A Strandveld eatery by Kobus van der Merwe. Picture: Instagram/Wolfgat
A Strandveld eatery by Kobus van der Merwe. Picture: Instagram/Wolfgat

Wolfgat’s success story continues despite the pandemic

By Lutho Pasiya Time of article published Oct 19, 2021

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With inspirational dishes like crispy baked kiesieblaar and wild sage smoked angelfish, chef Kobus van der Merwe has become renowned for his culinary skills.

Van der Merwe’s high standards have set a new paradigm within the award-winning restaurant Wolfgat that he owns. Born in the Kalahari, his story is an inspiring one of someone who fought against all odds to follow his passion of becoming a professional chef and restaurateur.

The award-winning Wolfgat has a string of awards under its belt. Putting Paternoster on the international culinary map, the restaurant has recently been named one of the world’s best by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

This year’s winners were revealed at an awards ceremony in Antwerp in Belgium. The annual event sees the release of the influential World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, which is based on the votes of more than 1 000 independent authorities in the world of gastronomy, from renowned international chefs and food journalists to travelling gastronomes.

The announcement had been much-anticipated since the last list was revealed in 2019, and the great news was that the little eatery secured its place at number 50.

Wolfgat was crowned the best restaurant in the world by another body – The World Restaurant Awards in Paris in February 2019.

Van der Merwe’s culinary career started with a bit of a detour, as he first freelanced as a journalist and then worked in digital media for a few years.

He arrived in Paternoster in the Western Cape in 2009 for a gap year, and now eleven years later, he runs one of the best restaurants in the world. Having attended culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, he says education of any kind is important, but there are also a lot of excellent chefs with no formal training who have made it big.

He did not begin to cook seriously until he was thirty. He forages every day for ingredients on the wild Atlantic shore of the Western Cape near his Wolfgat restaurant, where he also makes his own bread and butter.

The restaurant.

Wolfgat opened its doors in September 2016. The restaurant is famous for using locally sourced ingredients. Van der Merwe’s passion for food and the way he prepares it, plus the service and exclusivity, has made it an attraction for food lovers. Serving a maximum of twenty-four guests, the restaurant offers a seven-course tasting menu inspired by their natural surroundings and the seasons.

There is a strong focus on seafood, enhanced by wild herbs, beach succulents, and seaweed. In addition to its impressive food offerings, the restaurant’s building dates from more than 130 years, with the Wolfgat cave on the premises – a site of immense archaeological and geological significance.

According to its website, some of the elements on the tasting menu take weeks of preparation, while other ingredients are hand-picked on the day for the exact number of bookings received.

Van der Merwe said: “All our heroes – local and international chefs and restaurants that we admire and have been looking up to – are featured here, so it seems quite surreal and undeserved that we should be ranked amongst them. But we are honoured to be selected, and proud to represent South Africa, and Paternoster in particular, on the global stage.

“Given the extremely challenging past year-and-a-half we have faced globally, especially in the hospitality industry, recognition of this kind comes as a welcome morale boost, as well as an incentive to keep doing what we do in our own small way, moreover since our slightly unconventional, West Coast approach to food and service does not necessarily fit the average idea of what constitutes ’fine dining’.

“I am immensely proud of the passionate Wolfgat team: Rochelle Karolus, She-Earl Pietersen, Emily Williams, Emmerson Bester, and Alicia Bester, who, with no formal hospitality training, are recognised for their hard work amongst the best in the industry, internationally.

“What a rewarding moment for the community of Paternoster, and a shining example for the next generation of young South Africans.”

Kobus van der Merwe.

Getting to know Kobus van der Merwe.

Q: What is your favourite dish?

A: Eating just-cooked mussels out of the shell.

Q: And for dessert?

A: Not a big sweet tooth, but I enjoy home-made ice cream.

Q: Is there one ingredient in particular that you have enjoyed working with during your career?

A: It is impossible to choose one, but I do love working with soutslaai (Mesembryanthemum guerichianum).

Q: What could one expect to find in your refrigerator?

A: Home fridge? At the moment - waterblommetjies, a selection of cheese, biltong, and good wine.

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