Sunday, 24 August 2014

Babel - fresh innovation

The reason for a recent visit to Babylonstoren was lunch at Babel.  I had come across the menu a while back and thought it seemed somewhat decent.  I am a pushover when it comes to fresh, locally sourced ingredients and with this restaurant, that concept is taken to a whole new level.  The estate's 8 acre garden, with extensive fruit and vegetables, is harvested throughout the year and is inspired by the Company Gardens of the Cape. 

Our lunch began with fresh bread, guava, pesto and real butter.  The RED salad was our choice and it must rank in my top 5 of all time.  Brilliant combinations of flavour and great textural components.  My beef short-rib was about as tender as is possible but the game-changer was the cauliflower dish.  A real stroke of genius, that sounded good, looked great and tasted even better.  Sometimes chef's try to be a little too clever with it comes to thinking outside the box.  Sometimes they get it exactly right.

Amazingly, head chef Cornelle Minie never thought she would be a chef.  She said that it might have all started because her mom had 2 dishes - take it or leave it.  She started playing around with food, began to enjoy the rush, and wanted to learn more.  Her formal studies were at Silwood Kitchens, in Rondebosch, where she received her Grande Diploma.  Her first job was at Terroir (at Kleine Zalze), under the supervision of Nic Van Wyk and Michael Broughton.  A couple of years in Scotland, at a Boutique Hotel and a little restaurant, followed this and then she returned to SA, and The Big Easy, in Stellenbosch.  Her next move was to Cuvee at Simonsig before the opportunity at Babel arrived.  Cornelle says that the real joy at Babel, is the ability to harvest fresh produce daily, compiling menu's around whatever is available in the garden.  She gets to do what she loves, learning everyday in an environment with endless possibility.       

'The' Cauliflower dish

Cornelle was happy to share her fantastic Cauliflower dish with us.

Cauliflower sandwich with poached guavas, melting gorgonzola, macadamia nuts and viola salt

  1. 3 whole cauliflower heads, green leaves removed
  2. 4 ripe guavas, whole
  3. 150g gorgonzola
  4. bunch of purple viola flowers, dried
  5. 5 Tbsp fleur de sel - hand harvested sea salt
  6. 200g macadamia nuts, roasted
  7. olive oil
For the poaching liquid:
  1. 4 Tbsp granulated sugar
  2. water
  3. 1 stick cinnamon
  4. 2 star anise
  5. 1 piece of lemon zest - just the skin
  • preheat the oven to 180 C
  • steam the whole cauliflower heads for 20-30 mins, until just cooked, and set aside
  • for the poaching liquid, combine all ingredients in a saucepan (cover with just enough liquid to cover guavas) and poach them on a medium heat until just soft
  • remove the guavas from the liquid and set aside
  • for the viola salt, grind the dried violas until it looks like dust, combine with just enough salt to get a purple colour
  • to dry out violas, put them on a baking tray and leave in a warm place to dry out overnight
  • put macadamia nuts on a baking tray and put in a hot oven until golden in colour, leave to cool
  • chop the roasted macadamia nuts and set aside
  • to assemble, slice the cauliflower into 2-3cm thick slices 
  • you need 2 slices per person
  • lay the slices on a baking tray and top all the slices with gorgonzola
  • slice the guavas and place them on every second slice of cauliflower (so one slice will have just gorgonzola and the next will have gorgonzola and guava)
  • place in a hot oven for 5 - 10 mins until hot and warmed through
  • place the slice with both the gorgonzola and guava on the plate and top with the slice with just the gorgonzola
  • put a pinch of viola salt next to the sandwich
  • scatter the macadamia nuts over and around the cauliflower and drizzle with olive oil
  • garnish with some fresh viola flowers

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