Wine is a great connector, so we figured we’d pour some for a few friends and get their thoughts on the stuff, plus food, life and whatever business they’re involved in. For this first installment of our ongoing FRIENDS series we talk with Andrew Kai and Matthew Freemantle, food entrepreneurs behind the extremely popular paella stand at the Neighbourgoods Market, the regular SUP supper clubs held in Woodstock and Max Bagels on Bree Street. We met up with the duo on a Friday afternoon as they closed up their bagel shop, a time we knew they’d be thirsty.
Dave (pouring a glass of wine for everyone): So you guys are the guinea pigs to this series. Very good of you. Lisa, have you met Matthew?
Lisa and Matthew meet each other for the first time. Andrew and Lisa are already acquainted and have been discussing the dubious origin of sailor tattoos before the subject turns to more savoury matters. Dave then jumps up to say hello to a winemaker walking past…
Dave: Sorry, we’ll see him at the bar later. So, back to this! You guys are basically the go-to guys for unusual, interesting food here in Cape Town. You cook some seriously different stuff for events, blindfolded dinners, that sort of thing – how’d that start?
Andrew: We started off doing SUP clubs every six weeks in Woodstock – as in, to sup, to eat, not stand up paddle boarding – and through that we experimented with food, fine dining and non-fine dining. Hannerie Visser came and liked what we did so hired us for a-
Matt: Wait, stop. What’re we drinking here?
Lisa: This guy here (gestures to bottle), what do you think?
We’ve started with the Cellar Foot Mourvedre 2012, a typical natural wine – if there is such a thing – with higher acidity, almost sour character within the fruit and unusual texture, giving it a totally unique taste profile.
Matt: It’s quite interesting, not what I expected.
Lisa: It’s one of Dave’s favourites.
Matthew: I wasn’t expecting this because I have no idea what a Mourvedre really is, so I have no knowledge of how it should actually be.
Dave: The beautiful thing about this wine is that it doesn’t taste like any other Mourvedre at all.
Matthew: It seems exciting, interesting.
Dave: I actually shook it before opening because it has a slight re-fermentation in the bottle, a nice way to describe this would be ‘viscosity,’ and a bad way would be ‘fizzy’. Technically it’s faulty, according to text-book winemaking.
We dissect the term ‘viscosity’ and roll it over our tongues just as we do the wine. Andrew is particularly chuffed at this new knowledge.
Dave: It’s not traditional wine, this. The winemaker, instead of filtering the wine of excess yeast and sugars, says: “No, why would I want to filter that stuff out, that’s what makes it interesting.” It’s alive, it’s a natural product. But that’s part of what we’re trying to support, it’s the new world of wine – natural wines are showing what were previously considered faults as something interesting.
The conversation moves to how consumer perception of what’s right or wrong affects consumption. For example, similar to how pickled ginger isn’t pink, it’s dyed, yet we find it weird if it’s not pink. Our perceptions drive what we like or don’t like.
Matthew: It’s a bit like serving goat to people.
Lisa: Why goat?
Matthew: Well I’ve had it, and it’s good, but people have a mental barrier to not eat it because its ‘what poor people eat,’ and I think that’s an annoying mentality.
Dave: Ordering goat is taking a jump. It’s similar to buying different wine or changing your brand of shoe. It’s a conscious leap to order the goat, or order the weird wine, to do something new.
Matthew: But it’s important when introducing something to people who aren’t used to it to make it an easy transition, to treat it in a way that’s entry-level.
Dave: But you have to be educated enough to make an informed decision. To cook goat and people trust you enough to try it; you need to know what you’re doing. You do a lot of interesting events where you cook up completely obscure stuff, and who else does that really? No one.
Matthew: But we also don’t want to oversell the obscure stuff. Rather avoid giving people too much information, or they try too hard to achieve what you’ve told them they should achieve.
Dave: You mean let them figure out if they like it before you give them all of the information?
Matthew: Yes, or you scramble the signal. It’s the same as Cellar Foot’s viscosity: you’ve told me a story, it sounds interesting and worth trying, but the rest is up to me.
