David Higgs and Margot Janse, two giants of the fine dining scene in South Africa, had “sort of met each other” before their first proper encounter when Janse went to dinner at Leinster Hall. Higgs was running the Cape Town City Bowl restaurant at the time.
"I remember someone came to the kitchen and said ‘Margot Janse is in the restaurant’,” Higgs recalls at Design Indaba Conference 2014. “It was about 2004. I said, ‘Who, uh, oh, what? But, why? She didn’t book. Why didn’t anybody tell me? What’s going on?’”
If their rapport is anything to go by on stage, they’ve had considerably more encounters since then. As they roam about, trade stories from their backgrounds and parry (“You swore,” says Janse; “I didn’t,” says Higgs), corresponding images flash on the screen behind them.
Among them are images of fresh produce – some taken from the certified organic vegetable garden on the roof of the hotel where Higgs is resident head of all things edible; plated dishes that resemble miniature artworks; and the interior of Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek where executive chef Janse whips up her creations.
For the eight-course extravaganza that is the African-inspired menu at The Tasting Room, Le Quartier’s fine dining establishment, a three-and-a-half-hour block in one’s schedule is recommended and to dress “for the experience you want to have”.
The chef’s role has become so much more than just the food on the plate, says Higgs. It’s become this experience. All the things you need to add to make a grand experience.
Le Quartier's interior was designed by Janse’s theatre set-designer brother. "He created the set for my food,” she says.
“Do people really want to come and eat fine dining food and be intimidated?" she continues.
"We got rid of tablecloths, we got rid of all the nonsense. There is no candle on the table because, really, do you feel more cosy because there’s a little flame? I don’t get it,” she says, to which Higgs audibly clears his throat.
“I have candles on the table . . . Still . . . They’re not even real,” he says, to laughter all round.
This year for the first time, the Design Indaba Conference talks make their premiere on our app, conveniently packaged in one place and available for free download. To watch Margot Janse and David Higgs’ full conference talk download the app here or keep watching designindaba.com for updates.