The Test Kitchen

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Luke Dale-Roberts

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British born chef Luke Dale-Roberts trained at Baur Au Lac Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland– at the time recognised as one of the top five hotels in the world. He returned to London where he honed his skills in the art of French fine dining at Elenas L’Etoile under Roux brothers protégé Kevin Hopgood. This was followed by a move to Australia where he explored Pacific Rim fine dining.

Returning to London, Luke continued his career working at the Bali Sugar (member of the Sugar Club restaurants in the UK), learning fusion cuisine at its best. From there he moved to the famous Soho House Media Club as executive sous chef where he cooked for the rich and famous; regular diners included film and pop stars Madonna, Kevin Spacey, Kylie Minogue and Oasis.

Luke then headed to Asia for a five year stint, launching several restaurants in Singapore to Seoul. He continued to expand his global cooking styles opening modern fine dining venues serving Japanese-style cuisine to traditional French bistros.

In 2006 he took the position of executive chef of La Colombe at Constantia Uitsig, lifting the restaurant not only to the highest local standards, but bringing it international recognition, too. This included two Eat Out restaurant of the year awards, Eat Out Chef of the Year, and culminated in Luke being named ‘One to Watch’ at the San Pellegrino’ World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2013.

Luke’s culinary creations are for the discerning diner in search of imagination and superb technique. He starts with the thought that a dish should be understandable and have bold flavours. “From there I build it and add textures and presentation. I’m always tweaking and refining to find a dish’s full potential,” says Luke. “My mantra is ‘taste, taste, taste!’”

A Recipe by Luke Dale-Roberts

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Winner of the Cacao Barry ‘One to Watch Award’ at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2013, chef Luke Dale-Roberts shares one of his delicious recipes with FOUR…

A Recipe by Luke Dale-Roberts

Winner of the Cacao Barry ‘One to Watch’ award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2013, British born chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ culinary style is based on bold flavours and understandable ingredients. Here, he shares a recipe for a dish which is served at his restaurant The Test Kitchen, currently No.61 on The World’s 50 Best list, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Herb Fired Tuna Loin, Red Cabbage,Apple Dressing with Horseradish Emulsion

Serves 6  

Equipment

Weber barbeque

Meat slicer

Spice blender

Shallow baking tray

Ingredients

500g marlin

100g thyme

1 whole cabbage

Apple Dressing

50g white onion

70ml rice vinegar

100ml soy sauce

5ml sesame seed oil

5ml honey

5ml whole grain mustard

5ml white sesame seeds

Horseradish Emulsion

15ml minced horseradish

5ml wholegrain mustard

10ml white wine vinegar

20ml soy sauce

1 egg yolk

5ml light miso paste

200ml olive Oil

Herb Fired Marlin

Heat the barbeque and place the grid directly onto the coals.

Place thyme around the edges of the barbeque and place the marlin onto the griddle.

Turn the marlin every ten seconds until every side is coloured.

Once cooked, place directly into the fridge for about 30 minutes until cool.

Slice into 1cm thick slices and set aside.

Sliced Cabbage

Trim any outside pieces of cabbage.

Slice the cabbage across the root on a meat slicer, keeping it together as possible. Then, set onto cling film until needed.

Apple Dressing 

Blend all of the ingredients for the apple dressing, except for mustard and sesame seeds, in jug blender or thermo mix.

Stir in mustard and sesame seeds.

Horseradish Emulsion

Place all the ingredients for the horseradish emulsion, except for olive oil into a jug blender and blend for one minute.

Slowly add the olive oil until emulsified and thick.

 

New Latin cuisine

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To celebrate the fact that Latin-American cuisine has vaulted to the top of the food scene, revolutionary chef Luke Dale-Roberts reinterprets the dazzling, seductive blend of Peruvian, Venezuelan and Ecuadorean flavours for South African palates.

New Latin cuisine has had some good press recently with Peruvian restaurant Astrid & Gaston and Mexico’s Pujol both cracking last year’s San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

It’s incredibly exciting that countries like these, long considered falling far outside the traditional gastro-orbit, are now firmy entrenched on the world food map.