Dave: I guess people will always drink or eat what they feel like first, before you can get them to try something new. They stick to what they know, even if it’s weird to others. Some people drink their wine with soda, or like the Spanish, with Coke.
Andrew: My brother drinks Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky with Coke, and then I get pissed off. It’s like 100 quid for the stuff, you can’t mix it with Coke!
Dave: So it’s only acceptable to mix something if it’s the cheap stuff?
Matthew: Like, if you had a Steers burger that was just the patty and the bread, you’d think it disgusting – it needs all that camouflage to make it appealing. Whereas if you had a good patty and a good bun, you’d need less MSG to secure ingestion.
Andrew: It’d be disgusting otherwise!
Lisa: Mixers are a good platform for people starting out with wine though, who haven’t yet acquired the taste but would like to. A spritzer is a light drink to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.
Matthew: But as long as you know what you’re doing and not pretending to be doing something else. If you like a spritzer, and you know it’s shit wine, it’s not a wine thing you’re having, it’s a soda thing with wine in it. I’m good with that.
Lisa: What do you think of this wine?
We’ve moved on to De Bos Pinot Noir 2013, a more classic style of Pinot Noir from grapes grown on the Bosman Family Wines farm in Walker Bay.
Andrew: When you talk about spice in wine, this doesn’t really have it, it’s more mellow. More full on fruit.
Matthew: A wine for drinking late at night.
Dave: It’s a pretty easy-drinking wine, very likeable.
Lisa: What’s your approach to tasting wine?
Matthew: This friend of mine, Fin (Peter Allan Finlayson of Crystallum wines), makes wine. I’ve drunk a lot of wine with him and I like that he encourages you to try various wines without ever telling you about them – he lets you decide. He just puts good wine in front of you, and the flavours become clearer, to the point where you can tell the difference between good and bad wine. Shit wine is… dusty.
Dave: Characteristics that you taste in a bad wine are more noticeable. That’s why the Steers analogy is so great, because you notice the patty is shit, but if you cover it up it can be edible. With a cheap wine they ensure there’s a lot of sugar because they know it’s going to be shit, so they’ll pick the grapes when they’re really ripe and cover it up. In a good wine if everything is the right amount it doesn’t need anything extra.
Andrew: But there’s longevity in a good glass of wine; you won’t get everything in the first few sips. This wine is very drinkable, the flavour follows through and develops.
Dave: Sometimes people try a wine and think it’s amazing, but pour them three glasses of it and it becomes too rich and sweet. If you can drink three glasses of the same wine and want another glass – that’s a good wine.
Andrew: Good wine satisfies you. When we’ve had really good wine at events, we’ve actually had left over.
Matthew: It’s like the customer respects the quality.
Lisa: Is there a wine you keep coming back to ?
Matthew: Well for me, if I knew more, I’d follow winemakers rather than wines. It’s more like the artistry of who makes it. Take Fin now, he’s joined Gabrielsfkloof (wine estate in Bot River), so now that he’s there I’m interested in their wines.
Andrew: lt’s what happened at restaurants: it used to be about the restaurant, follow the restaurant, but now it’s all about following the chef. I would be more interested in who’s wine I’m drinking rather than what farm it came from.
Lisa: It’s the same as movies: I’d rather watch a movie based on the director than anything else. I don’t give a shit who’s acting in it, if there’s a celebrity or not.
Dave: Then you can watch one of their movies, find the others. Try a wine, find others, and so on.
Matthew: Food is a great example. The food is not the interesting part. It’s more a way of communicating. Food is unprecedented in that you put it inside people. Well, there’s two things.. food and drink and… maybe three (much laughter at this point). But it’s a form of communication.
Andrew: Anthony Bourdain said it best, he was asked: “What do you do, as a chef?” And he answered: “We sell memories.” That’s what we do. Same in food and in wine.
Dave: Well in wine it’s maybe sometimes more about forgotten memories.
Lisa: What do you think of this wine?
We’re drinking the Arendsig Inspirational Batch Grenache 2014, a light, cherry fruit-laden version from the warmer Robertson area that is fermented and aged sans oak, only in stainless steel tank.
Andrew: I find this wine lighter.
Dave: It has a similar weight to the others but doesn’t have quite the same earthiness, more fruit.
