VIRGIL KAHN, executive chef of the world-renowned Indochine restaurant on Delaire Graff Estate, is a man of contrasts. Serious yet adventurous, creative yet intellectual, he has an innate ability to exquisitely marry the flavours of the Cape with those of Asia. His dishes are simple yet complex, his cuisine always ingenious and multi-sensory.
In his words, “It looks good at first, but once you start eating, it needs to be different. It needs to be new. It is unconventional, it opens your mind.”
This accomplished chef was brought up in Bonteheuwel in Cape Town, where his first enviable talent of working with his hands became evident in carpentry. Whilst studying at the Hotel School in Granger Bay, Virgil completed an internship at the Arabella Westin and discovered his love of food, followed by a stint in a corporate kitchen and then on yachts.
Back in his country of birth, he worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and Nobu at One&Only Cape Town, and this is where his love affair of all things Asian was ignited.
Virgil has been an integral part of Indochine’s success since it opened its doors in 2010. “Some chefs move around to get better, but I want to be in one place, this place, and be consistent in what I do. I need to challenge myself to be different,” he proudly states.
Gentle but disciplined, this dignified man is humble, not seeking awards, but his prowess has been recognized by the likes of top South African reward programmes. Initially putting Indochine on the map as a Two Plate restaurant that demands a detour in the annual Jenny Handley Gourmet Guide, pays testament to his cuisine being exceptional.
This year, The JHP Gourmet Guide awarded Chef Virgil and his team the coveted Three Plate accolade. The highest possible in the Guide, and one of only five restaurants to receive it. This award is bestowed upon word-class restaurants that are worthy of a flight to experience.
His inspiration comes from the overwhelming visual splendour of Delaire Graff Estate, the vineyards, gardens, mountains and art. Nature’s bounty is sourced on site from the Delaire Graff greenhouse. Iconic chefs and restaurants – from Peter Tempelhoff to Nobu and Noma, to name a few – have influenced his style.
“I draw inspiration from chefs and how they apply themselves,” says Virgil. His mantra is, “Be the best in that moment.” It shows on every plate and in every mouthful. He is a voracious reader, a pastime that has contributed to the intellectual side of his art and has given him an understanding of all cuisines.
Virgil is not only a trailblazer with gastronomy intent on constantly innovating; his focus is also on building his team.
“My guys must leave here talking like chefs. They need to know about techniques, fermentation, health trends and life – I want to equip them with all these pieces to empower them. I appoint for energy, drive and fire.” His trust in the sommelier is of paramount importance as Virgil abstains from alcohol but knows the role that it plays in enhancing his dishes.
At Indochine Virgil adopts a variety of cooking methods and embraces the full spectrum of international flavours, “We are cooking global,” he claims. After stopping to admire perfect plating, guests are immediately entranced by the unapologetically bold Asian aromas. The fragrance of lemongrass, coriander, galangal, yuzu, ginger, chilli and other tantalizing scents seduce you. Salt and pepper are not complex enough for this inventive chef; the use of Asian ingredients make more sense for him.
Extraordinary combinations are evident on his latest spring menu. Expect the unexpected, trio of amuse bouche, different each day, that will represent all that is freshly picked on the estate. The green tea-leaf salad is an explosion of flavours, the cured yellowtail and coconut turmeric ice with a cos lettuce salad (picked from Virgil’s garden at home) is piquant. Traditional Cape ingredients, like snoek and waterblommetjies, are perfectly blended with ponzu to create an unforgettable dish. A mango dessert with crispy lavender, white cardamom cream and curry leaf could end your epicurean journey with a crescendo.
Travels through the Relais & Châteaux group to the east and exposure to their other stellar properties have broadened his horizons and helped him “to discover the flavours of life, home and away, and give me the knowledge of how different people eat differently. I need to live in the moment and understand other cuisines,” states Virgil.
It was not only the tastes of the east that bewitched Virgil, the discipline and humility of the people resonated with him. The new spring/summer menu at Indochine displays his inimitable Afro-Asian talents curated into an adventurous epicurean experience. Enjoy it under a breathtaking art installation of over a thousand swallows, with the majestic mountain as a backdrop.
Indochine opens daily for lunch from 12h00 to 14h15 and for dinner from 18h30 to 21h00. For bookings and enquiries email email@example.com, call +27 21 885 8160 or book online via https://www.dineplan.com/restaurants/indochine-at-delaire-graff-estate. Visit https://www.delaire.co.za/dining/indochine/ to learn more about Indochine Restaurant.