’ve ever been on.

As they do, the questions flew out of my mouth every 5 minutes, in the name of curiosity and discovery; from where food items lived, to why things were made a certain way, to where produce is sourced from. The questions never stopped and neither did the tasting because there was always something new to learn in that kitchen. Sooner rather than later I got the hang of where and how things were meant to be stored – the team was so helpful and attentive.

I was very lucky to have experienced La Colombe host a private function – the team was on fire, hands everywhere, working as one to curate a beautiful experience for the guests – it was exhilarating to be a part of and it gave me the opportunity to admire and appreciate what a talented group of people can achieve.

For most of my time at La Colombe I was placed in the starters section, where I was involved in making/plating/prepping 2 starters and 1 tapas dish. A normal day involves 2 shifts; lunch prep (sometimes organising staff chow), staff breakfast, more lunch prep, lunch service, a 2hr break, dinner prep, staff dinner, more dinner prep, dinner service and a clean down.

Starters focuses on freshness, excellent technique, speed, preparation and plating – ensuring immaculate assembly of components during service. In contrast, the last 3 weeks I was placed on pots (sauce section), which involved a completely different way of working with produce – more robust, no plating involved and more flavour development required during and before service. I learned that in both sections, being fast and precise is sought after and that I still have a very long way to go until I can be both fast and perfect in my work, at the same time.

The things I valued most:

The importance that taste, flavour and seasoning plays in everything being created at La Colombe.

The food is truly flavoursome and prepared to perfection – there is no compromising.

Foraging is a go! – from samphire, to edible flowers, herbs and mushrooms.

An organic sense of comradery that ensues harmony and togetherness.

A kitchen that facilitates and encourages learning – this culinary establishment is committed to equipping young individuals, from all over the country, with a broad skill set rooted in mastering technique, flavour balance/development and, management/responsibility of one’s own tasks.

The plating is sublime – everything on the plate has its place, but never forced, just naturally and carefully crafted.

Every chef and cook gets the opportunity to work in a different capacity, they get rotated to a different section regularly. This way, learning and teaching, begins and ends with every individual – it becomes a responsibility that builds trust and broadens culinary knowledge. This instils confidence and allows everyone to become familiar with every section.

Interesting food:

  • Bread rolls made with a red wine reduction
  • Pork fat butter that is bright orange
  • Walnut-Cumin Ice-cream that screams magic subtlety
  • Salty, Caramelised White Chocolate with popping candy – makes you want to commit 1000 crimes of gluttony, it’s THAT moreish
  • Watermelon and Elderflower palate cleanser – a cold, flavoured liquid (first frozen) dipped in cocoa butter which then ruptures in your mouth once you softly crack it open with your teeth – nothing beats seeing the surprise on someone’s face when they have this for the first time
  • Sweetcorn, cauliflower, chicken Veloute sauce – I’ve gained a newfound respect for this ‘food group’ as it creates a multi-dimensional flavour profile that your senses simply cannot compute. It leaves me astounded how French cuisine, uses the simplest techniques to create such powerful flavour
  • Cherry Stracciatella – this refers to tempered white chocolate piped into ice water that hardens to look like branches, then coated in freeze dried cherry powder
  • Celery leaf and verbena espuma used in a dessert
  • Samphire – succulent that grows near the sea and is of the parsley family
  • Onion, potato and cauliflower fondants – mesmerising and nostalgic – when perfectly seasoned, they give you a real reason to live

I’m so grateful I experienced this masterpiece first hand. This honey pot and it’s bees are GOLD! Thank you for enlightening me, sharing your knowledge with me and making me laugh and smile on the daily. For what they do, La Colombe does it best.