Meat. Beer. Good conversation and good music. This is surely an age old recipe for a guaranteed good time. Coincidentally these were the main ingredients used for the Capital Craft Meat Feast on the 8th of December in the heart of the Capital city, Pretoria.
Head chef of the Capital Craft kitchen, Bradley Martins, the man himself, warmly welcomed all the guests with a very interesting story on the inspiration behind the evening. His inspiration for the very first Capital Craft Meat Feast came from a movie (believe it or not, chefs do get time to watch movies). The movie was about a French president who employed an average woman as his personal chef. Average, in this case, referring to no culinary qualification nor special awards. But what’s so inspiring about that, you might ask. Let me put this scenario into perspective. Firstly, one would expect a president to insist on the best of the best when it comes to the person preparing his food. Secondly, employing a “commoner” rather than a Michelin star chef, (especially by the president of a nation who we all know to be passionate about their food), is unheard of and un-orthodox. . As Chef Bradley watched this movie, he had an epiphany: Why not host an event celebrating the most primal food known to mankind, meat, along with taking inspiration from this particular president. The curious person in me wanted to know more about this epiphany, and so Theuns Botha, bar manager at Capital Craft, let me in on the “whole” story. He (Theuns) explained that Bradley liked the idea of giving kitchen cooks, who usually assist the chef, the opportunity to get more involved on the creative side to showcase their own ideas. This is (likewise) very unheard of and unusual in the often unforgiving and fast paced restaurant industry. But nevertheless the idea of the first Capital Craft Meat Feast was born.
The first image that comes to mind when imagining a “meat fest” is without a doubt a medieval style feast with piles of food and gluttons all around. However this particular medieval style meat feast in the heart of Pretoria had a modern and classy gourmet twist, with long tables decorated with bread and cheese and an all-around convivial vibe. The Capital Craft beer academy and restaurant is well known for their quality, exclusive and wide variety of craft beers as well as an amazing food menu. Apart from the night’s jovial and lighthearted atmosphere which is synonymous with Capital Craft, the meat (the stars of the evening) was on par with the high standard to which Capital Craft hold themselves.
Six different cuts of meat were meticulously prepared in six different ways. These meaty masterpieces were displayed on communal tables in the middle of the restaurant. Capital Craft’s waiters had the honor of expertly presenting and cutting the meat, demonstrating excellent meat knowledge in the way they served each cut. Feast goers could eat as much as their hearts desired (or rather as much as their stomachs allowed). Perfectly prepared meat, no awkward vegetables taking up valuable meat space and quality beer - any South African’s dream!
The meat cuts served were: “Two day marinated rack of prime rib”; “slow roasted short rib with stout beer”; “braised lamb shoulder”; “roasted porchetta”, “six hour smoked brisket” and whole roasted chicken”. All this was meatiness accompanied with three types of bread and of course the very extensive Capital Craft beer list!
Every single cut of meat served that evening, from shoulder to rib, was prepped with the care it deserved. Each mouthful was more amazing than the previous and everyone had difficulty choosing their favourite. My meat-of-the-night was without a doubt the “Red wine braised, bone-in-lamb shoulder” served with Baba Ganoush (a Levantine eggplant dip), Greek yogurt and pistachio dukkah (a dry spice dip). This unique pairing was a joy for the taste buds. The freshness of the aubergine, paired with Greek yogurt, offered a complimenting contrast to the heavy rich taste of the lamb shoulder. The lamb was meticulously braised to perfection. This combination cooking method calls for first browning the meat in fat, to seal in moisture and flavor, before slow roasting the cut in a small amount of liquid (stock, wine, beer, cider whatever your creativity longs for). This is a timely process for the relaxed cook who prefers not to be rushed or bound by rules. Braising meat develops the flavor and breaks down the meat fibers to yield a tender piece of meat with that lovely “fall-off-the-bone” characteristic. You will know the piece of meat is ready to come out of the oven when the meat starts pulling away from the bone and a mere blunt fork can slice through the meat smoothly and easily. It’s not a matter of setting a timer or constantly poking the meat with a thermometer. Nope, you have to watch it carefully, like you would your favourite rugby team playing the final of whatever cup, not missing a moment, with simultaneous patience and excitement. I am definitely inspired to try this at home.
Capital Craft’s staff truly demonstrated skill and talent very few chefs have in hand, by achieving this perfectly pink meat on four-plus lamb shoulders. Not to mention all the other meat options that were also cooked to perfection – yes, I tasted all the options twice, just to make sure.
Chef Bradley’s vision of hosting an event which celebrates meat, encouraging the staff to be involved, sharing their ideas and giving them this experience was definitely achieved and surely appreciated by all the staff. He taught them an important life lesson: You are capable of so much more than you think you are (in the kitchen as well as in life). To have been a part of this first-of-its-kind initiative is a cherished experience. Aside from eating delicious food, enjoying quality beer and bonding with old and new friends, the motivation behind the event is truly heartfelt and an incredibly generous gesture from the Chef and Capital Craft management. With great initiative comes great success, so well done Capital Craft!
Needless to say, by the end of the evening our once unfamiliar neighbours in the seats next to us became our new friends, swopping out stories and “expertly” comparing the food. After all, we all had a very important thing in common; the appreciation of marvelous meat and fine beer! We left with satisfied taste buds, tighter pants and one question….When is the next one?!
Wham bam thank you lamb!