{experience} Pull up a chair at Chef Santi’s table

We always gasp aloud and snap away with cameras at the gorgeous dishes placed in-front of us when we choose to dine out. But do we ever spare the chefs in the kitchen a thought of thanks? How often do we appreciate the time, love and labour that goes into their fantastic creations? I was honoured to be invited, on behalf of InstaEats, by Hot Oven Marketing, to spend an evening at Chef Santi’s house and learn more about the Chefs Table Cape Town concept. Even better because Lozärn Wines were invited, too. Curious? Read on!

Introduction

Towards the end of last year, I was invited, representing the InstaEats brand, with a small group of media to an intimate social dining experience at Chef Santi’s beautiful home in the heart of our mother city. The event was hosted by Lozärn Wines in collaboration with Chef Santi as part of his venture, Chefs Table Cape Town.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to watch such a creative chef work in his own space, and to spend some time learning from and talking with someone who’s obvious passion is food, and the creation of new and innovative offerings.

Who is Chef Santi?

Santi Louzan is originally from Cee, a small village in Galicia based in the North West of Spain.  He grew up with the best of produce, learning from generations of artisans, farmers and fisherman.  His passion for food and cooking was ignited at a young age by his mom and grandmother who taught him to love the ingredients when cooking; a principle he has continued to practice throughout his life.  He spent the next 30 years of his life in England, working his way up to creating magic in Michelin Star establishments around the UK and Europe. Santi fell in love with Cape Town after a holiday to our mother city and decided to settle here.  He created Chefs Table Cape Town as an intimate affair, creating dishes based on real ingredients, food that is flavoursome without over-complicating it and combining his Michelin background to create food that is beautiful to look at and eat.

Chefs Table Cape Town

Chefs Table Cape Town is a boutique and intimate social dining experience hosted by Chef Santi in his home kitchen.  It seats up to 16 people and can be booked as a social table, sharing the experience with others you have never met before or it can be booked for private events, celebrations or family gatherings. A brand new offering is available this year with interactive cooking classes in Santi’s home kitchen where he will take you on a culinary journey. Menus are seasonal using local ingredients and wines are carefully selected from trusted growers.  Always remembering the importance of the pairing and sometimes with a surprising twist, he mixes tradition with new and different.  Santi brings a fun element to his tables by taking guests through a culinary journey from his Spanish roots, Michelin experiences, pub fare and family home cooking to current trends.

The experience

Chef Santi’s uber-modern, artsy and bright open-plan apartment is rigged for entertaining. With a wide expanse of kitchen counters and the biggest dining room table I’ve ever seen, it begs for nights of laughter and chats, whilst the sun slowly sets over the city through the bay windows on the opposite side of the room.

When we arrived, Lozärn wines have put up the most amazing display of their beautifully packaged and labelled range of wines for tasting, whilst the dining table was set with armfuls of wine glasses of all shapes and sizes. Santi and his small team were already prepping in the kitchen, in full view of his arriving guests. Head bowed low over his chopping boards, it didn’t phase him in the slightest that we were mulling around his display of ingredients, or peeking into his pots to see what’s cooking. In actual fact, he welcomed the interaction and distraction; entertaining and cooking simultaneously seems to be an apron that fits him very well. He invited us into his home with the biggest of smiles and little did we know what an incredible dining experience awaited…

To start with

The night kicked off when the wine started to flow. Robertson-based wine farm, Lozärn, paired their beautiful 2018 Chardonnay with Chef Santi’s mushroom velouté with truffle oil and Spanish relish and mussels. Whilst we settled into the gorgeous space and caught up with old and new friends, Santi continued to prepare the rest of the menu we would delight in that night. I watched him work from across the room – he seems to effortlessly glide between stations in the kitchen, always with busy hands sprinkling a pinch of something here and adding garnishes or sauces there, whilst quietly liaising with his staff in order to create the most beautiful dishes he can for his houseful of guests.

Every now and again one of the media team’s curiosity would get the better of them and they would sidle up to the kitchen counter to see what’s next on the menu. Chef Santi is really a gracious, faultless host. He draws you into his craft by talking you through the dishes, offering tasters and telling stories of his colourful culinary career and sharing anecdotes about his food adventures, never breaking stride or concentration. Silence is not golden in this kitchen – in fact; the more, the merrier it seems!

