Lesego Semenya, aka LesDaChef, is a highly accomplished South African chef, and fellow whisky fan. In a story similar to ours, Les quit his corporate career to follow his passion and hasn't looked back since. Somewhere along our individual journeys we crossed paths and a mutual respect and friendship was born.
In a new recurring segment, we provide Les with a bottle of whisky and in return he drinks it, experiments with it and gives us a recipe; any recipe at all, there are no rules!
If you become a fan of LesDaChef, like we already are, you can follow his amazing food adventures on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and his website. He is currently working up incredible recipes for Woolworths' food magazine Taste. (That's right, Woolworths and WhiskyBrother use the same chef! 😂)
If you’ve followed my career over the years (I’ve been known to do a few things on TV, books, magazines and sometimes even the newspapers) you’ll know that I try my hardest never to sugarcoat my opinions about something. I’ve always felt that we South African chefs are often way too guarded and polite when it comes to talking about food and the lives we live. Hence my business slogan being “Taking the Snobbery Out of Food”. So when Marc, Mr WhiskyBrother himself, asked me if I’d be interested in writing about whisky my first response was, “as long as I can be myself”, he didn’t bat an eye. So here’s the offering: Every month I’ll try a whisky from the shop and give my honest opinion and what I did with it (I’m still a chef after all) but I’ll be doing it from a layman’s point of view. Taking the snobbery out of whisky.
So, first things first, I must admit that I am already a whisky lover, I have a proper qualification in wine although I’m not a sommelier. So I can’t pretend to not have a bit of an educated palate already when it comes to alcohol but what I will say though, is that I approach the concept of food pairings with alcohol from the customer's point of view. We people in the food and beverage world are magicians and masters at making simple things sound fancy. It's one of the barriers to us welcoming new people into our world. When I first started drinking whisky properly (I say properly coz varsity days of Jack Daniel’s and Appletiser don’t count) I found myself overwhelmed by all the maps and stories of rivers and lakes and burnt drums that add certain things to the whisky. I always thought wine drinkers were snooty but I was unprepared for how soppy and nostalgic whisky people get! I decided to buy whisky whenever I could and just play with it on my own. Sip it neat, sip it ice cold, sip it with water, sip it with soda water, mix it into various things (yes, even Coke I’ll admit) and see what it tastes like etc. I found this approach worked better for me than listening to salespeople trying to sell me bottles based on their own opinions or what the packaging on the box said. Every person experiences food and drinks differently and so I’ll be doing the same with the various whisky I’ll be trying over the next few months.
ENTER THE OLD PULTENEY
And that’s exactly what I did with the whisky for this month: Old Pulteney 12yo. A distillery founded in 1826 in the Northern Highlands of Scotland (see what I mean about nostalgia and whisky people) it produces 1,6 million litres of alcohol a year. With over 1,000 visitors each month it seems to be quite the popular place and brand. I grabbed the bottle from Marc and went on my merry way.
A few weeks later I went back to the store and bought it again as well as Old Pulteney’s Flotilla 2008 Vintage. I wanted to try the 12yr old against its more highly priced and more celebrated brother (who apparently is bottled right at the sea, hence the name of the bottle). The reason I bought it again was because I was about to go on a road trip to Cape Town and I wanted a 2nd opinion on it. What I had found when I drank it was it being quite sweet on the tongue and it got even sweeter with a little water. I tried it at room temp without water and personally found it a bit too harsh for me, so I chilled it in the freezer for an hour and tried it again and it was a lot better. I pictured it being added to cold summer cocktails as well, it isn’t an overly complicated tasting whisky nor is it easy drinking. It went well with sweet things when I tested it against various foods. Moist biltong, pork, sticky bbq wings, berries, ribs and honey went well with it. Well, that’s what I found with my first try with it. So I grabbed the 2 new bottles and off to Cape Town we went.
I introduced the whisky to my friends on a cool night in Hout Bay and for some reason the whisky tasted a bit different. I think the sea air and the braai smoke must have had something to do with that. We tried it neat, once again it was a bit too harsh for all of us. We went to the rocks next and let the ice melt in our glasses and tried it again. It was better drinking with the ice and cold water melted from the ice. It also needed a bit of air to breath a bit before it started opening up and tasting better. Then I brought out the Flotilla and poured that out for everyone and boy were they sold from the first sip. It was a completely different crowd and reaction. Neat or on ice it just worked. It also has a slight tinge of sweetness like the 12yr old but it tasted a lot more put together and focused. One of my friends even went so far as to say it’s the best whisky he has ever tried (he is prone to a bit of exaggerating though). So in the battle of the Old Pulteney’s, the Flotilla won hands down… and justified why it costs so much more than the 12yr old.
OLD PULTENEY BERRY SORBET
So what did I do with the whisky besides sip it? Well I played around with it as well, in the kitchen. I played on my first sip opinion of it (the taste of berries and a sweetness) and went and created a sorbet with it using raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. I had decided to drive back home via the Karoo and spent 2 days in the gorgeous Karoo National Park on my own and under the beautiful desert sun I enjoyed this sorbet I had created. Yes, I had travelled to Cape Town with the bottle and then to the Karoo as well, the story of the travelling whisky. Here is the recipe I came up with… perfect for the current heat wave we’re experiencing in South Africa.
- 300g mixed frozen berries
- 50ml Old Pulteney whisky
- 100ml orange juice
- 100ml water
- 2 egg whites
- 30g caster sugar
- 15g golden syrup or honey
Blend the berries, whisky, water, golden syrup and juice together until smooth. Put the mixture in the freezer and every 30 minutes whisk it vigorously with a whisk. Return it to the freezer after each whisk. You’ll have to do this every 30 minutes over a 3hr period or if you have an ice cream machine, you can just pop the mixture into the machine and churn it until it becomes a semi frozen consistency. Whisk the egg whites until medium stiffness and add the sugar slowly whilst whisking. Sort of like making a meringue. Using a spatula gently fold your meringue mixture into the freezing berry mix. If using an ice cream machine continue churning it until done. If using your hands and a whisk, place it in the freezer and whisk it a few more times every 30 mins until frozen.
Serve it the next day once fully set and frozen. To scoop it out more easily, let it sit at room temp for a few minutes before scooping it.
Oh, I also played around with the Flotilla but I didn’t add it to the food, it went alongside my lunch one afternoon in Cape Town. It worked perfectly with samosas and salmon terrine. It likes oily and rich foods.
Next month we try a new whisky. Looking forward to seeing what WhiskyBrother will surprise me with next.