I’ve no doubt that it’s the enthusiastic way the locals have embraced and marketed their indigenous cuisines that has piqued the world’s interest. That word ‘nostalgia’ keeps coming to mind and, as far as I’m concerned, it, together with a sense of place, is what’s key when it comes to this type of cooked-from-the-heart food.

And it’s this that is being emulated and adapted by chefs returning home after gruelling stints in foreign kitchens.

Some time back, I got it into my head to drive from Los Angeles across the Mexican border in a ‘64 Chevrolet station wagon (the car died just outside Mexico City). I spent a month in Guatemala learning Spanish and then headed across Central and South America all the way to Bolivia.

The trip gave me the opportunity to try every conceivable type of frijole, tamale, caldo, escabeche and ceviche and I had tortillas coming out of my ears. The best part of the experience was the chance it gave me to totally immerse myself in the tradition, ingredients and flavours of these beautifully vibrant countries.

When I returned to London, I worked with and learnt a lot from a Paraguayan-Canadian chef who’d, in turn, worked closely with Douglas Rodriguez, the globally acclaimed godfather of Nuevo Latino cuisine.

Those lessons have resurfaced recently with the result that we’re increasingly playing with these flavours at The Pot Luck Club. The recipes above are some of my favourite adaptations…

Buen provecho!

Luke

 

TASTE readers’ best restaurants for seasonal fare

PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2012
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TASTE reader Laura Berkell sings the praises of this Woodstock favourite: “Luke Dale-Roberts creates the most innovative menus – the flavour combinations totally stretch the limits of the imagination. The six-course menu paired with exceptional wines is a must.” True to form, multi-award winning chef Dale-Roberts lives up to his reputation with gastronomic greats inspired by the seasons – we’re talking pan-seared duck breast with cashew nut and turnip pureé or lamb fillets with beetroot and Jägermeister jus.

THE TEST KITCHEN: NUMBER 1 RESTAURANT IN SOUTH AFRICA

PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 30TH 2012
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“Luke Dale-Roberts understands the need to integrate the ingredients on the plate so that they create a symphony rather than an ill-assorted collection of competing sonatas,” said international judge, Bruce Palling. The judges also commended Luke for his efforts to uplift the industry, mentoring young chefs and offering opportunities for his staff to shine.

Luke Dale-Roberts on bitter flavours

PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2012
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When used correctly, bitter flavours surprise and excite. The trick, however, is to know how far you can push the taste before it becomes unpalatable. Bitterness – it’s a sharp tool, so handle with care.

It’s a funny thing … we’re conditioned, for the most part, to consider bitter as an unpleasant taste. Take poisonous plants, for instance.

Often, they’re excruciatingly bitter – it’s Mother Nature’s way of giving us a heads-up, I guess.

The Italians, on the other hand, know a thing or two about this enigmatic flavour profile – in fact, they’ve mastered the art of understanding how to get just the right amount of bitterness to turn a so-so dish into something fabulous.

On a recent trip to the country, I made a point of heading to Massimo Bottura’s incredible Osteria Francescana in Modena.The influential avant-garde chef was kind enough to give me a table in the kitchen, where I was served 14 incredible courses by his team.

Before my gastronomic adventure kicked off, I was given a swig of gentian, a very bitter spirit that is poured over ice, swilled and then topped up with San Pellegrino.

The aroma was described to me as a mixture of herbs, fog and grass. And it was exactly that.

I remember these flavours vividly from my childhood in Switzerland … I wasn’t mad about them then but now I find them surprisingly addictive.

Test kitchen among the best

PUBLISHED MAY 3RD 2012
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PASSING the test of culinary quality wasn’t easy, but The Test Kitchen in Woodstock more than managed.

The restaurant has just made it on to Restaurant Magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Best Restaurants.

It’s ranked #74 and is only one of two South African, or African, restaurants to have nabbed a place on the list.