The main event

We found our places at the table and awaited the next course in anticipation. We were talked through the wine pairing choices by the winemaker of Lozärn. We were served Chef Santi’s take on a prawn cocktail, paired with Lozärn Carménère Rosé 2017. Except there were no prawns involved. Just the way I prefer it. Mind blown. Our eyes saw one thing, but we tasted something completely different. We expected one thing, but was presented another. It was exhilarating and exciting at the same time. It was fine dining in appearance and name, but every forkful tasted comforting and familiar in new ways. Even though the dishes were incredibly innovative and surprising, quality and taste were never, ever compromised.

Now that our palettes were wide awake, we were served a warming dish of crab, hake and caviar with dill oil, paired with Lozärn Chardonnay 2018.

Next up we had what I would describe as my all-time favourite dish ever. It was beautiful; both visually and sensory, and paid a nostalgic homage to Chef Santi’s heritage and culture; but not without his signature South African twist. A Spanish chorizo salad paired with Lozärn Shiraz 2016. This is a dish that I’ll never forget for as long as I live; also because I had the privilege to help put the finishing touches on the dish alongside the chef who created it!

With just a touch of flair for the dramatic, we gathered around the kitchen counter to watch Chef Santi prep the next course. A heart-warming take on a vegetarian spring roll, he scorched rosemary twigs to release the fragrant perfumes before serving these little beauties on hot rocks. I’ll actually just let the images do the talking on this one, as I’m left speechless!

Just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, Santi brought out a spectacularly delicious and aesthetically pleasing dish to the table: duck breast with a cherry jus, baby potatoes and seasonal vegetables paired with Lozärn Kay’s Legacy 2016. By this time we were all laughing and comfortably chatting among each other, interspersed with inputs, jokes and stories from the food and wine gurus. I do need to mention at this point that Santi went out of his way to cater for all our dietary restrictions and eating whims, offering equally-delicious alternatives so that everyone can share in the joy together. No ask was too big and nothing seemed to derail him, even though we kept him running up and down the whole night – I guess that is one of the rewards you reap from working in Michelin-star kitchens – patience!

The unexpected

Even though I’m not a sweet person (well, I am!), I always look forward to dessert at the end of a meal. There’s something very heartening about ending a fantastic meal with a sweet treat. Chef Santi did not disappoint with his theatrical presentation of the Pollocks dessert, paired with Lozärn Carménère 2017.

Without giving away too much (simply because you have to experience it for yourself, and I’d hate to take away all of the intrigue!) we were enthralled and amazed with this artwork that Chef Santi composed right in-front of our eyes. We had front row seats to this grand finale performance, because you can hardly call it anything but just that. It was everything I could ever have hoped for in my naughtiest of foodie daydreams. Think chocolate sauce, fresh fruit, giant scorched marshmallows, mousse and a whole bunch of other stunning elements! Paired with the delicately delicious Lozärn Carménère 2017, this was a grand ending to a spectacularly fun and interesting night.

Image Credit: Hot Oven Marketing

In conclusion

The pairing of Lozärn wines with a Chefs Table Cape Town was a winning decision. I love the idea of this intimate, boutique-style dining experience that allows you a glimpse behind the (usually closed) kitchen doors. It allows you to ask questions, to interact with the ingredients; to learn from masters of their craft, whether it’s food or wine. It allows you to network in a home environment where you feel comfortable and welcome.  I love how the experience made me appreciate food even more; especially realising now just how much time and effort goes into the conceptualisation of each dish; the hours taken to perfect the flavour profiles; the effort to make it stand out from the rest. We indulged in the dessert table way past our bed-times and finally, at the end of the night Chef Santi could take off his apron and share a last few stories with his guests, huddled around his dining room table.

This is an experience I can strongly recommend to any dedicated foodie. Come and pull up a chair at Chef Santi’s table and let him take you on a journey that will delight and engage all your senses.

Rates vary and start from R950pp including wine. Website/bookings: www.chefstablecapetown.com
Social: @chefstablecapetown / @santilouzan

The Little Hedonist has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, I do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, menu changes, opening times, and contact details.

Disclaimer: I was invited to this event in my personal capacity. There was no expectation for platform coverage in the form of a blog, or social media posts. This is my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.

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