Fire and heat: both are constants in the career of Duncan Welgemoed, executive chef at Africola in Adelaide and one of the interstate guests heading to this year’s Truffle Kerfuffle.
This fire is in his background, given the passionate cooks Welgemoed grew up with, including his chef father, Italian godmother and interior-designer mother.
The heat is also in his present surroundings. As he perches at the Africola bar to reflect on his past, a charcoal spit and wood fire cast a smoky halo around his ample frame.
“I needed to earn some money really, really fast because I hadn’t paid for my hostel,” he recalls of his start in the industry. As a 17-year-old fresh off the plane from Johannesburg, Welgemoed managed to blow all his savings in a London strip club in six hours. “I got a job as a chef de partie in La Bouchee in Kensington. It was an all-French kitchen and the head chef was a maniac. There were a few fisticuffs during service and we all did a walkout.”
While Welgemoed admits he went to London simply “for a gander”, the experience ended up being much more. After helping an Oxfordshire pub earn its first Michelin star as an 18-year-old, he clocked up time at other Michelin-starred restaurants including Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, The Fat Duck and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons.
In 2010, Welgemoed moved to Adelaide and took on the role of executive chef at Adelaide Showground. “There weren’t many restaurant jobs going at that time. In fact, there were fuck-all restaurants,” he explains. During his time there he worked on large-scale events including Big Day Out, steadily building contacts in the music industry. It wasn’t until he moved to CBD fine-diner Bistro Dom that he had a chance to put his London experience to use. Although he racked up accolades, including 2013 chef of the year from The Advertiser, it would be South African rather than French cuisine that signalled Welgemoed as one to watch.
Enter Africola, a multicoloured east-end restaurant and bar echoing the informal spirit of shebeens: bars frequented in South Africa’s apartheid-era townships.
“It was time to do something pretty weird and different,” says Welgemoed of Africola’s 2014 opening. “There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world. We get S.Pellegrino [Young Chef of the Year] judges, international chefs and artists coming in who eat out constantly all over the world, and [say] there’s nothing like this.”
In a nod to South Africa’s strong braai (barbecue) culture, food cooked over fire is a recurring theme. Dishes such as boerewors sausage, peri peri chicken, potjie stew and whole heads of cauliflower smoke and sizzle in view of the dining room.
As well as turning diners’ heads, the restaurant has also caught the national media’s attention, with Australian Gourmet Traveller, The Australian Financial Review and *The Australian among the publications to give Africola the nod. For Welgemoed, the recognition was especially rewarding considering his efforts to establish Adelaide as a serious food destination.
“I struggled, especially in the early days with [Bistro] Dom, until I really took it as my own, to really convince people to that this was a food destination,” he says. “I had reviewers, editors and journos laugh at me going, ‘Adelaide is a fucking shit hole,’ and now they’re all coming around going, ‘Oh it’s actually an amazing place.’”
This month, Welgemoed will be bringing some of that Africola magic to Manjimup. As well as teaming up with native-food enthusiast Paul Iskov for the Truffle Kerfuffle Feast & Fire opening party, he’ll also host intimate barbecue masterclasses in the Chef’s Cabin. Expect fireworks, and then some.
Truffle Kerfuffle runs from June 24 to 26 at Fonty’s Pool, Manjimup, Western Australia.
This article is presented in partnership with Truffle Kerfuffle.