Impress: Duncan Welgemoed
On appearances, chef Duncan Welgemoed creates quite an impactful first impression. Broad shouldered, wild haired and inked up, he’s an imposing character. His profanity littered speech and blunt, heavy metal attitude amplify the offering.
But one should never judge on first impressions.
He’s a true gentleman, a loving husband and father of two, and an inspirational mentor in the kitchen. His tattoos are in fact replicas of famous artworks from the likes of Klimt, Cocteau and Giger. His ‘no holds barred’ style is the result of honesty, dedication and passion. Delicious flavoursome food, South Australia and a great restaurant top his agenda.
A colourful journey
Raised in the turbulent surrounds of Johannesburg and enduring a troubled childhood, Duncan escaped South Africa for London when he was 17. Mugged of his life savings at a Soho strip club, he fell into cooking as a way to survive. He’s never looked back.
Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Fat Duck and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay all appear on his resume. He followed his heart to Adelaide, fell in love with the place and the girl, married and stayed. He helmed French restaurant Bistro Dom for a few years before opening Africola in 2014. Likened to a raucous dop & chop food party, Africola has become the destination for dining in Adelaide.
“It started off fairly authentically African,” says Duncan of the restaurant’s evolution. “As we worked through the style of what we wanted to become, it has actually grown to be very Australian, not in terms of using indigenous ingredients or anything, it’s just that we believe that Australia is a beautiful multicultural country and that is what it (Africola) has grown into.
“I suppose the biggest thing is, we’ve always wanted to achieve the informality of a South Australian restaurant and today, Africola does just that.”
At its heart, Africola is South Australia. Wild, untamed, abundant, exciting. And in his heart, Duncan admits he wouldn’t be the chef he is today if he had set up shop in another part of the world.
“I think the big thing with how Adelaide has transformed who I am as a chef started with the whole country bagging South Australia and Adelaide,” says Duncan. “Moving here and seeing this beautiful place with fresh eyes, I couldn’t understand why people in Sydney and Melbourne would treat Adelaide as Australia’s drunken uncle. It pissed me off.
“I know Adelaide had its day in gastronomy in the late 80s/early 90s. They said that’s when it was at its peak, and now it’s having a resurgence. But
I believe the food and culture have always been there, it just went underground – that’s where winemakers and chefs started working with artists and musicians to challenge the orthodoxy.”
Delicious food circus
Through Africola, Duncan delivers that challenge with fervour. Dishes such as Goolwa pipis in fermented chilli and garlic, and padron peppers with almond aioli and katsuobushi, blended with a rock music feel and vibrant surroundings have put Africola on the world dining map. Young chefs from around the globe come to learn its essence, while diners travel from all corners to bask in Africola’s aura.
“Being a destination restaurant is kind of weird,” admits Duncan. “We were a community restaurant. We want to be there for the locals who eat there two, three times a week. But because of the hype, or whatever, the word spread that this is a really interesting restaurant that is value for money and is super fun.
“It’s like a community driven food circus, entertaining the masses. That’s what we’ve always wanted to become. It doesn’t follow a certain restaurant orthodoxy. I believe orthodoxy belongs in religion, not gastronomy.
“So giving the platform for myself and our staff to express ourselves as we only know how, and that is; loud music, delicious food, great booze and great service, is a testament to the great talent I have behind me.”