By Anna Trapido
For more than 30 years, as the chef-patron of the Linger Longer restaurant in Joburg, Walter Ulz has provided the culinary hotspot of choice for many special occasions.
From elegant marriage proposals to big business deals, this gastronomic guru has perfected the art of feeding the body and soul of Egoli’s epicurean elite. Joburg may be a fast-paced city but significant events require one to linger longer. Palate-delighting parties are the house speciality at this Sandton dining destination, where Walter is preparing for a gourmet get-together of Gauteng’s culinary cognoscenti. The function brings together luminaries from the business, artistic and political arena to sample a series of signature dishes in the garden gazebo of the restaurant.
Glamorous lunch dates begin with early morning kitchen activity and by 10am the chef is hard at work. For Walter, life is a menu and the menu is his life. As he chops mushrooms for the exquisite entrée of porcini-stuffed pasta parcels topped with foie gras and sage butter sauce, he recalls that when he was a boy in rural Austria, his brothers would go out and help to fix the farm machinery, “But you couldn’t get me away from the stove,” he says. “I was only tempted outside by my love of collecting wild mushrooms. I come from Hall, which is a village close to the Italian border, so pasta was part of our daily diet and the meal that I am preparing is infused with the flavours of my childhood. It tastes of love, family and nostalgia and is then layered with a subsequent lifetime of classical training and finedining experience.”
With his porcini pasta completed, the chef turns his attention to the seafood ceviche marinated in lime, pink peppercorns and honey. Satisfied with his salmon and prawn mélange, he samples the crème brûlées that are setting in the fridge and instructs chef Vincent Gwebuzela on the finer points of the pudding garnishing to come.
The chef and his restaurant have blended well with the Joburg environment, contrary to his arrival in the ’70s. “When I arrived in South Africa in 1974, I walked around town and it seemed so foreign to me. I had come from a job in Knightsbridge and I said to myself, ‘Maximum one year then it’s back to London’.” Fortunately for us all, the City of Gold grew on the young chef. “I found I was learning such a lot from locally based luminaries such as French culinary legend Daniel Chapat.”
In 1976 he became the executive chef of Linger Longer. And indeed, no one has lingered longer in the restaurant than Walter. “In those days the restaurant was in Braamfontein and it was owned by a Mrs Jackson who had a reputation for being very fierce. Everyone said I would last two weeks but we became the best of friends. She created a graceful ambience that I have continued to this day. Even now, she is 95 years old and I get a Christmas card from her every year”, recalls the veteran chef as he mixes the orange and soy glaze for the duck main course.
In August 2006 Walter and his partners Marc Heuer and Carlos de Freitas bought the business from the then owner Ben Filmalter. Whatever the commercial documentation might have said, Walter “always felt responsible for Linger Longer because I have always loved the restaurant, the guests and my kitchen staff. I think the feeling is mutual. Guests certainly seem to get cross if they arrive to find that I am not here.” As maître d’ Elson Makitla leads guests to their seats, Walter adds a final sprig of dill to each amuse bouche. In the rose-festooned dining room, damask napkins are spread and glasses are raised in a toast to the beauty of the day, the pleasantness of the company and the talents of the chef. An afternoon of culinary luxury unfolds.
Salmon slices give way to the autumnal musk of porcini and foie gras, the crackle of butter-fried sage and the sweet perfection of apricot-glazed duck. As the Amarula and chocolate crème brûlée arrives, Walter reappears from the kitchen to remind his guests that “you can always judge a restaurant by its crème brûlée”, and the company enthusiastically agree. Guests knew that every mouthful of set chocolate cream was imbued with the hopes and dreams of all the diners who came before them and the aspirations of those yet to come. It has to be said that some of Joburg’s finest memories are made in these moments of lingering longer.
Linger Longer, 58 Wierda Road, Wierda Valley, Sandton. Call 011-884-0465.
By Vanessa Grobler