• A man on a mission. After opening two restaurants in six months, he has emerged more passionate than ever and with his trademark humour intact.

    By Tray Gielink

    fha201252883659The view from Andrew Draper’s apartment is breathtaking. Elevated on Durban’s Berea, the most obvious landmark is the stately King’s House, the president’s official residence in Durban. It’s also within walking distance of both his restaurants.

    An unabashed hedonist with a flair for the dramatic, Andrew’s mahogany-clad kitchen features gold vaulted ceilings and collections of silverware. Large cottage pane windows allow him to keep an eye on the dining room while cooking for friends. He is excessive by nature and endearingly childlike in his enthusiasm when it comes to eating and cooking. “We went to the Kruger [National Park] for six days and on the first night I did a nine-course meal with pigeon as a starter. We travelled with a trailer just for the food and wine. On the second night we went for a night drive and we established there was more venison in my cooler box than in the park!”

    How does he describe his style of cooking? “I am inspired by flavours rather than different styles. Fusion is like culinary promiscuity! One of the things I am proud of is that I have embraced spices: for example, the limeyness of fennel seeds cuts through the sickly sweetness of chocolate. “One of the saddest things in this speedy life is the loss of reduction sauces,” he laments, pointing to his antique table, which has been set with saucier spoons to make sure that not one precious drop is wasted. “I like to do a modern creation and add a classical touch. One of my favourite dishes is oysters in a beef jelly with caviar and truffles.

    You need a classic base of clarified beef stock to make that a modern dish. “I believe that food is artistic – you paint the flavours. Modern food is like a minimalist piece and a classic is like a Victorian painting. When I have a dinner party I love to follow a modern creation with a decadent, totally over-thetop Victorian number!” Andrew studied at ML Sultan Hotel School in Durban and even at the age of 18 knew that he’d have his own restaurant by the time he was 20.

    Studies were followed by an overseas stint to gain experience. “I worked for Marco Pierre White,” he says, hesitating slightly when asked for how long. “Honestly? Three weeks. I wanted some experience but wanted to have some fun at the same time. I wasn’t fired but I was like, ‘I don’t like it here!’” True to his word, Andrew opened his first restaurant, the original Harvey’s, in the week of his 21st birthday. It rapidly gained cult status as Durban’s bastion of fine dining and the accolades poured in. The International Wine & Food Society proclaimed Harvey’s the top restaurant in KwaZulu-Natal nine times.

    Andrew earned the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs blazon, was named chef of the year in 2002 and 2004 by Bon Vivant magazine, and the restaurant made it into the Eat Out Top 10 list for five years. After 10 years Harvey’s closed in 2004. Andrew opened Naked on 9th, before joining the Zack’s café chain. After two years he tired of the commercial aspect of it and moved on to catering with his business Chef On The Run. “I did it [Chef On The Run] as a temporary thing and it ended up being so popular. I was quite specific about who I wanted to do it for. The biggest event was for 14 000 people and the biggest plated function was for 2 500, but a lot of people also want dinner parties for eight to 10 people,” Andrew says of the business, which is still running.

    He was toying with the idea of opening a restaurant when Irishman Jerry Harrington contacted him about going into business together. After three months of avoiding his calls, Andrew relented. When the pair found suitable premises Harvey’s was reincarnated in September 2008. Jerry had also secured two other prime restaurant sites in Florida Road in Durban, one of which led to the opening of a new eatery called Casper and Gamberi’s. Andrew describes it as sexy Italian. “Italian food in commercial restaurants in South Africa is done very badly and we have all become accustomed to gloopy white sauces.

    I want to do gnocchi with chunks of blue cheese inside and Parma ham with grilled fresh figs and a nectarine tart.” Between both restaurants (the menu at Harvey’s changes monthly) and the catering company, Andrew’s days and nights are busy… and he thrives on it. “That week [when the menu changes] I am constantly in the kitchen. At lunchtime I prep up and taste sauces so I know that I’ve tasted virtually everything that goes out that night. At night I help with service and in the kitchen. I am very fortunate that I employ some outstanding chefs – we have spent a lot of money on staff. Most of the chefs have worked as head chefs in their respective restaurants.” Once the dinner rush is over he heads down to the fledgling restaurant, which is open until late. He’s also looking forward to redecorating his apartment and resuming cooking demonstrations, which he hosts at home.

    By Sally Chance