It’s easy to be dIstracted by the fairy tale of Mosaic at the Orient. The opulent Art Nouveau-meets-Morrocan fantasy on 280ha of privately owned land near the Crocodile River; the mother-and-daughter team, Mari and Chantel Dartnall, who seek out the world’s finest epicurean pleasures; the wine cellar housing 59 000 bottles of wine, including Château Petrus 2012 and 24 different vintages of Klein Constantia Vin de Constance. But these trappings fade when compared with the sensibility Chantel brings to fine dining.
Her cooking is unapologetically feminine: delicate platings, extreme attention to detail, the use of blossoms and botanicals, and consideration for diners’ wellbeing.
Anyone who has spent a night tossing and turning thanks to an ego-driven degustation menu will appreciate Chantel sparing a thought for the eater.
‘We use begonias and gladioli in “the Garden of Eden”,’ she explains, ‘as they’re known to regulate blood glucose levels… and lemon grass, which aids digestion and helps cleanse and detoxify the body, in “Mousse de Mer”.’ She avoids molecular gastronomy chemicals, with the exception of calcium lactate gluconate and alginate, which is used to form the ‘The Oyster Pearl’ atop a spoonful of Sturgeon d’Aquitaine Caviar in a dish called ‘Jewels of the Sea’.
Carrot, beet and basil tuiles opened proceedings – colourful communion wafers dangling from a branch like an Alexander Calder mobile. Then miniature choux puffs with truffle-mousse centres (‘Mamelon de Venus’) arrived with the bread trolley.
Steam tumbled out of a repurposed Cona coffee machine for ‘The Alchemist’s Infusion’. Slightly sweeter, floral wines – some from Tokaj, Hungary – benefited the clean, refreshing flavour profile that dominated the meal.
Studies confirm that women of reproductive age have a more finely attuned sense of smell and, thus, taste, than men, yet there’s still the feeling professional kitchens remain an exclusive ‘boys’ club’. It plays out in tasting menus, often experienced through a male lens as if liberation never entered the dining room. This is why I felt moved by Mosaic. Chantel is mistress of her own destiny and circumvents the need to be (or cook like) ‘one of the boys’.
In her compact kitchen, the quiet focus of her team is palpable as they stencil herbes de provence and place miniature broad beans just so – it’s like opening the door on a secret drawing room.
‘I’m proud to say that the Mosaic kitchen brigade consists only of ladies,’ says Chantel, ‘and although unintentional, I think there might be a bit too much feminine energy in one kitchen for most men…’
Published in Private Edition issue 31.