The acclaimed restaurant, headed up by the genial Warren Swaffield, with Chef Barend Gouws in the kitchen, is regarded as one of the culinary gems of the Durbanville Wine Valley and is situated on the picturesque Nitida Wine Estate which boasts numerous award-winning wines. Located at the edge of a dam, it boasts stunning views of the valley with the Drakenstein Mountains as the backdrop.
At Cassia, simplicity reigns supreme – from the rustic fare with a contemporary twist, to the beautiful minimalist and relaxed setting. We spoke to Swaffield about the restaurant which has been charming diners for the past 11 years.
Tell us a bit about Cassia and your aim with it?
Cassia Restaurant is like one my children – still a work in progress but with all the great values that I feel I inherited from my parents and hope to pass on to my kids. In other words, we have a philosophy of what we do, we do to the best of our ability and we do it consistently. It is a place for people to come to, knowing that they will have a fantastic dining experience with excellent service and feel comfortable in beautiful surroundings.
What are your favourite three dishes on the current menu?
We have become renowned for our pork belly and people travel far and wide for it. We change the sides, but never the method of cooking it – it is one of Cassia’s signature dishes.
Our sous-vide lamb rump is really tender and full of flavour while the smoked Stanford potato gnocchi starter is gnocchi with a twist. You need to come and try it to see what I mean.
When did your passion for food start?
At around the age of seven. I remember sitting on the kitchen counter watching and sometimes “helping” (at that age I do not know if I was helping or hindering), my mom cook dinner for the family.
Where and what did you study?
I studied for three years for a national diploma in Hotel Management, at the Technikon Witwatersrand, which I completed in 1992. Places I’ve worked at include The Johannesburg Sun and Towers, The Cascades at Sun City, St Albans Hotel in the UK, The Crabmill Inn (UK), The Boot (UK), Courchevel France, The QE2, Seven Seas Mariner and Voyager (cruise liners).
What do you believe are the latest food trends?
Veganism and vegetarianism are very much in, although I loathe to say it, being a carnivore myself. People are becoming very health conscious and restaurants have to adapt. Most chefs today are looking for local, small producers who concentrate more on quality than quantity.
What is your favourite dessert?
Warm, melt in your mouth chocolate fondant with home made Amarula ice cream, you cannot beat it!
Your favourite kitchen tool?
A sharp knife.
Is there anything food you don’t eat?
I must confess I am not a huge lover of offal, the smell of kidneys is not my favourite, although working with offal is very interesting and you learn a lot of different preparation and cooking techniques.
Who are your foodie icons?
Marco Pierre White for being ahead of his time in the ‘90s and Gary Rhodes for being a traditionalist and classic old school chef. Today, I must confess I like the style of food Jamie Oliver cooks and his attitude towards food.
Your favourite three ingredients
Salt, you cannot cook without it! Chocolate and chilli.
What advice would you give to a young, ambitious chef who is just starting out in the industry?
Do not become a chef to make money! Become a chef because you love cooking and the rest will happen. If you dig your heals in and take whatever this industry has to throw at you, and believe you me there are some nasty things that will be thrown your way, you will be successful.
Your favourite food and wine pairing?
It has to be without doubt Nitida Riesling with a Malay style curry. I love the refreshing fruity notes that the curry brings out in the wine.
Anything you want to get off your chest?
Television has impacted our industry in both a negative and positive manner. On the positive side, we have many young talented chefs choose our industry because of what they have seen on TV. However, many young people have a very romantic impression of what being a chef entails. They spend three years studying, spend a lot of money over that period and the minute thay have to do their in-service/practical time in the industry they realise it is not for them. This is primarily due to the “sugar coating” of what life in the kitchen is about. There is no mention of the personal sacrifice, the long hours on your feet, the cleaning of ovens with a toothbrush and the Saturday nights sweating your butt off whilst you mates are out partying. But I still would not have changed a thing! The kitchen has had a huge influence in making me the person I am today.