They cut their culinary teeth at the Boardwalk Hotel before leaping into opening their own restaurant on “The Strip” in Stanley Street, Richmond Hill.
Allan and Simone Bezuidenhout have scarcely had time to catch their breath. Last week the two, who combine their respective strengths to deliver creative, delicious and outstandingly plated dishes, celebrated the first birthday of their “baby”, Muse, while also launching the restaurant’s new menu.
Allan, 31, was born in Kimberley, but the family moved around a lot and so he finished school at Framesby High in Port Elizabeth.
“After school I worked in the UK as a barman and on my off days I’d be in the kitchen as a sculler, washing pots, cleaning vegetables and so on,” he said.
“But even as a sculler I was intrigued by the fast pace and tightknit kitchen teams. I wanted to be part of it – that’s how my journey began.”
And so the driven young man returned to South Africa to finish his studies at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Port Elizabeth, where he met Simone. “I knew I was going to marry her when I saw her,” Allan chuckled.
“I did her dishes in class once, just to start a conversation.We got married after a year of dating.”
Simone, 24, also matriculated at Framesby, but a good few years after Allan. “Pastry is my passion,” she said. “Besides my studies at Capsicum, I also did a few chocolate courses at the Lindt chocolate studio in Cape Town.”
After qualifying the two landed jobs at the five-star Boardwalk Hotel, where they soon went on to excel.
“We learnt a lot from working at the Boardwalk, and from Paul Bain, our head chef at the time,” Allan said. “He always allowed us to be part of the menu planning, chef’s tables, and food and wine pairings.”
At last week’s menu launch diners were able to try new offerings like Allan’s duck and plum sauce samoosa with the unexpected, but inspired, addition of chilli chocolate ganache and dark chocolate “soil”.
This – and every other plate that arrived after it – looked like a mini work of art, but this level of detail does take time and your orders are not going to come flying out of the kitchen.
The creamy harissa and sweetcorn risotto, topped with ribbons of grilled baby marrow, parmesan and herb oil, was a marvel of contrasting textures and colours.
My husband, Salvelio, settled on the herb and mustard-crusted rack of lamb for his main course. This was served with a lamb croquette, pumpkin “pie”, broccoli and bechamel sauce, along with some mapleglazed carrots and a wonderful red wine jus.
Allan said the dish was one of his top choices from the new menu, describing it as a “nostalgic take on a Sunday family lunch”.
However it was so elegantly presented that the humble Sunday lunch was rather far from my hubby’s mind while he was feasting on it!
The desserts are Simone’s forte. This self-confessed chocolate lover singled out the Chocolate Muse as her favourite from the new menu.
“It’s the ultimate chocolate dessert,” she said, and she was spot on: Expect a decadent, creamy white chocolate mousse alongside dark chocolate ice cream, finished off with chocolate “crumb” and an arty swirl of ganache around the plate.
Weekend Post asked Allan and Simone to share a little more of their food journey – and how not to get on each other’s nerves in the kitchen!
Where does your mutual love of cooking come from?
Allan: It comes from our families. I know it’s a cliche, but my two grandmothers had a huge influence on my cooking style. Food was a focal point and my dad is also an amazing cook.
Who does what in the kitchen?
Allan: I do the hot food and Simone is the pastry chef. We’ve learnt a lot from each other and now we both jump in on either side.
Simone: We have a playful competition between the two of us to see how diners respond to the food versus the dessert!
What has the past year been like since you established Muse?
It’s been very hard work, but rewarding too. Nothing beats the feeling of having a full restaurant. There have been ups and downs, tears and late nights, but we are happy to say we have made it through the first year and we believe it can only get bigger and better from here.
How would you describe your style of cooking at Muse?
Innovative and modern, but with a nod to the traditional.
What do you love most about being chefs?
We love the fact that we get to be creative and innovative. We also enjoy the rush of a busy service.
Which chefs inspire you internationally and why?
Allan: Alex Atala, who runs the restaurant DOM in Brazil, because of his food philosophy.
Simone: Grant Achatz (US chef identified as one of the leaders in molecular gastronomy), because of his innovative cooking style.
Do you ever get on each other’s nerves in the kitchen?
It’s not always easy working together as we have a different approach to cooking, but we are always able to resolve this with a cup of coffee and a chat.
What excites you most about the new menu?
It’s seasonal, trendy and relevant. We do a lot of research before we come up with a new menu.
Muse is at 1B Stanley Street, Richmond Hill. Bookings are on (041) 582-1937 or 073-991-5011.