The judges were unanimous in their decision to name young chef Carmen Muller, who presides over the kitchen at The Tasting Centre at Rupert & Rothschild near Franschhoek, as this year’s Nederburg Rising Star at the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards on Sunday 15 November.
Carmen was acknowledged for her ability to create astounding dishes with a small staff of two and a rather small kitchen. She sends forth a variety of inventive, delicious and ever-changing dishes designed to pair with and show off the excellent wines attached to the estate.
Carmen received training at the Silwood School of Cookery and completed stints at acclaimed restaurants such as Terroir and Towerbosch before joining the Rupert & Rothschild team. “What we serve is not fine dining, but a lot of French influences and techniques are present,” says Carmen. “That said, there’s ample room for creativity here, and we really do have a blast in the kitchen.” The result is delectable dishes like a recent creation of venison mac ’n cheese: braised venison shanks with wild mushrooms and a dish of crisp, buttery potato slices.
Chief judge Abigail Donnelly said, “Carmen oozes passion and exciting energy. Her commitment to making really great food cooked with care and generosity makes her one to watch.”
Carmen insists on limiting wastage in the kitchen, and making everything, where possible, from scratch. This includes a daily dose of stocks, jus and sauces; jams and flavoured butters – even the crystallised ginger that accompanies her banana loaf bread-and-butter pudding. After having bread bought in for a while, she decided “this won’t do”, and designed a recipe that could be easily produced in their small space. The result might be served with butter flavoured with smoked paprika and lemon zest, or homemade free-range duck liver parfait… you get the idea.
“What can I say,” laughs Carmen, “I’m an all-or-nothing kind of person.”
The young chef was overwhelmed to be given the award on Sunday night. “This is so completely unexpected,” she told Eat Out. “I am so happy and honoured to be where I am, and to be recognised by Eat Out for doing what I love. I have freedom in my work and I see myself here for a long time. Maybe one day I can open my own place.”