Charl Coetzee, Head Chef at Russells on the Port, is not at all what one would expect from a chef with his resume. He was Head Chef of La Belle Bistro and Bakery at the historic Alphen Hotel in Constantia and also Head Chef of Eight Restaurant at Spier Wine Farm.
Chef Charl is not volatile, demanding or impatient as we have come to expect in a world after Hell’s Kitchen, Top Chefs and Cutthroat Kitchen. He is self-deprecating and kind, preferring the focus to be on the food instead of himself.
His love for food stems from his childhood and his father’s fondly remembered roasts. Discovering how delicious something as simple as butter on a fresh, crusty baguette could be helped shape his approach to food – and also explains the melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread that is always on hand to accompany a cup of coffee.
Sustainability and simplicity are key and his menu is inspired by what is in-season as well as what is ripe and ready for harvest in the restaurant’s small kitchen garden. He even harvests fresh samphire from the water’s edge right on the villa’s doorstep. The distinctively crisp and salty taste of samphire is perfect with fish.
His menu for Russells on the Port is a fresh take on classic West Coast flavours. As for his favourite meal, he is hard pressed to answer as so many outside influences need to be considered such as mood, atmosphere, weather and occasion. When pushed, he admits that his favourite item on the restaurant’s menu is the Miso Glazed Springbok with Pistachios and Beets.
Wherever possible, Chef Charl insists on using local suppliers. Fruit and vegetables that cannot be supplied from their kitchen garden are sourced from the owner’s nearby orchard or from Ocean 11 in Piketberg. Their coffee comes from the unique Wings Coffee Roasters in Langebaan and their dairy products come from Darling Romery and Udderley Delicious in Darling.
Apart from the mouth-watering dishes created, the most impressive aspect of his kitchen is the care and consideration Chef Charl has for his staff. He is no drill sergeant barking orders but rather remains conscious of morale and is always looking for opportunities for his fellow chefs to learn and gain confidence in the culinary arts.