Harald Bresselschmidt has earned worldwide recognition as the owner and chef of Aubergine Restaurant, a gastronomic highlight of Cape Town. “When I was 11 years old, I cooked an elaborate Christmas feast for my family and it was then that I knew that I would be a chef”. Harald began his culinary studies at the age of 14 and received his Diploma by the tender age of 17, making him the youngest chef in the region. Growing up on the family farm in the pristine Eifel region of Germany, instilled in him a love for nature and an appreciation for natural produce.
Part of his early experiences, in a small hotel near Esternach on the Luxembourg border, taught him the basics of classical cuisine and impressed upon him the value of making everything from scratch. The next 11 years saw Harald working in kitchens in Germany, Holland, London and Switzerland, finally leading him to be awarded his Masters of Gastronomy and Kitchen Management from the Heidelberg Hotel School.
When the famed Grand Roche Hotel of Paarl came to Germany scouting for a new head chef, Harald jumped at the opportunity for a new adventure. He arrived in South Africa in 1992 on a 2-year contract, fell in love with the country and met his wife to be. Thereafter, Harald spent a year cooking in France, followed by a brief stint at Rhebokskloof Wine Farm in Paarl, while looking for premises to house his own restaurant.
He found a charming old building in the historic Gardens area in Cape Town. It was once the home of the first Chief Justice of the Cape and the building has a rich Epicurean legacy. Harald felt a resonance between the classic ambience and his personal style and opened Aubergine Restaurant in 1996. The name Aubergine stems from a love of the vegetable. He is inspired by the contrast between the dark skin and light flesh and has incorporated aubergines into a number of his signature dishes.
Harald places great emphasis on food and wine pairing to complete a full gastronomic experience. Over time he has developed relationships with many of the Cape winemakers and boasts an extensive wine list. A growing range of Aubergine label wines has revolutionised the concept of “house wines” as he has enlisted top winemakers, specialised in their respective cultivars, to create unique wines tailored to complement his food.
In 2009 Harald found another Cape Town home, close to Aubergine. There he custom-built an expertly designed maturation wine cellar, so that he could store his impressive wine collection under optimum conditions. He meticulously renovated the building and transformed the main area of the house to include elegant reception areas and a 40-seater dining room. Auslese, his function venue, was born.
Delving deeper into wine and food pairing, Auslese caters for bespoke winemaker’s dinners, corporate functions and special events of all kinds. Harald’s exquisite hors d’oeuvres bring out the best in the wines on show through complementary and contrasting flavours.
Harald has cooked all over the world as a guest chef, from Sydney to Singapore and Sylt to Montreal. Many accolades have been bestowed upon the Aubergine Restaurant and he has garnered a loyal following both locally and abroad.
Harald is an avid cyclist and enjoys the great outdoors in his limited spare time. The last time that he visited a cinema was 12 years ago! A busy man indeed.
Aubergine, the vegetable, lends itself to a Mediterranean style or spicy Indian vegetarian dishes which often appear on the restaurant’s menu. It is also very versatile in combination with a variety of proteins. It is a good base ingredient in dishes which comes into its own when lifted by garlic, olive oil, balsamic, herbs or spices which then takes it in a particular direction. Good examples of this are aubergine caviar, parmigiana, aubergine soufflé, aubergine chilli-bites, baingan aloo (potato and aubergine curry).
Aubergine Restaurant is currently offering a Winter Bistro Menu, an a la carte and tasting menu. They currently enjoy cooking with forest mushrooms and green leafy vegetables such as cabbage and kale. Beetroot lends itself to pairing with braised wintery dishes.
Special mention should be made that Harald was the inspiration for starting Mason Farming. James Ingerfeld and his wife Timea Laczko Ingerfeld, owners of Mason Farming, decided to start a small vegetable garden. Says James: “Timea started a small patch with vegetables and we delivered it to Harald, who then cooked for us in return. In time, Harald suggested that we professionalize our hobby and plant a bigger variety of vegetables. That is how Mason Farming started.”
Harald was kind enough to share one of his recipes with us:
Tomato Risotto Recipe
Ingredients for 8 starter portions
For the tomato base:
- 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- ½ medium size onion, finely chopped
- 100g sundried tomatoes, chopped and soaked in white wine
- 4 ripe plum tomatoes
- 50ml olive oil
- 50g basil
For the risotto
- 30g salted butter
- 30ml canola oil
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- 125g Arborio rice
- 125ml dry white wine
- 400ml vegetable stock, approximately
- salt and white ground pepper, to taste
- Tomato base as prepped
- 50g finely grated parmesan cheese or pecorino cheese
- 40g cubed cold butter blocks
For the garnish:
- 20 cherry tomatoes (red and yellow)
- olive oil, salt, pepper and white balsamic vinegar
Marinate and braise in the oven for 10 minutes, including the marinade
- Soak chopped sundried tomatoes overnight in water. Blanche and peel plum tomatoes, de-seed and chop up. Place a pot on the stove, add butter and saute onion and garlic until soft. Add tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, basil stalks and seasonings and saute for a few minutes. Add soaking water from the tomatoes and allow your tomatoes to reduce slowly until soft. Puree the base in a blender until smooth, then pass through a sieve.
- Heat canola oil and butter in a heavy saucepan, add onion to the pan when the butter is foaming, cook onion until soft and turning golden, for about 6-8 minutes.
- Add rice and allow to heat up, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes, then deglaze with white wine and reduce until dry.
- Stir in tomato base, add seasoning and add vegetable stock little at a time. Stir frequently and let each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, for about 11 to 13 minutes. You might not need all the stock or you might need a little more to keep the risotto juicy, but not too dry.
- Stir in cheese and chopped cold butter cubes to finish the risotto.
Garnish with braised cherry tomatoes and basil leaves.