A new take on contemporary food
Pieter Malan, chef and molecular gastronomy aficionado, started Blue Print seven months ago and hasn’t looked back since, although it hasn’t always been plain sailing. “It’s going well,” he smiles, “but we have had our ups and downs, just as in any new business. The Lowveld has such a diverse array of people, you have to find a balance and cater for everyone.”
Blue Print’s story is an interesting one. The owner of Meraki, the restaurant previously in Blue Print’s spot, decided to sell and offered Pieter the option of buying. He lacked the necessary funds and happened to mention it to Melissa Skinner, who had designed both Pieter and his wife’s wedding rings. She decided to put the money up herself, “because the Lowveld needs more chefs like you!” Pieter is very thankful for this. “We all need that, a solid support structure. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Molecular gastronomy (where physics and chemistry are used to transform the tastes and textures of food) is still relatively new to us here, but this is Pieter’s passion and he intends to make it a regular thing. His other passion is for smoking, and this is where the balance comes in. “Many people think that smoking and braaiing are the same things, but I can tell you, they are not at all.”
A member of PitMasters South Africa, Pieter has built his own dinosaur just to the side of his wine garden, and it works like a dream. “Home-made dinosaurs are always best,” he laughs. “You can buy these very fancy and expensive set-ups, but they don’t compare.” Built out of two old geysers and a chimney pipe, the dinosaur sits there quite calmly, every now and then releasing a whiff of aromatic smoke – a hint of things to come.
Pieter uses an equal mixture of chicory and yellowwood in the dinosaur and smokes anything and everything. “Fish, chicken, beef, pork, we smoke alles in there!” he laughs as he sips his deliciously dark burnt-caramel-coloured drink, a delightful concoction of honey on ice, topped with steaming espresso, “to get me going in the morning”. “I hope that within two years my menu consists predominantly of molecular gastronomy fare, at least 80%, which will be the fine-dining portion, while the wine garden will be the casual section.
“You can top your ciabatta with pulled pork, go over to the salads and help yourself to coleslaw, grab a glass of ice-cold wine and go sit under an umbrella in the wine garden, whiling away the hours in a relaxing and beautiful environment.”
Pieter’s love of molecular gastronomy is born from his passion for food. “Many people think that a molecular chef has no respect for food, but I disagree with that. You have to have a high respect for food because you are breaking it down into its base parts and investigating each part as an entity on its own. I love the idea of merging science and food. You have to have a passion for food and the ingredients you use,” he muses. And as much as possible of the produce used in the kitchen is locally grown and sourced, and the fresher the produce the better. Everything is made from scratch, and Pieter stresses the important notion that exceptional quality takes time.
Blue Print has evolved into a small, super-efficient team, which works like a well-oiled machine. Built up over time, they are well on track to greatness. His current sous-chef is no stranger to molecular gastronomy, having worked in a similar environment.
Pieter is very aware of the fact that this is something new to the Lowveld, and that people may not necessarily take to it immediately. He has a way around this though, and it seems to be working.
“Each meal that goes out of my kitchen is finished off with a little something extra I have made and would like them to try. If they don’t like it, then so be it. They don’t pay anything extra; it is simply my way of introducing people to molecular gastronomy. People don’t know it and may be wary of trying something different, so to introduce it in this way is ideal,” he says. “The bottom line is the wow factor. We want at least three people to walk out of here saying wow, then I’ll know we are getting somewhere.”
There is a definite wow factor in some of the theatrics Pieter and his team engage in. Siphons and burners are all in a day’s work for this line-up of intrepid foodies, and Blue Print is currently the only restaurant in the Lowveld to use liquid nitrogen. “I love using a siphon, they hold the temperature perfectly and are ideal for broth, which is my speciality,” Pieter explains. Technically, a siphon is a bent pipe which makes use of pressure to extract liquid. “ A shellfish broth, for example, is delicious when made with a siphon. You end up with a delicate, pure, pale-pink liquid which is intense in flavour. It’s delicious.” There is a very fine line when it comes to flavour though, too much is too intense while too little is bland, you have to get the balance just right.
Pieter and his team make use of the sous-vide method of cooking, in which food is immersed in hot water over long periods of time, ensuring that the exact temperature is reached and maintained. Complete temperature control is key.
The Blue Print team has a lot of fun in the kitchen, experimenting a bit here and there, testing different effects and ingredients. “We also use a great deal of natural items in our food, such as plant components like guar gum and agar-agar. “Each of these ingredients does something different, one is a gelling agent, one a thickener, one will make everything smooth. Of course, all of this takes time and costs money. You cannot order something and expect it to be ready in 12 minutes, for example,” he laughs.
Pieter is also one of an elite few South African chefs who has been inducted into the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, and the nomination alone is a huge achievement. Chaîne is one of the oldest culinary establishments in the world, and a particularly high standard has to be consistently maintained.
Food must be perfectly seasoned, merely to have salt and pepper shakers on the table is frowned upon as it means the chef has not flavoured the food adequately, and the utmost care is taken to ensure each dish is a masterpiece.
Blue Print has also opened up a satellite coffee shop in Mbombela, which is ultimately Pieter’s dream, to grow the satellite franchise division. “We have such a strong team now,” he says. “We are working together to create something fabulous, and we can’t possibly fail.”
Get in touch
Pieter on 060-997-6855 or firstname.lastname@example.org