Foraging is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot in the culinary industry, but if there's one chef who can sleep easy knowing that he is true to his foraging routes, it's Kobus van der Merwe. All dishes at his South African restaurant Wolfgat are made with ingredients found within a few miles of the kitchen and with the deepest respect for the area, the ecosystem and the seasons.
Wolfgat itself is around 150km from Cape Town. Housed in an old fisherman's cottage that was built on the ancient Wolfgat cave (from where the restaurant gets its name), it offers views over the ocean and seats only 20 people at once.
Kobus originally made waves in 2019 when he not only won the best Far Flung Restaurant (150km from the nearest large city is pretty far flung!) at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, but also the coveted Best Restaurant overall. Proving that people are willing to travel to taste his local flavours. Not a bad result for a former food blogger turned bistro owner who had no experience in running a restaurant outside of one year of culinary school.
Perhaps that's why Kobus and Wolfgat are famous for their laid back approach to the industry. There is no hierarchy, very few of the staff are professionally trained, and nearly all are local women – the sisters and daughters of the local fisherman from whom they purchase the fish included on their daily menu.
Kobus's earliest food memories are searching for seaweed with his Grandmother for her to sun dry and cook with. Add to this the experience of his Grandfather farming cattle in the Kalahari, and you can understand how, even as a young boy, he learned to appreciate the importance of nature, and its caprice, with regards to putting food on the table.
It's this reverence that makes Kobus and his team a force of nature themselves. Concentrating on the local Strandveld Fynbos, the shrubland around the coast, the restaurant staff explore the coastline daily looking for fresh and innovative items they can cook with. Diners may even have the pleasure of an employee explaining where they found their meal and why that particular item was chosen. Focusing on flavours that have previously been looked down upon, or even ignored for generations, Kobus respects his location's heritage, its community and the general sustainability of ingredients.
Born in the Kalahari and raised in Cape Town, Kobus dreamed of a career in Fine Arts or Classical Music, but chose culinary school as a safe option. However, the realistic prospect of working in a hot, busy, industrial kitchen didn't appeal, and the call of travelling the world unsurprisingly did. After a few years exploring his passions, he decided that being able to write about those passions would be as good as forging a career in them. So, upon his return to Cape Town, he completed a media studies course, freelanced as a classical music reviewer, and eventually joined Eat Out magazine as a food writer.
Whilst the role was perfect for him, the idea of creating culinary stories rather than writing them began to appeal more and more. Finally, finding himself at a crossroads, Kobus took that plunge – leaving his job in Cape Town and moving to the small fishing village of Paternoster to help his parents with their retirement project. That retirement project happened to be what we would probably call a 'Farm Shop' stocking local produce and artisan gifts. Oh, and it just happened to include a bistro cafe that would need running by somebody in the family.
Die Winkel op Paternoster is based in an old Shark Oil factory building and has been a family store since the 1980's. On his arrival, Kobus found Oep ve Koep, the small bistro behind the store, serving imported fish and chips and other tourist favourites. Wanting to bring the taste of the area to visitors, the bistro's blackboard soon read “Hyper-local, considered, heritage, slow, seasonal Strandveld food served here” - A sentence Kobus has lived by since moving into his own property in the town, Wolfgat
As a country not necessarily known for a specific cuisine, Kobus has a blank slate to work with and is determined to bring the flavours of South Africa to the world. With his creations, not only are you tasting award winning food, you're tasting the country itself. Perfect for our Cape Town experience.
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