Andrew: It’s slightly sweeter than the Pinot.
Matthew: Definitely tastes quite sweet.
Dave: I think it’s a bit warm so we’re noticing that now more than the others.
We talk briefly about alcohol showing itself when wine served at a warmer temperature. Then about alcohol in general and the effect of wine on people versus other alcoholic drinks.
Dave: Wine definitely affects you differently to other drinks.
Matthew: I’ve said some of my truest things after having a few glasses of wine. Truest, not things I regret the next day, but really true.
Lisa: Alcohol is also a catalyst for creation. Ernest Hemingway said: ‘Write drunk, edit sober.’ If you’re feeling creatively blocked, have a glass of wine.
Andrew: Are you sure you’re not talking about Ernest from Frankie Fenner?!
Dave: But seriously, wine is different to other drinks – people get drunk on beer and spirits and it’s an entirely different experience to wine. Wine is slightly philosophical, honest, more emotional; it’s longer, slower drinking and you’re generally in the position where you’re eating food too.
Matthew: That, well, I wanted to say earlier. I’ll just strip it down to… bedroom. Do that. Bedroom… on wine, miles better than any other kind of alcohol.
Matthew: With a girl.
Andrew: Ohhhh, yes. In your bedroom, drinking a good wine with your chick.
Matthew: No man, in your room after having wine!
Dave: Like in the bedroom after brandy & Coke, not the same thing…
Matthew: No, wine trumps it all.
Andrew: It does. A good night is always good company, a good meal – and wine. Not other drinks, but wine.
Dave: So back to the food side of things, how does it feel to be referred to as ‘the paella guys?’
Andrew: Ha! I’d prefer to be known as ‘the white truffle risotto guys.’
Matthew: That name’s too long.
Dave: And you’d still be the rice guys.
Matthew: Paella guys doesn’t bother me. What really pisses me off is when people call the paella pans woks!
Andrew: I met this guy at the Biscuit Mill who was chowing noodles from our neighbour’s stand (they sold Thai stir-fry). He asked about the paella, I told him it was a Spanish dish and his immediate response was: “Are you from Spain?” Then he didn’t order it because I’m not Spanish – but he’s eating this Phad Thai made by a guy from Belville. I wanted to punch him!
Matthew: I think he looked at Andrew, an Asian dude serving paella, and just thought “Chinese, Spanish, what the…?”
Dave: What do you think of this Low Profile?
We’ve moved onto the Sijnn Low Profile 2009, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and Mourvedre grapes grown and vinified in Malgas by David Trafford of De Trafford fame. It’s a wine that has lots of weight and a savoury, herbaceous character.
Andrew: Oh shit, I’ve already finished it. I’ve poured myself more of the Cellar Foot.
Dave: You don’t like it?
Andrew (laughing): I don’t know, I can’t remember.
Dave: It’s mostly Touriga Nacional which is indigenous to Portugal. So someone brought the vines here – it’s got a completely different flavour profile to French-origin grapes.
Andrew: It’s drier.
Dave: French wines have a fuller, forward fruit flavour, whereas Spanish and Portuguese wines are drier and more savoury, almost salty.
Andrew: It makes you want to eat.
Matthew: It’s definitely different.
Dave: It is. People wouldn’t just order it, but give them a chance to taste it and they’ll like it.
Matthew: People always go with the easiest option. It’s like bagels: we got absolutely rinsed out of Bacon/Avo/Tomato bagels today. People know something and it’s easier: they just order it!
Andrew: I think it was on American’s Next Top Model that someone said-
Dave: Wait, I hope someone told you this story, that you weren’t watching that.
Andrew: No serious, on America’s Next Top Model they said most people don’t want to wear skinny jeans.
Lisa: They don’t want to what?!
Andrew: Most people don’t want to wear skinny jeans, they just want normal jeans!
We reach the fateful cross-roads of skinny jeans and natural wine on Bree Street and immediately all spontaneously combust into burning hipster balls of flame. Okay, not really. Wine and laughter fuel more discussion and by the time we head off everyone is feeling tipsy, ready for whatever Friday night holds, which undoubtedly includes more wine.