Food, Travel and Tech

New 'restaurant of the year' is run by a catering school dropout and is located in a small fishing village

THOMAS SAMSON | Getty Images

When you think of the best food in the world, you might imagine glamorous Michelin-starred eateries with well-trained chefs and a pricey menu to match. But the winner for the Restaurant of the Year at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards in Paris, France, is something very different.

In fact, the winner was a tiny South African restaurant run by a catering college dropout chef and a small team of locals with little to no restaurant experience.

Kobus van der Merwe is the chef and owner at award-winning Wolfgat, which is located on the western cape of South Africa in a village called Paternoster. Van der Merwe never finished cooking school because he didn't want to end up working in some hotel kitchen, according to the awards organization's website.

"I dropped out and went traveling," he said.

Van der Merwe worked as a journalist for the South African publication Eat Out, but eventually left to run his parents' country store and their restaurant, Oep ve Koep, which featured a small menu of mainly fish and chips. It was there that he began changing the menu, and in 2017, pursued his own culinary vision.

"We're a small team, a total of six, we all do everything with no distinctions," van de Merwe said, according to CNN. "There's no kitchen hierarchy so it's all about collaboration and learning from one another. I'm incredibly proud of them. They don't come from any formal food background, so this achievement is all the more amazing."

Indeed, his team is made up of locals, many of whom are from fishing families and had to learn the restaurant business on the job.

Wolfgat features a seven course seasonal tasting menu comprised of sustainable seafood, local lamb and venison and enhanced by wild herbs, seaweed from local rock pools and pickings from the garden, according to its website. While some of the food elements take weeks to prepare, Wolfgat says, others are handpicked that day.

The restaurant only seats 20, and the tasting menu reportedly costs around $60. Located in a 130-year-old beach cottage in the "sleepy fishing village" of Paternoster about two hours from Cape Town, Wolfgat also won the "Off-Map Destination" award Monday.

The World Restaurant Awards are selected by a diverse judging panel including experts from 37 different nationalities, "in an attempt to better reflect the true range and diversity of the international restaurant scene: from fine dining innovators to humble, accessible establishments; major culinary capitals to more remote destinations," its website states.

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