GARDEN ROUTE NEWS AND VIDEO - Lizelle Stolze, executive chef and co-owner of the internationally renowned fine dining restaurant in Wilderness, Serendipity, is addicted to good food.
She enjoys a cup of fresh, strong coffee, darkest chocolate, freshly baked olive foccacia and a chunk of artisan cheese.
Lizelle obtained her BCom degree in hotel and tourism management from the University of Pretoria, after which she gained top honours as a dux cum laude student of Prue Leith Academy of Food and Wine, where she also lectured afterwards.
She is a Fellow of the South African Chefs Association (Saca) and an Honoraire Vice Conceilleire Culinaire of the Chaine Des Rotisseurs.
Lizelle and hubby Rudolf founded Serendipity Restaurant in 2001. In 2010 the South African Tourism Association selected her as one of the Top 10 young chefs and in 2013 SATourism named her as one of the Top 10 women chefs in South Africa.
George Herald journalist Kristy Kolberg visited her to find out what makes this dynamic chef tick.
When, why and how did you decide to become a chef?
I grew up in a home where many a dinner party was hosted and we travelled often to exotic places. This triggered my natural keenness for cooking and made my career choice a very natural one. I studied BCom hotel and tourism management at Tuks after a year abroad post-matric, but realised there that I want to be in the 'heat' of the kitchen, and not in a hotel office. This led me to Prue Leith College of Food and Wine, where I completed a diploma with honours.
Your favourite chef in the world and why?
At the moment - and it changes as I experience new places, people and cuisine - I think Swedish chef Niklas Ekstedt. He has a superb restaurant that does all their cooking on fire! They are passionate about their methods, sourcing their products and showcasing Swedish cuisine. This is similar to our philosophy at Serendipity - although we don't cook everything on fire.
What is your favourite recipe to prepare?
It is difficult to pick only one. I love working with porcini mushrooms that we pick in the forests in our area. Their aroma is intoxicating. The most delicious thing to use them for is a porcini risotto – I make mine with maize rice. Recently, because of the 'forced' time-off that Covid-19 gave us, I have been toying with charcuterie. We successfully made the most delicious coppa, pancetta and salami from a bushpig that my husband shot with bow and arrow.
You have won many awards. What makes Serendipity such a great restaurant?
Our whole team love what we do and want to do the best we can. It is fun to come to work - and not many people can say that. We strive to showcase the bounty of South African ingredients found in our area. We treat our raw ingredients with respect and I believe that if you start with quality, you do not have to hide it behind overly processed methods and excess seasonings.
What is your favourite part of being a chef?
Every day you get the chance to create and start afresh. Every day brings a new challenge and a new blank canvas. It is a very dynamic and inspiring profession and you never stop learning. Last month we were also announced as the winners of the World Luxury Restaurant Awards for South African Cuisine, as well as the Continent Winner for Fine Dining - this is truly a great honour for us.
What do you eat at home?
We love to braai as a family. Our favourite would be thick-cut saddle lamb chops from our friend's farm in Victoria West, braaied with salt and lemon juice. And what would a braai be without braaibroodjies with tomato, onion and lots of mature cheddar…
What does it take to be a great chef?
Hard work, long unsociable hours and a great team!
What is the vibe in your restaurant kitchen?
Very calm and quite relaxed. I believe you get more out of people by treating them as you would like to be treated than by screaming and shouting.
Biggest faux pas / flop ever?
I grow most of our herbs and garnishes in my garden. We don't spray, because we use it in and on our food. I have a lot of ladybirds and chameleons – nature's pesticides. Just recently I used a beautiful lavender flower on a dessert as a garnish, which I rinsed… just to be called by the guest who found a teeny bright green caterpillar crawling around his plate. Thankfully, he was very understanding and kind about the situation. And it could have been worse…it could have been half a worm!
How do you handle difficult clients?
We treat our clients with respect and kindness. I am very grateful to say that in the 20 years that we have had Serendipity, we have had the most wonderful guests. On the rare occasion that we do have a difficult guest, we will always try to rectify the problem that they have to the best of our ability and to their satisfaction. I think it is also important to be reasonable - and admit when something has gone wrong.
Watch a video below.
Lizelle's delicious barbecued buchu crayfish with curry-infused mayonnaise recipe:
4 medium-sized crayfish
Olive oil for frying
½ cup fresh herbs: garlic buchu and flat-leaf parsley
4 Tbsp butter: use garlic butter or add 1 clove finely chopped
2 lemons, cut in wedges to serve
Salt and pepper
Make a fire and let coals form - it should not be too hot, otherwise the shells scorch and smell terrible, which taints the flesh.
Melt the butter, chop the herbs and garlic and add to the melted butter. Set aside.
Split the crayfish in half lengthwise and clean out the vein. Oil a barbecue griddle plate and sprinkle with a little salt, then place on the fire to heat.
Place the crayfish meat-side down and grill for two minutes on a medium heat. Brush the outside of the shells, using a buchu branch as brush, with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent them from burning. Turn and grill for 10 minutes. Baste generously with herbed garlic butter and lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Remove from the fire and eat from the shells. Dip in curry mayonnaise.
1 large egg yolk
1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt plus more to taste
¾ cup canola oil, divided
1 Tbsp curry spice blend of your choice
1 Tbsp smooth apricot jam
Over a low heat, infuse the oil with the curry powder, by stirring. Remove from the heat.
Combine egg yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Whisk until blended and bright yellow, about 30 seconds.
Using ¼ teaspoon measure and whisking constantly, add ¼ cup oil to yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, about four minutes. Gradually add remaining ½ cup oil in very slow thin stream, whisking constantly, until mayonnaise is thick, about eight minutes. Adjust taste by adding the apricot jam and more salt if needed. Cover and chill.
Can be made up to two days ahead. Keep chilled. Makes just less than a cup.
Potted barley, coriander & dried peach salad
1 cup cooked pearl barley, cooled
Handful dried peaches
4 purple spring onions
1 small sweet red pepper
Small bunch of coriander
Handful baby spinach
Salt and pepper
Soften the peaches by soaking overnight in rooibos tea.
Chop the spring onions, red pepper, coriander (reserve a few sprigs for garnish) and softened peaches into cubes. Place in a large bowl, add the barley and mix. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil to moisten. Mix, add seasoning to taste.
Spoon into four clean jars. Top with the baby spinach and some more coriander. Close tightly and refrigerate until it's picnic time.
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