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New heights for the winner of the 2017 John Psillos Award for Outstanding Contribution to Service

Morne Wessels, the front-of-house manager of La Petite Colombe in Franschhoek, was named the winner of the Eat Out John Psillos Award for Outstanding Contribution to Service at the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards on Sunday 19 November. The restaurant also took home the title of Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year,

Morne Wessels (left) with Eat Out editor and head judge Abigail Donnelly and John Psillos backstage after winning his award. Photo by Jan Ras.

When opening a new restaurant, a few hiccups are par for the course, but La Petite Colombe got off the ground remarkably smoothly when it opened in August 2017. That might just have a little something to do with Morne Wessels.

Morne has been in the industry for 20 years, previously guiding The Tasting Room in the same venue to win the 2015 Service Excellence Award. While La Petite Colombe is a very different animal, one thread remains constant: staff are confident, thanks to Morne’s management style. The words understanding and appreciation crop up frequently when speaking to him. “When staff feel appreciated they perform effortlessly,” he says. “To see staff loving what they do day and night, that inspires me.”

Eat Out head judge Abigail Donnelly says, “Morne is well respected and an incredible leader, guiding and entertaining in a very unassuming way. He really has uplifted the hospitality industry in South Africa.”

The Cape Malay fish with smoked snoek and piccalilli. Photo by Claire Gunn Photography.

With chef John Norris-Rogers at the helm, the La Petite Colombe kitchen turns out beautifully executed food in theatrical presentations. An amuse-bouche of Cape Malay pickled fish is served on a bowl of seashells and dry ice; barbecue quail with plump langoustine, smoked mussel velouté, bok choy and corn is finished off with a satisfying crunch of popcorn; and, as a palate cleanser, you are invited to pour a coconut water from a small vial over a chilled and misted glass tumbler of zingy pineapple sorbet, fresh lime zest and coconut shavings. A small treasure chest of petit fours that resemble the richest jewels and gold precedes your bill.

The interior at La Petite Colombe. Photo by Claire Gunn Photography.

The chef-patrons of La Petite Colombe, Scot Kirton and James Gaag, had further reason to celebrate on the night. Their flagship restaurant, La Colombe, was placed at number seven in the 2017 Top 10.

As if you needed any further convincing, read the full review of La Petite Colombe.

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