She has won the SA Chef of the Year award and her restaurant has been named one of SA’s Top 20 Restaurants.
And recently Chantel Dartnall of Mosaic restaurant at The Orient Boutique Hotel had the opportunity to cook alongside a Michelin star chef in Bordeaux – and I was lucky enough to accompany her.
The exclusive taste event – which raised l10 000 (R100 000) for a children’s hospital in the area – was held in the wine cellars of the beautiful Chateaux Bellefont-Belcier in the Saint Emilion wine district.
Michelin star chef Francois Adamski of Le Gabriel restaurant served up traditional French cuisine using seasonal ingredients.
Chantel’s four-course menu reflected her SA roots – she incorporated ingredients like rooibos tea, raw acacia honey, buchu and marula.
French wines and champagne, as well as some very special SA wines – Constantia Glen and Groot Constantia – were served at this prestigious function.
It was a challenge to source in France some of the ingredients Chantel needed, especially the edible flowers which are her signature on her beautifully garnished plates.
It was inspiring to watch Chantel hold her own in a male-dominated environment during the food preparation at Le Gabriel. Not many of the chefs spoke English but sign language is universal and somehow she managed.
After two days, the food was transported to the chateaux in a large refrigeration truck where most of the final preparation took place due to a lack of facilities in the cellar.
The guests loved the food and were intrigued by the unusual SA ingredients.
Back home in SA, I met up with Chantel at her restaurant in The Orient, which is tucked away in the tranquil Crocodile River Valley, 45 minutes from Joburg.
We reminisced about our trip and Chantel also spoke about her culinary journey.
After high school, she enrolled at the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine in Centurion. On graduating, she wrote letters to a number of chefs she admired.
“One of the chefs I wrote to was Nico Ladenis, who offered me a position of commis chef in the kitchen of his restaurant, Chez Nico, in London,” says Chantel.
“It was a big break and I worked my fingers to the bone. At that time Nico and Marco Pierre White were the only British chefs with three Michelin stars.
“He taught me that the number of flavours in a dish should be kept to an elegant minimum – a case of too many flavours spoiling the broth – and it remains a principle I maintain to this day.”
Some of the chefs she has admired over the years have been Michele Bras in France, Raymond Blanc in the UK and the great legend Auguste Escoffier. “They are all true cuisine visionaries. Their approach to food involves all the senses during a dining experience and this is what we embrace at Restaurant Mosaic,” Chantel says.
She gives great credit to her family. “My family has always supported me and encouraged me to do what I enjoy. They have provided me with the opportunities to explore the culinary world that helped develop my palate. Without them I would not be where I am today.”
Chantel recreated a simplified version of the dishes she had prepared for the dinner in France. I tested these recipes and found they were quite easily adapted to home cooking.
300g fresh kingklip, diced
1 sprig of dill
freshly ground black pepper to taste
5ml lemon juice
1 pinch of finely grated lemon zest
2 egg whites
1 egg yolk
2-3 leeks, opened into flat ribbons
cooked prawns for garnishing
Put a food processor bowl in the freezer for 20 minutes. Then put the kingklip, dill, salt, pepper, lemon juice and zest and egg white in it and process until smooth. Don’t let the mixture get warm. With the machine running, slowly incorporate the cream and egg yolks.
Press the mixture through a fine sieve. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours to firm up.
TO ASSEMBLE: Cook the leek ribbons in salted boiling water – refresh in ice water and then dry on kitchen paper towel.
Wipe the inside of the ramekins with some olive oil and line with the leek ribbons to form an outer “cannelloni” shell. Fill up the moulds with the mousse. Steam for 2-3 minutes – don’t get it too hot or the mousse will soufflé.
Unmould the mousse on to the serving platter, and garnish with cooked prawns.
