Chef Gerard Van Staden is the driving force behind Urchin at Hyatt Regency Hotel, a restaurant in Cape Town that serves a symphony of delectable seafood creations to captivate both the palate and the eye.
His work with a slew of top-notch establishments such as Le Franschhoek Hotel, Pearl Valley, 15 on Orange, and Val de Vie Estate is evidenced in a menu that fuses flavour and textures for a multi-course adventure where the bounties of the ocean shine as true stars. Benn Ndzoyiya had a brief chat with him about this new concept restaurant in Cape Town.
Benn Ndzoyiya: How did you become a chef?
Chef Gerard van Staden: I used to cook at home when I was young because my mom was a busy single parent. My real interest was History and Egyptology, but as my parents knew this wouldn’t support a family, they discouraged me. I enjoyed cooking, so decided to become a chef.
Why did you decide to open Urchin, and how does it fit into Cape Town’s fine dining ecosystem?
This was my second chance at the bite of the apple and Johann du Plessis called me and asked me if I was interested in doing something bigger than myself, he asked me to write him a mission statement with a viable story that would interest our public both locally and internationally. With this exciting goal in mind, I’ve never looked back.
I believe in fine food and think fine dining is almost a thing of the past, any great restaurant that has a great story to tell with passionate and dedicated staff will succeed. We want to be seen as the best restaurant in South Africa. Some people will see what we do as fine dining, others will just enjoy the story. The fine dining market is niche – I believe we have something special to offer, and so deserve to be seen and patronized within the Cape Town ecosystem.
Can you share a bit more about how your connection to land and sea informs the menu?
Land has earthy, wholesome flavour profiles and I’ve always believed that the art of simplicity is true genius… the same applies to seafood. Although I like to mix vegetables from land to land and seafood to sea vegetables, this isn’t always the case as Urchin is still a business and in order to appeal to our market I mix it up a little. I continue to evolve and will play around with this and focus on how to make it viable.
How much does sustainability impact your menu, especially for seafood?
I try very hard to find suppliers that are local and as far as fish is concerned always use green fish that are in a healthy state as far as the environment is concerned.
I use Loch Duart Scottish salmon and although it’s a huge import from a distance footprint point of view, they are also very concerned about the environment and you can only bring it into South Africa via passenger aeroplanes to minimise impact. Also, their farming techniques are environmentally responsible.
Is there any unique ingredient that you have on the menu now that is a favourite?
Sjoe, I feel like this is a loaded question… there are so many ingredients that have unique flavours. My evolution within the cooking game means I can’t think of any one ingredient that can be described as a favourite, it’s the profile of an ingredient that makes our food at Urchin unique. Putting flavours together that bring out the main ingredient is more important for me.
Have you carried over any signature dishes from your previous stint on your menu, or did you start afresh?
Yes, I’m in a permanent evolution frame of mind. I’m not a chef who aims to shock people, I build all my menus with Nostalgia at the back of my mind.
Does the restaurant have a sommelier, and who matched the wine list? Can you share a bit of inspiration around the wine choices?
We do have a sommelier and his name is Richard Gosa, he has expertly guided our wine choices both locally and internationally. Richard always looks for local boutique wines that’ll represent us at Urchin and one of his sayings is: ‘with our food flavours that are sweet, sour & bitter, this in turn gives us the character we strive for’. Richard always looks for wines that showcase our passions.
Will we see any cool ideas or dishes you think will thrill diners?
What are some of your favourite spots in the city?
A personal favourite is Pot Luck, the authenticity of how they use fire to enhance the flavours is great. For cocktails and drinks I enjoy Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar. Try the Umami bomb.
Where: Hyatt Regency Cape Town, 126 Buitengracht St, Cape Town CBD, Cape Town