At FABER, situated on the scenic Avondale wine estate near Paarl in the Western Cape winelands, the garden ultimately dictates what’s on the menu. Being both creative and resourceful with Mother Nature’s seasonal bounty is at the heart of everything that chef Dale Stevens and his team strive to achieve at this charming, understated restaurant on the slopes of the Klein Drakenstein Mountains in Paarl.
Taking responsibility for the provenance, traceability and carbon footprint of every element that ends up on the plate is a task which these chefs take very seriously. It’s one of the reasons why FABER is proud to be recognised by the judging panel for the 2019 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards. The restaurant has just been singled out as one of the top 30 nominees for South Africa’s benchmark Eat Out restaurant awards. Furthermore, Dale Stevens has been nominated for the Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star Award, which shines a light on the next generation of top chefs in the country.
Team FABER has also recently become the proud recipient of the JHP Gourmet Guide Haute People Award 2020, one of a handful of special awards presented by Jenny Handley to those making their mark on the South African culinary scene. “Our restaurant is a stone’s throw from the garden, so when we say farm to fork, we mean it quite literally,” says chef Dale, describing his staff’s morning ritual of harvesting what’s ripe and ready to be pulled or picked from the farm’s abundant garden.
Even the waiters go into the garden to pick lemons to make a refreshing fruit cordial, which is served as a welcome drink on warm days. The likes of carrots or cucumbers may differ in size and shape, but here Mother Nature’s perfection is measured by intense, nutrient-dense flavour rather than looks. From root vegetables to delicate herbs and salad leaves, everything is farmed using the same biodynamic principles as the grapes that go into Avondale’s award-winning wines.
“In the past year we’ve had time to focus on specific ingredients and, in this way, have been able to refine our offering,” says Dale. Summer salads will soon feature brightly coloured watermelon radishes, while the young and tender leeks of early summer are caramelised and served with medium-rare grass-fed steak. The cows are fed on a pasture ‘salad bar’, and are moved every afternoon at 2 o’clock to a new pasture. Pastures reach a nutrient high at this time of day. This results in cows eating less but gaining more energy, which positively influences the quality and flavour of the meat.
In the restaurant’s kitchen, the lesser known cuts of an animal are used, like beef cheeks and tongue and are given more flavour by using age-old preserving methods, such as pickling and brining. Fish and other ingredients are cold smoked to retain the delicate flavours. Surplus fruit and vegetables are preserved for use when they’re out of season. Preserved lemons, homemade fruit preserves and chutneys, kimchi and pickled vegetables are all made in-house and become highly prized embellishments to the simplest of dishes.
If an ingredient cannot be sourced from the farm, Chef Dale leans on a couple of carefully chosen, trusted suppliers with a shared reverence for provenance and the ethics of food. Long before the chefs start working their magic in the kitchen, the flavour and nutritional content of an ingredient is influenced by the health of the soil in which it is grown. Practices include the use of biodynamic preparations to build the organic matter of the soil, seasonal crop rotation, companion planting and the use of cover crops, such as clover, to actively enrich the soil.
The entire farm is certified organic and constantly pushing the boundaries of the latest advances in sustainable practices. The restaurant’s slow-food dining philosophy is perfectly aligned to Avondale’s minimal-intervention approach to organic viticulture and natural winemaking. The vigour of well-tended vines leads to flavourful grapes and individually crafted, classic wines bursting with life and character.
So, what can diners expect this summer? The bread board will still include FABER’s crowd-pleasing pumpkin fritter and Dale’s excellent sourdough bread too. The bread dough’s two-day, 18-hour natural yeast fermentation process results in pre-digested gluten, which makes it not only flavourful and delicious, but also easier to digest. Summer also means fresh yellowtail and, as with most seasonal ingredients, Dale prefers to serve it as simply as possible.
The thinly sliced raw fish is brushed with a miso and garlic glaze, then briefly seared, before being drizzled with an orange dressing. Duck and chicken is hormone free and organic. The chickens housed in the Avondale Egg Mobile farm produce around 90 eggs every day, which means there is always an egg dish on the menu. The eggs are used extensively in the kitchen’s pastry section too.
Desserts are typically a simple expression of ripe, seasonal fruit, including favourites like granadillas, lemons and strawberries, served with homemade ice creams or sorbets.