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Food

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.”

Parochial passions

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.”

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Food
George Calombaris' Hellenic heart
Words by Mark Hughes on 17 Nov 2015
It is not surprising to learn that as a young boy George Calombaris loved food. He was obsessed by it. As we sit down for a chat at his Hellenic Republic restaurant in Brunswick, a very fit-looking George (he is almost equally obsessed with his regular gym routines these days) recalls a couple of prime examples as to how much food was always on his mind. “Dad had an independent supermarket and our job on a Saturday was to sweep the floors. While my brother was stealing cigarettes; I was stealing tubes of condensed milk,” he says. “I remember going to an uncle’s house and while my cousins were out the front kicking the footy, I was standing at the barbecue stealing charred bits of octopus while no-one was looking.” It was almost ordained therefore that George would become a chef. Although he never cooked at home as a child “there was no romantic story of me with my hands in the bowl beside mum because we weren’t allowed in the kitchen”, what is somewhat surprising is the fact that when he did start manning the pans, he wanted to cook anything other than Greek food. He learned French cuisine through an apprenticeship at the Sofitel Melbourne, then the same at Fenix before taking on the head chef role at Reserve Restaurant in Melbourne’s Federation Square. It is here he turned heads, being awarded Young Chef of the Year and two prestigious chef’s hats from The Age Good Food Guide. But it all came to a grinding halt when the restaurant went bankrupt. It is perhaps due to George’s indefatigable charisma that he was able to turn adversity into a pivotal moment in his career, and at the same time, find his Hellenic heart. “I was out of a job, distraught, 26 years of age, and that made me go and do a lot of soul searching,” he recalls. “I asked, who am I? Who am I as a cook? Suddenly, a light bulb went off and I went, ‘Hang on, I know what my culture is, I have lived and breathed it all my life.’ I could see a massive hole in the market being all things Greek – from fast food to fine dining. From that, The Press Club was born. Nine years on, it has been an incredible ride to where we are now.” Changing food culture Now, George is one of the most recognisable faces in the Australian food industry. As co-host of the super successful MasterChef TV series, he is projected into lounge rooms across the globe. For George, the overwhelming positive from it all is the fact that it has got people thinking about food. “What has happened has been incredible,” he says. “I remember getting a call from a friend who works at the local Bunnings and he says, “Mate, what did you cook last night, because we have sold out of blow torches?” We had done crème brulee. The show influences everyone from young kids to adults. I walked down the street the other day and a tradie showed me pictures of macaroons that he made with his daughter. That, for me, means we are winning.” Away from the small screen, George is at the helm of a Melbourne restaurant empire serving everything Greek from street food at five Jimmy Grants outlets, casual wholefoods at Mastic cafe, contemporary fare at Hellenic Republic and Gazi, to top shelf dining at the Press Club. Plans are also afoot to launch into the Sydney market with a Greek restaurant in Surry Hills. Stay tuned. Cooking the books In addition to all of this, George has published five cookbooks. His most recent, of which he is proudest, is simply titled Greek , and features the recipes that mean most to him. Ones that his family has passed down to him, fellow chefs have shared and even recipes that he makes with his children. “Great cookbooks are not about the recipes, they are about the story,” says George. “It’s about the influences other chefs have played in my life, my mother,   even my kids. There is a recipe in there for vegemite and avocado cruskit – you don’t have to be a genius to make it, but it is not about that – it is about the experiences that we share that make us who we are.” There is even a whole chapter in the book about pasta. Given the name of the book is 'Greek', it begs the question, why? “A lot of people don‘t know that my dad’s mother is Sicilian,” reveals George. “My dad migrated from Egypt, my grandfather was Greek, my grandmother Italian. On my mum’s side my mother, grandparents are Cypriots. Of course, Cypriot food is Greek influenced but also very influenced by the Ottoman Empire – Turkish flavours, Middle Eastern flavours. So when I was young, I was getting fed everything from falafel to moussaka to pasta and ricotta. I was so bloody lucky. “So this book is about everything that has influenced my life, from a souvlaki at Jimmy Grants to a Hills Hoist at The Press Club and everything in between. This is, for me, where I am right now. “I set out on my journey to do all things Greek for all people,” he says. “It’s taken me a long time to get here, 19 years with mistakes along the way. But I’ve loved every minute of it. Now we’re ready to go even harder and I hope there are another 19 ahead. I am just starting. I’m at the beginning of what I wanted to do.”  
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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