Q&A with Eric Bulpitt Chef at Pierneef à la Motte
Eric Bulpitt is the chef at Pierneef à La Motte restaurant, located in Franschhoek at La Motte Wine Estate. We get to know Eric a little better and find out why he became a chef and where he gets his inspiration from.
Where did you grow up and what were your earliest career experiences?
Eric Bulpitt: I was born into an Afrikaans family who loved food. We used to spend holidays on my grandparents’ farm in Rustenburg. My parents were both in the army so moving from town to town was part of life. I was born in Walvis Bay, Namibia and lived in Ruacana, Katima Mulilo, Pretoria, Kimberly, Upington and finished school in Johannesburg before moving to Cape Town in 1997.
After school, I studied Hospitality Management at Granger Bay and it was during my internship in the kitchen that I realized how much I loved the kitchen. I felt that this is where I belonged – amongst the ‘pirates’ and ‘ruffians’ who manned most kitchens back in the days.
I guess the discipline and respect that my father taught me pushed me to strive for more, to better and to prove myself, so I tried to work for the best chefs I could find. I first worked under Jonathan Staley and from there I went on to work under the late Bruce Robertson, George Jardine and Adam Byatt (Michelin star chef in London).
When did you know that being in the kitchen was going to be the career for you?
Eric Bulpitt: I fell in love with the pressure and pace of a big kitchen when I was a Hotel Management student. The need to make people happy through food is what drives me.
Was there a standout moment that shaped you into the chef you are today?
Eric Bulpitt: My standout moment was when my first mentor and friend, Chef Jonathan Staley, opened my eyes to the world of food knowledge and how much there is to learn.
He presented me with a blank page and said, ‘If this page is the knowledge of food, how much do you think you know?’ Me, being a cheeky young man, pointed at the page and said, ‘About a third’. He laughed, ‘In a world filled with so many cultures and cuisines and ever-evolving techniques and varied ingredients… this is all I know” he said, pointing to a small corner of the page.
I was embarrassed at my cheeky response and realised that no matter how much you think you know, you will never know everything. This moment made me more focused on being a good chef and to strive to gain more and more knowledge.
What is the process that you go through when designing a new dish/menu?
Eric Bulpitt: Firstly, I need to be inspired – either by a seasonal ingredient or a food memory. I start with the single ingredient, which I want to feature and then follow with a list of flavours that work with that ingredient taking into consideration, textures, cooking technique and the five flavours – sweet, salty, savoury, bitter and acidity. I then try to create a dish that is visually appealing, balanced but mostly, tasty.
You are new(ish) to the kitchen at Pierneef à la Motte; can you tell us about your unique style and how you’ll be bringing this to the menu?
Eric Bulpitt: I believe less is more – find a good product and present it retaining its integrity. I try to wow with only a few, well-prepared ingredients per dish.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own personal heritage and does this play into your style as a chef?
Eric Bulpitt: I was raised as an Afrikaans South African and have a passion for the food I grew up with but also with food in general. I like to think that I have an understanding of our country’s various heritages and like to play with the amalgamation of influences which leave so much room for interpretation. We are creating our own cuisine with a world of possibilities.
What’s the most common misconception people have of you at first?
Eric Bulpitt: I try not to bother myself with what other people think of who I am.
We recently did a tasting of the new a La Motte Heritage Food & Wine Pairing; can you tell us a bit about these dishes and where they fit in on the heritage spectrum?
Salmon trout – from Franschhoek and the estate’s French heritage. GET THE RECIPE
Root vegetable tart – taps into my childhood memories on my grandma’s farm in Rustenburg.
Springbok tartare – South Africa is well known for game and this dish is a nod to our hunting heritage with some French influence.
Sosatie – almost every South African knows and grew up with, ‘kerrie sosaties’ at the ‘kerk basaar’. It also celebrates our interesting history with spices and the spice route. GET THE RECIPE
Chocolate Cake – once again, a remembrance of my ouma. GET THE RECIPE
Make your own version of delicious recipes from the La Motte Heritage tasting.
What can we expect going forward at Pierneef à la Motte?
Eric Bulpitt: Good innovative food with a story. Dishes have a footing in our heritage but keep an eye on world trends.
What excites you most about the food scene in South Africa?
Eric Bulpitt: How up to date with the rest of the world we are – we can stand proud internationally.
Any advice for anyone learning to become a great chef?
Eric Bulpitt: Try to convince yourself ten times not to become a chef. If after that, you still want to be a chef, then give it all your life.
All-time favourite series: Chef by Lenny Henry.
Most overrated ingredient: Balsamic vinegar.
Most underrated ingredient: Vegetables.
Cookbook/reference book you can’t live without: French Laundry by Thomas Keller.
Drink to unwind: I am Capetonian and work on a wine estate, so wine or a summer-time gin and tonic.
The à la carte lunch menu is served Tuesday to Sunday 11h30-15h00 and the Garden Menu is served in the garden or on the Pierneef à La Motte stoep Tuesday to Sunday 11h00-17h00. Book your reservation now to experience heritage food done simplistically but tastefully.
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