The list includes restaurants from all over the world, such as The Fat Duck in England, Alinea in the US and Denmark’s Nome, which has topped the list for three years. The other SA restaurant to make the list, The Tasting Room in Le Quartier Francais of Franschoek, ranked #57, though it ranked #36 in 2011.

“I would say it was an aspiration of mine,” said The Test Kitchen’s founder and head chef Luke Dale-Roberts.

“Actually being on the list is a vindication of all the hard work my team has put in.” The Test Kitchen is located at The Old Biscuit Mill in a space that Dale-Roberts chose because of its raw, urban feel.

The restaurant serves dishes such as pork belly with coco bean and bay leaf and trout tartare with green apple, lime and crème fraiche. Of the restaurant’s success, Dale-Roberts said he was unsure what the secret was. “I think the creations we concoct in the Test Kitchen are new and cool. I think that human beings all over the world are looking for something new.”

Dale-Roberts said he also planned to open a new lab near the original restaurant where he could have a quiet space to experiment with new dishes – a pursuit which occupies most of his time. He hoped the list would have positive consequences not just for his restaurant, but for Cape Town as a city.

“It’s not just the Test Kitchen on the list, it’s Cape Town,” he added.

Cape of good food

PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2012
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I was barely out of my teens the first time I went to South Africa, and I have visited the country almost annually since then. My most recent trip there was in May last year, when I was invited to Cape Town for the Good Food and Wine Show, and even though the visit was hectic I still found time to have some really great meals.

Many people realise now that South African produce is exceptional, whether fruit or fish, meat or vegetables. Much of it is organically grown in rich soil in a great climate, while the grass-fed beef tastes exactly as it should. As for the fish, what can you say except that it’s as fresh as it is possible to be? I remember years ago sitting on Fish Hoek beach near Cape Town with my dad, looking out across the sand to the ocean while eating plain grilled crayfish, and I can still remember how they tasted. What we know in England as crayfish aren’t the same — the South African saltwater crayfish are like small lobsters and have all the succulence of really fresh shellfish. And even better, they only cost about £2.50 each at a beachside cafe.

It’s odd how memories of food stay with you. The first time I visited the Cape, I came across guavas and guava juice, which I had never seen or tasted either before, and for ever after that guavas reminded me of South Africa — even though they’re originally a tropical fruit from America. It is one of the great joys of food that it can root you in a time and place. I still remember my first taste of waterblommetjiebredie (a hearty winter stew made with lamb and the wild Cape hawthorn) and bobotjie (spiced mince baked with an egg topping) — foods that belonged to the place where I first ate them.

South African cooking has changed and evolved over the years, as cooking has everywhere, and is getting better and better. There are exceptional restaurants there that would be fabulous wherever you found them. I had a great meal, for instance, at Delaire Graff in Stellenbosch, where the chef, Christiaan Campbell, produced a meal with what I can only describe as refined gutsiness, while his use of vegetables was superb — beetroot carpaccio, garden vegetable pappardelle, mushroom ragout.We also had a terrific dinner at the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel at Constantia, where every course was perfectly balanced.

And of course we ate at the Test Kitchen at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town, which belongs to my friend Luke Dale-Roberts, a truly fantastic chef. His approach to food is very modern because he has this ability of putting seemingly incongruent ingredients together in such a way that they work amazingly well — which is something close to my heart. Highlights included beef fillet and smoked bone marrow with his take on Chinese spicy seafood XO dressing and crispy salad, or a pan-fried line fish with roasted corn purée and prawn Chinese-style dumplings with toasted garlic and ginger velouté. Luke’s instincts and knowledge are of the moment. What I particularly admire about his food is that he understands how important acidity is in a dish. We all know the importance of sweet and salt in a recipe, but it is the acidity of such ingredients as vinegar or lemon juice that creates mouthwatering appeal and accentuates the top notes in any dish.

There are now so many good chefs in South Africa that I have a job catching up, but I always try to see Margot Janse and Susan Huxter at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek. Margot is a fantastic chef and is constantly driving the Quartier to new levels of quality with Susan, its owner.

