Dale-Roberts is all about the energy. You can feel the level of respect when you walk into his kitchen. What makes him tick?
“Professionally, it’s the people I work with. The energy I get from the guys in the kitchen and they get from me is a driving force behind my desire to do more and create more, to experiment.
“And the sense of delight we get from creating something new, it is almost like a drug. It’s nice to conceptualise something in your head, visualise it and then it be transposed onto a plate and the flavour to work out exactly how I planned it.
“Personally my family makes me tick; my son, I have a 10-year-old boy. Doing things like surfing with him. Spending good quality time with the family away. I think it’s all about balance for me.”
Topping Eat Out’s best-restaurant-in-South-Africa list for four years in a row is no easy feat. It would take a genius to keep producing mind-altering tastes year on year. Dale-Roberts is that genius.
“To be called a genius is extremely flattering and I take it as a huge compliment but it almost seems ridiculous in a way as well. For me, I am just trying to find new flavour combinations, trying to look at different ingredients, put them together and match them and if the by-product of that is someone calling me a genius then that’s amazing, but am I really? I personally don’t think so.
“To be on the list takes a hell of a lot of hard work. Anyone on any list has put their blood, sweat and tears into what they do. I think that what we do is we create something a little different and that creates a sense of surprise.”
The sensory experience first unfolds in a dark room. In a softly lit room with leather chairs, wooden tables and works of art to enthral you, is where your menu tasting begins. You surrender yourself to the experience.
A few courses are served, one of which is the dish Dale-Roberts holds in high esteem.
“When I opened the Test Kitchen I said there wouldn’t be any signature dishes. A dish that we have had around for three or four years is the millionaire’s shortbread, it looks like a millionaire’s shortbread but it is done with duck liver and truffle chocolate and porcini shortbread on the bottom.
“It is tiny, it has a pure gold leaf on the top, it looks like a jewel and it is served on a jewellery box. It packs a massive punch.
And what is the process behind the dish?
“I love the combination of duck liver and chocolate. It plays with your senses if you have a high percentage cocoa chocolate which is not sweet and you can counteract that with a truffle jus which gives it some body.
“Then add a nice porcini crumb which gives it umami and a nuttiness. The whole idea was to put something in your mouth that was tiny that delivered this big punch.
And he is on point with that description. It is a bite full of sensory perfection. As are his other dishes, each playing on a different sense. Visually masterful and sensationally tasty.
How would he describe his take on cooking?
“Very experimental. I look inwardly and outwardly for inspiration. I try and do things slightly different. When a dish has reached its level of perfection, you intuitively know.
“It can reach the level of perfection but then it drops off and it needs reinventing. Everything needs to be fresh and new. The idea has to be fresh and reinvented, revisited regularly.”