• Chef Floris Smith has put Bushmans Kloof on the global culinary map, with earthy local flavours that match the wild landscape of the Cederberg region.

    By Rosanne Buchanan

    I was expecting a big ego. In-yourface, Jamie-style personality at least. Being the executive chef at a gourmet destination hailed as the Best Hotel for Food by Condé Nast Traveler magazine and rated Best Hotel in the World in another American magazine reader survey could inflate any chef’s ego. But Floris Smith is not arrogant. He is quiet and unassuming, more like someone in a Tom Ford movie (I had just seen A Single Man).

    Besides food, he loves music, dance and the splendid solitude of the place where he works. “I love the place, and I am used to the isolation,” says the leading man at Bushmans Kloof, the Relais & Châteaux property situated in a private reserve, to which Floris has returned to work not once but three times. “I am used to the logistics of sourcing local goods and getting produce delivered from Cape Town” (a three-hour drive away).

    A restaurant guide described his food as “exceptional and abundant”. He’s just one of those talented chefs who gets it right, no matter where they are. The hotel has become known for its hearty, authentic cuisine and has a long list of accolades, but Floris is not one for putting poncy labels on food: “I’m for good food,” he says. “Call it molecular cuisine or whatever you like, as long as it adds to the food, I am all for it.”

    He grew up in an Afrikaans household in Parys, where he says boerekos was king. His mother was known for her baking at all the agricultural shows. “It’s in the genes,” he says. Although he had three sisters, he was the volunteer in the kitchen, so a career in the industry came naturally to him. The list of fine-dining establishments he has graced includes Hartford House, Londolozi and, most recently, Hotel Izulu in Ballito. His bush and eco-lodge experience has taught him to be resilient and to improvise where necessary. As a result he remains calm and flexible: “I don’t throw pots and pans.”

    Floris has left Bushmans Kloof twice to gain experience elsewhere, but keeps returning to the fold for the inherent sense of peace and the family style of management that he enjoys (the lodge is owned by the colourful hoteliers Stanley and Bea Tollman). He has taken the lodge menu from a formal fine-dining experience nearly 10 years ago to a deconstructed, contemporary, “no-type” cuisine, drawing on the regional landscape for inspiration.

    He uses ingredients such as fynbos, rooibos (which grows in the reserve) and venison, and incorporates some Cape Malay influences. He thrills diners by combining regional flavours with seasonal ingredients. He is also committed to wellness and healthy food preparation and is studying towards a nutrition diploma. Guests with special dietary requirements can ask for plain, grilled or steamed options from the menu. Floris is growing his role as executive chef, sharing his skills with staff recruited from the local community, but this deeply thoughtful chef also remains focused on his own work as an art form: “I still cook every day.”

    As if he hasn’t enough on his plate, Floris finds time to embrace his passion for music and dance by managing a staff gumboot-dancing and drumming group. In Ballito he spearheaded the formation of a Zulu dance group that has gone on to enter a number of performing arts contests. At Bushmans Kloof there is beauty and inspiration everywhere, from a twisted fig tree to the haunting mountain landscape. No wonder Floris keeps returning.

    Bushmans Kloof offers special seasonal packages with preferential rates for SA residents. Call 021-481-1860 or visit www.bushmanskloof.co.za.

    By Sean Calitz