HERB PANNA COTTA WITH FENNEL SALAD
a few black peppercorns
1 small bay leaf
1 clove of garlic
3 basil leaves
1 sprig of fennel
1 sprig of thyme
10ml anchovy oil from the marinated anchovies
20g Parmesan cheese, cut in chunks
2 extra basil leaves
an extra sprig of fennel
seasoning to taste
4 leaves of gelatine, or 10ml powdered gelatine, soaked in 30ml cold water
2 fennel bulbs
white balsamic vinegar
a handful of white anchovies, drained and oil reserved
1 large potato, peeled
oil for deep frying
PANNA COTTA: Put all ingredients up to and including the Parmesan in a pot and cook gently for 5 minutes to infuse.
Strain liquid, add basil and fennel leaves and blend in a liquidiser or use a hand blender. Season to taste.
Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft – press out any excess water and dissolve the gelatine in the hot liquid. If you use powdered gelatine, dissolve it in the microwave for 10 seconds. Mix well.
Pour the mixture into a shallow container and set in the refrigerator till needed.
FENNEL: Peel the tough skin from the fennel bulbs and shred the fennel very finely.
Marinate the fennel in the white balsamic, lemon juice and add salt and pepper to taste
Cut the white anchovy into strips ready for assembly
POTATO CRISPS: Peel potatoes and slice on a mandolin. Deep fry until crisp and golden.
Season with salt and keep in an airtight container till required.
TO ASSEMBLE: Use a cookie cutter to cut out rounds of the set panna cotta mixture. Layer potato crisps, shredded fennel and anchovies on top.
QUAIL WITH MUSHROOMS
250ml olive oil
5ml sea salt flakes
5ml black pepper
10ml crushed garlic
1 lemon, zested
5ml whole grain mustard
5ml balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs of thyme
a sprig of rosemary
6 fresh basil leaves
4 quails, de-boned to be marinated
30ml cake flour
salt and pepper
45ml olive oil
250g shitake mushrooms
30ml olive oil
2ml brown sugar
a small sprig fresh thyme
a small sprig fresh rosemary
Prepare the marinade. Place the quails in it for at least 6-12 hours.
Remove quails from the marinade and scrape off most of the excess marinade.
Dust the quails in cake flour and then sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a frying pan with some of the olive oil and seal the quails on both sides, then remove from the pan and let them rest.
Just before serving, place quails with a teaspoon of butter in the oven under the grill for about 3 minutes to cook.
MUSHROOMS: Remove any excess dirt from the mushrooms and cut them into small pieces. Heat a frying pan with some olive oil and butter and gently fry garlic clove.
Add your mushrooms into the frying pan and sprinkle with some brown sugar, salt and pepper then add in a sprig of thyme and rosemary and the basil leaves and fry for about 3 minutes.
Remove the herbs and garlic before serving the mushrooms.
Makes 2x20cm tarts
310ml all-purpose flour
310ml icing sugar
125ml finely ground almonds
125g cold butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 egg mixed with 2 egg yolks, to glaze
300g good-quality dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
2 egg yolks
60g castor sugar
cocoa powder for dusting
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 180°C.
In a food processor, mix the flour, sugar, almonds, salt and butter. Pulse until the flour resembles coarse sand.
Add the egg to the mixture and pulse gently a few times, just until it forms a ball that holds together.
Separate the dough into two balls, flatten slightly into thick disc shapes and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for several hours before working with it.
Roll out the pastry and line two 20cm tarts ring with it. Place a circle of greaseproof paper on top and half fill with baking beans. Bake in a preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes. Remove, discard beans and paper. Return tarts to the oven and cook until the pastry base is golden.
Remove from the oven, brush the pastry with the egg and yolk mixture and return to the oven for about 2 minutes to seal. Set aside.
FILLING: Put the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of hot water and melt completely.
Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and castor sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy.
Fold one-third of this mixture into the melted chocolate mixture and then fold the remaining mixture.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the pastry cases and bake in the oven preheated to 170°C for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool and set at room temperature.
If the tarts are still a little soft, put them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Dust the tarts with a little cocoa powder and icing sugar.