Shaun Schoeman’s bold use of indigenous herbs and fynbos attracts carloads of curious customers to new Fyndraai restaurant in Franschhoek.
By Kim Maxwell
Shaun Schoeman, 29, is head chef at recently opened Fyndraai restaurant on the Solms-Delta wine farm in Franschhoek. Born in the valley, Shaun’s career began in 1998 with an apprenticeship under chef Matthew Gordon. Three years at Haute Cabrière restaurant followed, plus a stint at Granger Bay Hotel School and a chef de partie position with Harald Bresselschmidt at Aubergine restaurant, where Shaun learned classical European techniques.
Back in Franschhoek, Monneaux restaurant provided an opportunity to develop his own style. Next came two years of intricately plated dishes at Mont Rochelle’s Mange Tout restaurant with chef Ryan Smith. “I learned that anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish,” Shaun says, “but a chef who understands flavour can make you enjoy the last bite just as much. If you’re more subtle with flavour, that’s what should happen.” At Fyndraai, Shaun combines his classical training with the subtle flavours of indigenous herbs. He worked with Topsi Venter for a month before opening the restaurant: “She taught me how to use hottentotskoigoed and buchu.”
A local entrepreneur sells these and other herbs from an open-air nursery in Franschhoek’s main road. “Indigenous herbs are much sharper than normal herbs,” says Shaun. “Something like buchu is intense and can become bitter, so only small quantities work in a dish. As a general rule, you should stick to the leaves of wild herbs, although some bulbs can be marinated or pickled. Indigenous flowers work as garnish – the persbessie can replace lavender flowers on a pudding, or you could use wild garlic flowers to garnish a savoury dish.” Experimentation and tradition go hand in hand at Solms-Delta. This is a wine farm with a reputation for tackling projects in a unique Cape way, be it wines made from out-of-fashion varieties such as Clairette Blanche, or unusual vinification methods that include the use of desiccated vines.
The same philosophy applies to the restaurant, which has modern tables and umbrellas outside, with old Cape tables and riempie chairs inside. An illuminated glass floor affords a dramatic glimpse into a 1740 wine cellar, uncovered during archaeological digs on the farm. The restaurant’s name, too, is idiosyncratic, not to mention risqué. “In Afrikaans, ‘fyndraai’ is the point of no return when having an orgasm,” Shaun says with a grin. “The boss said the food and wine on this farm must be orgasmic, so I’m doing my best!” Fyndraai’s wine list features only Solms-Delta labels.
The menu is short to allow for seasonal changes, with a mix of traditional and modern items. “A lot of chefs don’t put traditional things on fine-dining menus,” says Shaun. “I say if they’re nicely presented, why not?” He dishes up a spoonful of sago pudding. “Isn’t this sago nice?” It is.
The sweet creaminess is dense with underlying spices, while prune compote adds a novel syrupy contrast. Shaun combines chicken liver pâté and onion marmalade with kraakbrood. He serves mozzarella, tomato and goat’s feta salad with buttermilk vinaigrette and his own variation of roosterkoek. Much of Shaun’s inspiration comes from eating out and researching food on the internet. “Matthew Gordon taught me years ago to steal ideas and combine them with my own. He said it’s how you become a great chef.”
SHAUN’S TIPS FOR FYNBOS
These purple flowers make a pretty garnish for dessert plates.
A small sprig of buchu leaves (dried or fresh) adds flavour to savoury soups and stews and also works well in cooked fruit desserts.
• Wild garlic
Use the delicate pink flowers on this long-stemmed herb for garnishing savoury dishes. Use the stem to create a flavour-infused oil – great for frying fish, or add a drop to bread mixture before baking.
The strong flavours of wild sage complement game such as pheasant, quail or rabbit.
Like buchu, this plant eases digestive ailments. Add a few furry leaves when steaming mussels.
• Confetti bush
The fine leaves of this herb are aromatic. Use a sprig in place of thyme when pan-frying salmon trout. Infuse a sprig in boiling water and use this to flavour mousse or sweet jelly desserts.
• Wild rosemary
Excellent with any red meat. Add a sprig to your marinade before cooking, or use two sprigs to flavour roasts and stews during cooking.
By Warren Heath