If you look back at British restaurants in the 1980s, our chefs were cooking French food, whereas now they are all cooking their own cuisine with a wide variety of influences. That’s what has happened in South Africa, too — after all, the country has so many historical influences, from Cape Malay to Portuguese to French to its own indigenous food. One of the most exciting things now about South Africa is this new-found confidence in its own flavours.

The great wines help — many of them on a par with top international labels. Over the years I’ve seen how South African wine-making has changed; for a while, some of the more earthy vintages lost a bit of character as they chased international markets, but they are back to producing really interesting wines. It’s well worth dropping in to some of the boutique wineries for a tasting. I’m a particular fan of what is happening with the chenin blanc grape at Badenhorst in Swartland, where cousins Hein and Adi Badenhorst use unirrigated vines planted in the 1960s to make natural wines in the traditional manner. I also like the distinctive and characterful labels coming from Eben Sadie’s winery in Swartland, and those of Boekenhoutskloof.

This winery is in Franschhoek, which is not just the home of some great wineries and fantastic restaurants but is also one of the most beautiful places I know. My sister, who has lived in South Africa for 25 years, now resides there and my dad once had a fruit farm there. I nearly bought a restaurant in the area a few years ago, and was within half an hour of making it mine when the deal fell through. It obviously wasn’t meant to happen then because that’s when I came back to England and started on my own restaurants. But I still think of the place, that lovely valley surrounded by mountains, with Cape Dutch architecture everywhere — it’s probably where I want to retire.

The Restaurant: The Test Kitchen

PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2nd 2011
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Luke Dale Roberts meets his guests at the door. At 7pm on a winter’s night the cobblestone courtyard, with its clay-brick walls and bric-a-brac shops, carries a sense of intrigue that frames his Cyrano de Bergerac profile.

The once-industrial setting of the old Pyott’s (a household name and inventor of the much-loved Romany Cream) Biscuit Factory is carried through into the restaurant – raw walls and a working centre with its batterie de cuisine and cast of young chefs with chiselled profiles, a tableau that suddenly comes to life like a wind-up device.

A girl with a stab of blonde hair sharpens knives; huge male hands handle the tiniest frond with the delicacy of an elephant dancing on a leaf.

The menu is bejewelled with fugitive new tastes: liver and liquorice jus, juniper salsa and Korean tartare.

I go for yellowtail sashimi with tendrils of umami onion purée, a combination that allows delicious routes from classical sauce decadence to the skinned economy of Asia with the wild-mountain taste of mirin and yuzu jelly, which invites finger dipping and is crisped up with filigreed chips.

My companion and I share the next course (we have a choice of three starters and one main) of veal tongue and scallops with peanut and elephant-garlic purée sprung with a bold and complex velouté spiced with ginger that is an out-of-body experience. The scallop is fine and squashy and the tongue is very tonguey: you either like it or you don’t. Dale Roberts tells me it is brined for six days, then poached and finally pan-fried.

“I couldn’t sell tongue in my last restaurant. Here people can’t get enough. You have to keep reinventing. I met this French cook, Pierre Gagnaire, in Korea, in his 60s. He hadn’t lost his passion for cooking. It was so inspiring. Producing food for people can be really crappy and it is easy to burn out.”

While my friend tackles trout tartare and some foamy miso, deemed “to die for”, I go for foie gras in a thin stripe (which overcomes its kitty-litter appearance) with red cabbage and fig confit and a mouthful of rabbit loin, a sad-looking limb for a girl brought up on jugged hare.

The artistry is to combine tame with wild, never upstaging the main ingredient. My main dish, pan-fried springbok loin, just bloody enough, is never overpowered by the pungent porcini jus, a dish of such locality that it reminds me of setting out to find Boletus edulus in the woods at just this time of year. There is nothing like food gathered from the region.

The springbok tastes of the veld and I am reminded of picking grapes in the south of France, where we collected snails and roasted them on a fire. In the village was an ancient woman who was reputed to be the last female truffle hunter in France (you had to be a virgin) who one night cooked us a meal of tortoise, which she served with wine to which she had added wild honey and herbs.

