The Edible Garden at Delaire Graff Estate
The road that winds through Delaire Graff Estate is breathtaking; it is flanked on all sides by vibrant, meticulously trimmed indigenous flora and is shaded naturally by a canopy of trees. It is clear at first glimpse that the natural surroundings are a huge part of what make this Estate a special place, along with its wines, luxury accommodation, incredible views over the Banhoek Valley and award-winning culinary offering.
Where indigenous flora can be scrubby and unkempt, at Delaire Graff Estate it is coaxed into well-behaved bushes and neat walkways that show off its varied beauty. What guests to the Estate may not know though, is that these manicured gardens also extend to a flourishing vegetable garden, from which produce is picked daily, to be used in the two onsite restaurants.
Michael Deg is the Head Chef at Delaire Graff Restaurant, and for him, the garden is incredibly important. The Durban-born chef spent 10-years in Dublin honing his skills, but weather restrictions and being city based, made going out and actually harvesting produce quite challenging. Instead, it arrived daily by way of suppliers. The opportunity now to walk through the gardens on a daily basis, to see what is flourishing, and to be in touch with what is in season, inspires the dishes and the menu that he puts together.
The vegetable garden at the Estate lies adjacent to the vineyards, and was originally set up by previous chef Christiaan Campbell. It is lovingly tended and looked after by Zimbabwean-born Jerry Gumungyu, who is passionate about this garden and knows every corner of it intimately. Because of the extreme heat of the area, part of the garden is under the cover of a shaded canvas greenhouse, which helps protect more fragile plants. With temperatures in summer reaching up into the early forties, it is definitely a necessity.
What is quite unique at Delaire Graff Estate is the thriving micro green ‘mini greenhouse’, which sits adjacent to the main one. Inside is row upon row of trays of tiny micro herb plants such as pea shoots, baby radish, mustard, nasturtium, sunflower and linseed shoots. Growing micro herbs is an absolute labour of love – these mini plants just get going before they are picked and need to be started again from scratch. Their flavour and beauty when plating a dish are so special though, that it’s worth the patience it takes to grow them. Its a job that Jerry puts a lot of effort into.
Jerry does not only have his plants and baby herbs to tend to though; he also has a thriving worm population to look after as well. In the restaurant kitchens, compostable waste is collected in special blue bins, and this waste is brought up to the wormery. The wormery works on a layer system, the worms begin from the bottom with compostable waste placed upon them, they then eat their way up to the surface and more food is added. Once they have reached the final top layer, this is the sign that all the food in the box has been eaten and the compost is harvested. The cycle then begins again. These compost worms can ingest their own bodyweight in matter each day. They are surface feeders, so they like to stay close to where the action is. They work extremely hard processing the kitchen scraps (with a little help from some organic Bokashi) and the result is rich, dark, healthy soil full of nutrients, which then goes back into the garden to nourish new plants. It’s a great cyclical system that minimises wastage and ensures healthy new growth.
Jerry cites the weather as the biggest challenge for the garden with temperature variations playing havoc with the plants, however standing and admiring the garden, this would be hard for the untrained eye to spot. We see zucchini flowers budding, and Jerry points out beetroot, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, chillies (chef Michael’s latest project), beans and even Peppadews. What makes it onto the plate in the restaurant doesn’t only come from the veggie garden; the kitchen team also traverse the Estate in search of wild ingredients such as wood sorrel and chickweed. Whatever makes it onto the plate, whether it be from the ornamental or vegetable gardens, it is 100% driven by what is in season locally.
Chef Michael also tells us that the olive oil used in the recipe he is going to be preparing for us, is from olives also grown on the Estate. The olives were specifically cultivated for oil production, and, once harvested, were pressed next door at Tokara. 150 litres of Delaire Graff-grown olive oil was produced and features on the menu alongside other garden-picked ingredients.
As we bid Jerry goodbye and head back down to the kitchen, chef Michael reiterates the fact that the food he likes to cook features big flavour profiles, served elegantly in dishes that are inspired by what is in season. A box of beautiful ripe red tomatoes were picked while we wandered through the garden – our guess is that they will be taking centre stage. Chef Michael believes that the produce picked straight from the garden and sent to the kitchen should be treated with minimal intervention and should be showcased for its natural flavour and beauty. With the popularity of Delaire Graff Restaurant – booked months in advance – it is clear that this philosophy is serving them well.