Remembering Michael Olivier: a legendary figure in SA’s food and wine world has died

In the local food industry, few individuals have left a lasting impact like Michael Olivier. As a food and wine expert, writer, restaurateur, and mentor to dozens of South African chefs, Michael dedicated his life to the culinary arts, leaving an indelible mark on the industry he loved and the people he inspired. As a result of this, in 2013 he was honoured with the prestigious Eat Out Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award, a recognition that celebrated his profound impact on South Africa’s culinary and wine landscape.

Eat Out Chief Judge, Abigail Donnelly, shares a touching tribute to Michael  – whom she regarded as a dear friend.

“I am so grateful to have known Michael since the time he owned Parks restaurant. He was a mentor, the kindest friend and a real gentleman. He was the most caring person in the industry  – always sharing and caring for us and our loved ones too! His passion was infectious. One of my career highlights was the humbling experience and honour when I was able to (and on behalf of Eat Out) award Michael the Lannnice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award. He was so delighted and I will never forget that big hug we shared that evening. Fly with the food angels Michael my darling friend. Thank you for the most precious memories.”

Born with an innate enthusiasm for food, Olivier’s passion began at an early age. With an insatiable appetite for knowledge, he embarked on a culinary journey that would become his life’s work. 

As a writer, Michael possessed an ability to transport readers. His prose and deep understanding of flavours and aromas brought to life the stories behind each dish, ingredient and wine he wrote about. Michael’s expert opinions carried weight in the industry, and his words shaped the experiences of countless diners seeking memorable dining adventures.

Beyond his writing, Olivier made his mark as a restaurateur having operated several renowned Cape restaurants, but Michael’s most enduring legacy certainly lies in the lives he touched. Michael’s nurturing nature instilled confidence and ignited a passion for food, wine and service. His guidance and support gave countless South African chefs and foodies the essential tools to grow and succeed in the industry.

“Michael was a true gentleman,” says food media personality and Eat Out judge Herman Lensing. “He was always kind and supportive of my career. Not only mine but the whole industry. When I met him many years ago at the start of my career he took my hand and told me to always stay the small-town boy with big dreams. “I have had the pleasure of knowing Herman for a while and I am a great admirer” These words from Michael are a true testament to the person he was. He shared and celebrated with everyone so often without expectations. Thanks, Michael for your kind words, your soft-spoken voice and your gentle care. You are and always will be a legend.” 

As news of Michael’s passing spreads, South Africa’s food and wine community comes together to share their memories of a wonderful man. His legacy lives on through the countless chefs, writers, and enthusiasts whose lives were forever changed by his gentle nature and unwavering encouragement.

Friend and fellow wine writer, Tshepang Molisana shares the following:

“Michael Olivier was profoundly kind. He always found a way to make everyone feel as though they had a seat at the table.

“Hello darling,” he would text: “I would love to invite you to experience Asara.”

At that table, you would sit shoulder to shoulder with legends, and taste the greatest fruits of his decades of wine industry knowledge and experience from the palm of his open hand. He would share recipes, songs, and stories about his ‘bride Maddie’, and his children Pete and Amy. He would share as though he was preparing a banquet.

“But my, you are beautiful,” he would insist, on days when everything felt ugly. Michael was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word.

He was welcomed with respect wherever he went, and whether he added a dash of his charm to a recipe, or paired a wine for a writer’s story, he always did so with poise and panache. I will always revere the path that Michael Olivier paved for wine writers, and I will respect how he always seemed to see how we could add more seats to the table.

His contribution to the South African wine industry was generous. My heart goes out to Maddie, his children and all who felt that they had become like family to this truly great man.”

Tamsin Snyman (Lannice Snyman’s daughter) says, “The South African food and wine industry has lost one of its most loved and adored gentlemen. Michael Olivier’s huge and passionate personality made an impact on so many lives in South Africa, having blessed us with his deep knowledge and appreciation for wine and food that he shared with us through magazines, newspapers, radio and his podcasts over more than half a century. His Tulbagh restaurant Paddagang, where I dined as a little girl in the early 1980s, put the town firmly on the foodie map as did The Burgundy in Hermanus and who doesn’t remember his fabulous Parks restaurant in Constantia which became our Snyman family’s special occasion space and where I chose to turn 21. His restaurants were always stylish but with deep substance and every dish was identifiable and delicious, smartly progressive and always ahead of its time. Michael was an obvious winner of the Eat Out Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award which honoured his passion and dedication for the industry and his mentorship of many great chefs that he guided and taught throughout his life. We hold Maddy, Sarah, Amy and Peter in our hearts at this time.”

As we bid farewell to this legendary figure, let us celebrate his legacy by continuing to savour the flavours of life, just as he did so passionately.

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