Chef’s choice – Fabio Daniel, Head Chef, Rust en Vrede: Inspired by His Travels

Fabio Daniel, Head Chef, Rust en Vrede.
Fabio Daniel, Head Chef, Rust en Vrede.

A rather unusual path led Brazilian-born Fabio Daniel to his culinary career. After an injury ended his career as a professional basketball player, he studied marketing before travelling to Europe in 2007.

Having worked in hotels and restaurants in Europe and England to fund his travels, he found himself cooking for the first time in New Zealand in 2009. “As I was washing pots, the head chef left without notice, so the hotel owner asked if I could cook for a while. I did and I enjoyed it,” Fabio says.

It was also while on his travels that he met his South African wife, Ronda Daniel, who eventually brought him to her home country in 2010. He started off in a junior position under David Higgs at Rust en Vrede and worked his way up to become sous chef to David’s successor John Shuttleworth in 2014. He further honed his skills and took over as head chef from John in August 2017.

His love of food stems from his Brazilian and Italian heritage, while his love of wine comes from Ronda.

Why is it important to have wine knowledge?

It’s only natural to pair food and wine when working on a wine estate. Having more in-depth knowledge about a wide variety of wines allows you to make better pairings. So it’s crucial to have a broad and deep understanding of wine. In the context of Rust en Vrede, we also need to consider the global wine market and how our South African wines fit into the overall assortment of wines produced worldwide. This ensures that we’re presenting South African wines in the best possible light.

How has learning about wine impacted your dishes?

Learning about wine has made me think about dishes in more distinct components, so that when we pair the wine with the food, we can opt to enhance a component of the dish or complement a collection of components, while always presenting the concept of food and wine as a whole.

What wine and food pairing do you suggest Visit Winelands readers try?

Beef, tomato and parsley with black garlic and sticky sweetbreads paired with the 2014 Rust en Vrede Estate Red.

Why is it a perfect pairing?

The dish has a few strong flavour components: rich umami flavours from the beef and black garlic, the sweetness of the tomato and fresh herbaceous notes from the parsley. The Estate is a bold red wine that can stand up to the strong flavours in the dish, with fresh acidity to cut through the richness of the beef, ripe fruit to complement the sweeter notes and the advantage of some age, softening the tannins so the wine doesn’t overpower. This dish is always evolving according to the vintage of the wine we serve with it.

How do a chef and a winemaker work together?

It’s useful to understand the winemaker’s philosophy. At Rust en Vrede, it’s about more than just the winemaker and chef, it’s about the estate and traditions established over the years by previous winemakers and chefs. Owner Jean Engelbrecht is the driving force behind Rust en Vrede’s food and wine philosophy, and the winemaker and I work closely with him to keep the estate relevant and in constant evolution.

What impact have you had on the wine industry?

We work hard to showcase South African wines alongside some of the world’s best wines to demonstrate the quality that’s produced here. With an extensive wine list featuring over 1 600 international and local wines, we can demonstrate the variety and quality of our wines to local and international visitors.

The extensive wine list also allows us an enormous variety when it comes to food and wine pairing, so we can always push for the best possible wine with any given dish.

How do you see the future of the wine industry in South Africa?

I see a very positive future for the South African wine industry. We have the best wine tourism in the world. The quality of the wines keeps getting better and better, and our wines are recognised for their quality internationally. Whenever I travel abroad, I make sure I bring a bottle of South African wine so more people can understand the beauty of our wines.

What is the secret to being a great chef?

Coming from a team-sport background, I think the key is to work with the strength of your team members and try to replicate your passion through your kitchen brigade. There’s no greater team sport than a professional kitchen.

Tourist Experiences at Rust en Vrede

Experience the full range of Rust en Vrede wines at their Tasting Room. Intimate tasting sessions are presented by knowledgeable staff, either in the state-of-the-art cellar or under the oak trees sharing stunning views of the vineyards and Stellenbosch mountains.

At Rust en Vrede Restaurant, guests can enjoy a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere in their historic cellar where every meal is a journey of flavour and heritage. The restaurant offers a set six course menu (that changes frequently depending on availability of ingredients) with wine pairing, as well as an Experience Menu. The latter is a completely tailored dining experience; a unique gastronomic journey created especially for you which cannot be re-created.

Rust en Vrede Wine Estate

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