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Benguela Collection Restaurant Awarded a Michelin Star for Its Imaginative Interlude Of Flavours

08 October 2019

A special love for food exists that gave shape to some of the world’s most ingenious dishes. No textbook or recipe can coax the magic that exists in a chef's ability to draw inspiration from his environment and to highlight the significance of the seemingly smallest detail.

Restaurant Interlude won its first star at the awards for the UK and Ireland 2020 Michelin Guide last night, hosted at the Hurlingham Club in London. The restaurant opened its doors only nine months ago, set within the historic Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens estate near Horsham in West Sussex.

The credit goes to talented chef Jean Delport (31) who heads up the kitchen with an equally dedicated force behind him. It is only the second time that a South African born chef has received a Michelin Star for his restaurant and both studied at the same culinary institution outside Cape Town.

Where the love of food, wine, nature and service excellence come together, a star is born. Set in the woodland gardens, the young Restaurant Interlude quickly became known for its special relationship to local produce. Guests get to dine in a historic mansion set in beautiful, lush surroundings that creatively and tastefully translate on every plate.

Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens forms a part of the Benguela Collection which includes Mannings Heath Golf & Wine Estate, also in the UK, Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate (Hermanus) and Lakeside Lodge & Spa (Sedgefield). Owner and founder of the Benguela Collection, Penny Streeter OBE, set out to create a hospitality enterprise, investing in several restaurants on these properties. As with the medical recruitment business she built, the A24 group, Streeter has the foresight to invest in people she believes excel in their trade, taking a leap of faith where others won’t.

More about chef Jean Delport:

Growing up in Cape Town, Blouberg, chef Jean Delport has always been aware of his environment, his home town framed with mountains with the ocean on his doorstep. Karoo lamb and fresh fish was celebrated on the table with local vegetables, cooked simply but packed with flavour. “I was a busy teenager and I enjoyed helping my mom in the kitchen. Soon I was the one cooking most of the dinners for my family. When a friend introduced me to Crème Brûlée, I made it my mission to out cook him. I would research everything I wanted to know more about, until I was able to cook it to perfection.”

Delport met Streeter’s son Adam when he was completing a cooking course at the renowned restaurant Cavalli, just outside Somerset West, Cape Town. “When the heat is on in the kitchen, it is always a welcoming break when there is someone who can talk about football,” Delport adds jokingly. “But this also led me to my next career stop at Benguela on Main, the first fine dining restaurant the Streeter family started in South Africa.

“The owners had faith in me and offered me a blank canvas, trusting I would make a success of this venture. Nothing can prepare you for the first six months of starting a restaurant so you need to rely on the basics of classic French cooking.” Benguela on Main quickly became known for their buffalo mozzarella and nectarine salad and the chicken parfait with smoked raisins and toasted brioche remained a classic until the end. “It is here where I learned the importance of using only a few strong ingredients that will guarantee that wow-moment.”

Delport’s culinary career led him to a garden of possibilities where everything he dreamt of as a young boy finally sprouted to life. “One of my most intimate memories with food was when I was shelling peas with my dad in his garden. He loved growing peas and sharing these sweet and earthy delicacies with me. Today as a chef I understand how important it is to respect the integrity of the smallest ingredient.

Starting a new culinary chapter at Restaurant Interlude, he imparted that same passion on chef Annie Badenhorst, a fellow student and colleague, that now holds the fort as executive chef at the Moody Lagoon Restaurant at Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate. Like the South African Michelin-star chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, they started their career at the Zevenwacht Chef School.

“A kitchen is like a well-oiled machine – every cog plays a role to make everything seem effortless. You need your team to make a success of it. It is important to stay progressive and to build on your strengths while you never forsake the basic principles. Shortcuts will never pay off.” It all boils down to hard work and to remain true to yourself. “With your own spin on things off course.” Butter will always remain his magic ingredient, and limes are completely underestimated as an essential ingredient to highlight flavour, Delport says.

“South Africans crave intense flavours like curry and strong savoury undertones. Age old traditions of curing fish and meat must be one of the reasons South Africans prefer bold flavours. Show me a South African that doesn’t love biltong! Guests at Restaurant Interlude are introduced to a flavour journey and I think that the majority of guests like being pushed out of their comfort zones.”

Delport’s imagination feeds off the ever-changing degustation menu at Restaurant Interlude, alluring guests with a sense of surprise in every course. The Restaurant Interlude philosophy embraces local, ethical and organic produce and most of the ingredients used are foraged from the estate. Every course unfolds an unexpected twist, like a smoky glaze reminiscent of a traditional South African braai.

“We are blessed with fresh fish and great shellfish; the scallops and oysters are fantastic. People visit a restaurant with a certain perception. It is up to us to capture their imagination using our surroundings as inspiration. Smart cooking echoes smart winemaking. It is the art to feel how far you need to intervene to allow a sense of place to shine through, to always respect the integrity of the produce at hand and then to craft it in a way that is unique to you.

The quest in finding natural gems, led to fascinating experiments with the sap of the Birch tree. In the beginning of Spring, when nutrients rush up the phloem of the tree, the earthy tasting sap is harvested and reduced to a syrup. They harvested 1023 litres this year that gave them five litres of syrup!  “We serve it with the raw, smoked scallops and pork belly to add a beautiful, earthy and savoury flavour with a hint of sweetness. South Africans will always be in pursuit of flavour and investigate ways of how to layer flavour in the simplest dish. It is a part of our heritage.”
And what would Delport like his guests to leave with?

“A smile first and foremost. But I want them to feel like they had a unique experience, something different that was executed with care. The experience should ignite a love for the place they have just visited as much as they loved the food that was prepared for them. Every other course has an interactive element that reveals they journey, flavour by flavour.”

If the “wow” is captured by simplicity – like a honey dish layered with elements of pollen, wax and liquid gold set off against the sweetness of apricots and sheep milk sorbet, there is certainly a hive of customers lining up to be there first.

Restaurant Interlude at Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens forms part of the Benguela Collection, owned by Zimbabwean born entrepreneur Penny Streeter OBE. The other sister properties also include Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate and Lakeside Lodge and Spa in South Africa and Mannings Heath Golf & Wine Estate, also in Horsham, UK.

Story by Samarie Smith - samarie.smith@benguelacove.co.za

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