Wines are paramount in The Test Kitchen, with wine buffs swirling and sipping. When I tell the wine waiter that I know nothing about wines, he brings me samples and I fall for Palladius, a white blend from The Sadie Family that has an antiquity: as if someone had said: “Bring me a magnum of old Mumm from the cellar”.

The aperitif is a pomegranate daiquiri, and throughout the meal we are brought unexpected extras – foams, jus, geleés and a cep velouté sprinkled with grated chestnut that is recklessly tasteful.

Too full for pudding, I spoon a couple of mouthfuls of pine-nut parfait with chestnut crumble that hits the sweet spot.

The service is both knowledgeable and unobtrusive. Although the menus seem intimidating, the atmosphere is easy, with people feeding forked enchantments to each other. A tiny bulb turns out to be a chestnut.

The whole thing is a balancing act, tastes that range from mandarin skin to pepper – an underrated substance over which wars were once fought.

“The main ingredient has got to be the star,” says Dale Roberts. “Everything else is the supporting cast.”

The artistry of this culinary combustion may have been lit by his experience as former head chef of Cape Town’s La Colombe. Now The Test Kitchen is packed every night with people eager for new sensations.

“My job is mainly about creating,” he says. “I try to be original and we do a lot of testing. If I start a dish and it looks as if it won’t work, I just drop it. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and see the whole thing in my mind’s eye, and it always works. When I first arrived in South Africa, the selling point was always ‘export quality’. It seemed it couldn’t be good unless it was good for someone else. That is changing. The expectation is definitely higher. So is the level of skill.”

It is a perfect evening, with not a rocket leaf in sight.

And at least nobody can say: “I could have cooked that at home for half the price.”

Why Cape Town’s Woodstock Rocks

PUBLISHED JUNE 2011
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The day Woodstock officially became Cape Town’s hottest district can be dated to Nov. 24, 2010 — when Luke Dale-Roberts opened the Test Kitchen there.

Dale-Roberts is the chef who took South Africa’s most venerable restaurant, La Colombe in Constantia, and, by adding Asian spice to its French cuisine, propelled it to the 12th spot on the 2010 S. Pellegrino list of the world’s 50 best restaurants. By taking his latest venture to Woodstock, just east of downtown, he set seal to a process of local trendification that has seen the area of Victorian cottages and old factories become home to artists’ ateliers and designers’ studios.

Woodstock used to be a forgotten zone between two highways heading out of town, and for years there was good reason to drive by. Once a thriving business district, and for a while a proud apartheid-era rebel where races defiantly mixed, it fell into economic decline by the 1990s. The factories folded and the area swarmed with muggers and junkies.

In 2003, that began to change. A local business alliance, backed by Cape Town’s mayor, set about cleaning and beautifying the area, and slowly the old warehouses filled up with creative types in need of cheap and centrally located loft space. Giant murals and cool cafés began to line the streets, and a weekend farmers’ market — in the artsy-craftsy Old Biscuit Mill, theoldbiscuitmill.co.za — became the city’s foodie mecca. The arrival of the city’s top chef amply confirms that status.

Dale-Roberts had known the area for some time. Confined to La Colombe in Cape Town’s southern vineyards during the week, he would, come Saturday, head up to the farmers’ market and sell rösti to hungry shoppers. When a small, bare room became available at the Old Biscuit Mill, he knew he had found “the perfect blank canvas” on which to create a restaurant dedicated to creative experimentation. After a refit involving local craftsmen, designers and artists, the 30-seat venue opened last year to spectacular reviews and long waiting lists — sometimes up to two months in advance.

Diners can order à la carte or choose from three-, five- or eight-course tasting menus, priced at about $50, $65 and $80 respectively. The dishes change almost every night, but the formula is constant: highly creative cooking that mixes the likes of lamb rack with dark beer, or tomato and mozzarella with gooseberry, vanilla and pepper syrup. The combinations are not always to everyone’s taste, but in their blend of the exquisite and the quirky they perfectly capture the flavor of the rejuvenated Woodstock itself.