Shaun Schoeman – Fyndraai Head Chef
It might come as a surprise that Franschhoek — the “French Corner” of the Cape Winelands also known as South Africa’s culinary capital — offers more than bouillabaisse and coq au vin. Rather than turning to Europe for inspiration, 31-year-old Shaun Schoeman, who is the head chef at Solms-Delta’s Fyndraai Restaurant, is looking towards his own heritage for dishes that speak the rich languages of South Africa,
A local boy, Schoeman started out prepping in the Bread and Wine and Chamonix kitchens during weekends and school holidays. He completed three years of Professional Cookery Modules at Cape Technikon, before returning to Franschhoek’s Haute Cabriere Restaurant, under the watchful eye of Matthew Gordon. After two further years at Cape Town’s legendary Aubergine, and appointments at top Franschhoek restaurants Monneaux and Mont Rochelle, Schoeman was well-versed in contemporary European fusion cuisine.
It was the opportunity to run his own restaurant at Solms-Delta that pulled Schoeman out of his comfort zone into a world of unknown ingredients, and back to his family’s own Khoi roots. Helping South Africans to take pride in their ‘rainbow heritage’ is central to Solms-Delta’s philosophy, and was the brief for the restaurant, to be translated in culinary form. Nearly four years ago, Schoeman began a crash course on the culinary history of South Africa and its largely forgotten indigenous ingredients, Today, he presides over a busy kitchen with fantastical dishes like wild mushroom and garlic risotto with Kalahari truffle essence, and marinated vegetable bokmelkkaas wrap with wildeknoffel.
Fyndraai’s unique menu weaves together the three influences on South African cuisine, Khoi, Dutch and Slave (Cape Malay) in food prepared with classical sensibility. Schoeman’s dishes are also liberally peppered with indigenous herbs, grown on the estate’s Dik Delta edible fynbos garden. The result is genuine “food of this place” which Schoeman believes both locals and visitors will find equally exciting and delicious, as well as a true reflection of the land.
Schoeman’s greatest pride though is not his food, but his people. One would never know by the sophisticated looks and tastes that emerge from Fyndraai’s kitchen that it was launched with completely inexperienced kitchen staff. Shaun has found training and educating his brigade to be deeply rewarding, and a true manifestation of the Solms-Delta way.
At the moment, he is very excited about the restaurant’s latest menu, which reflects his expanding knowledge of Khoi seasonings. It includes dishes using the techniques he’s refined over the last several years to best extract flavours from his basket of native ingredients. Learning how to harness their heady flavours takes time and experimentation, he says. He is also thrilled to be rolling out products that customers can take home with them, like the newest line of lemon relishes and chutneys, spiked with ingredients like home-grown buchu and Gemoedsrus, the fortified Shiraz made on the estate.