From the author of “Drink Lightly,” a low-alcohol cocktail with fresh strawberry.
After cooking around the globe for the likes of Paul McCartney and Diddy, Chef Nicky Gibbs opened a locally inspired fine-dining restaurant in her Cape Town kitchen.
AT THE END of a long, winding driveway atop a terraced hill in Cape Town’s Noordhoek Valley, a black-and-white pit bull bounds towards me, with slobbery kisses at the ready. “Sage is my welcoming committee,” laughs South African chef Nicky Gibbs as she emerges in an apron from the doorway of her contemporary villa, built from concrete and Mozambican mango wood. This is Crofter’s Kitchen, the restaurant Gibbs opened in her family home in 2018. Each day, she welcomes diners into her kitchen and prepares a locally influenced, six-course menu with tea pairings.
The concept was born out of Gibbs’ desire to offer a truly home-cooked fine-dining experience rooted in her personal history: She grew up on several farms across the country, often using the produce from these plots to make family meals. Aptly then, a visit to Crofter’s Kitchen starts with a tour of the chef’s garden. Here, native succulents and herbs, edible flowers, and planters bursting with fruits and vegetables provide inspiration and produce for her incredibly creative, delicious, and seasonal plates.
Locally and ethically sourced, nutritiously dense, and minimally processed ingredients make up the foundation of the experience she creates, with each dish containing a delightful surprise — and a bit of culinary theater. A mushroom consommé is poured into the center of a ring of peppery-tasting micro-succulents. Local goat cheese from Cape Town cheesemaker Pépé Charlot is rolled in edible flowers, and a tuna steak on a bed of asparagus is topped with a tapenade of olives, garden herbs, gherkin, and pickled jalapeño. A passion fruit sorbet introduces a buzz button, which is a curious flower whose chemistry stimulates saliva and cleans the mouth. “It’s used in the bush for oral hygiene,” Gibbs explains.
The chef’s own culinary journey similarly comprises unexpected turns. After serving as the executive chef at The Capetonian hotel, where she fed Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison in 1990, Gibbs became the first woman in the galley on Crystal Cruises, renowned for their expansive, six-star vessels. When she returned to London after her time at sea, a television show on rock ‘n’ roll catering piqued her interest, prompting her to call the company number listed in the credits. An interview later and she was on the road again — this time cooking private meals for some of music’s biggest stars (and their crews) while on their global tours.
“My first gig was Puff Daddy,” Gibbs recalls. “I ended up working in the music industry for six years, traveling the world.” During the dessert course at Crofter’s Kitchen — which, on any given day, could include a Star Ruby grapefruit tart with moringa ice cream, or a strawberry panna cotta with Tanzanian dark chocolate mousse, all paired with soursop tea — she pulls out a box of backstage passes. Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Madonna, Moby, Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Bowie, and AC/DC are just a few of the musical icons who have enjoyed the chef’s creations.
“It was really exciting because you were always making menus on the run, in the aisles of supermarkets and between the stalls of the local farmers’ markets,” Gibbs recounts. And cooking to individual preferences became second nature. “If you were caught with meat on Paul McCartney’s tour, it was contraband,” she says with a smile.
When Gibbs finally returned to South Africa in 2005, she ran the kitchens of numerous five-star hotels across the country before moving into her late parents’ residence, where Crofter’s Kitchen is now located. “Because I hadn’t lived in Cape Town for such a long time, I was nervous about opening this restaurant in my house,” she admits. So as a soft launch, she went into business with her friend, the 3-Michelin-star chef Franck Dangereux, hosting a branch of his Foodbarn at the Noordhoek Farm Village until the lack of a liquor license ended their pursuits. But the confidence boost was all Gibbs needed to start an eatery of her own.
These days, with a small team of women supporting her, Gibbs serves lunch, dinner, and takeaway picnic boxes to those lucky enough to know about this little restaurant on a hill, about a 40-minute drive from the center of Cape Town. Anything she cannot grow, she sources from nearby purveyors, paying forward the community spirit that has helped her rise and emphasizing sustainable eating as the future of food.
“Are you aware that there are more species of plants on Table Mountain than in the whole of the United States of America?” Gibbs asks me of the natural landmark that defines Cape Town’s skyline. She then excitedly describes the six species of artemisia, an aromatic herb that is often used in homeopathic medicine, that she recently purchased from a local nursery. In the coming weeks, she’ll experiment with its flavors and how they can be incorporated into Crofter’s Kitchen dishes. “It’s right on our doorstep, and it’s got to be utilized.”
Elizabeth Fazzare is a New York-based editor and journalist who covers architecture, design, and culture for publications including Architect, Architectural Digest, and Dwell. She was previously the senior architecture and design editor at Cultured magazine, and an editor at Architectural Digest.
Kent Andreasen was raised in Cape Town, South Africa. While traveling extensively, he remains based out of his home city. After graduating from AFDA Film School (Cinematography) in 2013, Andreasen pursued a professional career in still photography. His repertoire has been entirely self-taught with a sharp focus on perfecting the beginning-to-end process.
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