CASE IN POINT // Mabatho Events
By: Samantha Barnes
A Quintessential Brandy & Food Affair
It was a cold evening in Tshwane: the perfect setting for a brandy-tasting with Thamsanqa Makhehla and a fine meal prepared by restaurateur and chef Dino Retsos. The weather had the kind of chill factor where one holds onto one’s trench coat like a safety blanket. I had an awful cough that was doing the rounds in Tshwane. My voice had undertones of a chain smoker turned brandy drinker, giving me an air of respectability in terms of knowing something about the golden-coloured liquid.
Mabatho Events Management came up with the concept of the event. This Level-3 BEE company focuses on events and promotions activations. It is also succeeding in establishing long-term relationships with brand owners, companies and associates. “We try to do things differently,” says CEO Mapula Digangoane.
“Brandy has a different connotation. We invited select guests and the response has been overwhelming. We chose Richelieu, as it is not celebrated enough. Our association with establishing Richelieu as a brand presence goes back three years.”
That Mabatho Events Management secured Richelieu as a premium brandy carries some weight. “We provide consistency in service delivery,” says Mapula. “I love intimate gatherings such as this evening where we give guests the attention that they feel they deserve.”
Food Maestro Flourishes in the Kitchen
Business strategist turned restaurateur and chef Dino Retsos represents that special breed of professional who makes a success of whatever he puts his mind to. Dino is the founder of Quintessence of Food and the owner of Bugatti Taste Café in Brooklyn Shopping Mall in Pretoria. He is cooking up a five-course meal for a select group of invited guests and will be pushing the creative envelope.
His original plan was not to follow in his dad’s footsteps by working in the restaurant trade. Nevertheless, being a dutiful son in a Greek household, Dino helped out in the kitchen as a teenager in the family restaurant in Pretoria. “Dad was very old school and very hard on us. It was good – it forces you to find your own way,” says Dino.
With a BCom under his belt, Dino initially worked in prestigious companies as a business analyst and lending specialist. The renowned Greek work ethic kicked in, accelerating Dino’s rapid ascent up the corporate ladder. “I never studied IT. I went for the interview, used the lingo and got the job. I didn’t know what a server was!
“Through a combination of creativity and the desire to get ahead I was promoted six times in six years,” explains Dino. “We are here for something. We must enforce it: try and improve things all the time.”
Dino’s business-analyst background has stood him in good stead for a career as a chef. “With each problem you are presented with, you need to think out of the box and be solution-driven. By understanding business processes – which were developed in a week – this forced you to be creative.
“The food industry also requires creative thinking. In the last 10 years the food channels have influenced this. People are looking for those experiences with food. There is more specialisation and the need to be more creative.”
Dino is making a deliberately gradual transition towards this level of creativity. He doesn’t want to risk shocking people, so his signature menu has one or two special items. “I enjoy working in the kitchen the most. The simple chopping of onions and the focus on what you are doing. Not having to worry about wages,” says Dino.
He is quick to spot changing trends, starting his bespoke catering company Quintessence of Food a year ago. “Life pushes you to certain situations,” he says. “Load-shedding forced me to look forward and be clear about what I stand for.”
Dino is game for a challenge, creatively speaking. “I am friends with some upper class mates. Initially, they requested a three-course menu and it turned out to be nine courses! Working under that pressure is a mixture of adrenalin and fear and not about what they are going to say. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone just means that you don’t know if you are capable. It is important for the customer and for you.”
Dino pushed his stress barometer sky-high when he accepted a contract to handle catering for 400 guests on behalf of Groot FM when the radio station hosted the Ghooma Awards. “We worked off site on a balcony for this state banquet, making canapés to serve in the late evening.”
Just a Dash of Brandy
Chef Dino speaks in what sounds like a conductor’s rendition of a melody when asked about using brandy in cooking. “Look at the brandy-tasting notes. Find all the complementary pairings for each note. Look at cross-synthesis. Be wary of the alcohol content in brandy. It can override flavours.”
He is not a brandy snob, if there is such a thing. Dino is not too fussed about whether a brandy-inspired menu should be with meat, fish or fowl. “Just look at the tasting profile of each brandy,” says Dino airily. “I am serving seafood, lamb and pork tonight. There is no particular protein that should accompany brandy.”
The Face of the Brand
Thamsanqa Makhehla talks to and trains consumers regarding Richelieu. Describing what sounds like the nose of a bloodhound, Thami was trained to pick up the difference in smell between Richelieu and other brands, and trained how to drink it (jokes aside). His ability to discern smell to the level required took five years and included items like apples, figs and pears. A skill for sure!
“After smelling something, you need to restart your nose. It is simple: you smell the back of your hand,” says Thami. No overnight sensation, brandy has a heritage and is Proudly South African. “Richelieu has brandies that win international awards. Richelieu won a double gold in 2015 in an international spirits and wine competition.” Judges taste blind, removing the risk of possible bias in judging.
None of the guests actually know what brandy is. It would be embarrassing if Thami was not so nice. “Brandy is actually wine; Chenin Blanc that is matured for a minimum of three years. He asks the guests to smell the brandy. Everyone points their nose downwards in the goblet. We are swiftly corrected by the connoisseur. “Rather hold your nose above the glass. Let it come to you,” says Thami.
“What is coming up?” Thami asks, referring to the undertones. “Drink me! Drink me!” replies a cheeky guest, to laughter all around. “There is no wrong way in tasting,” says Thami, undeterred. He will make brandy drinkers of us yet. “Every person has an imprint in their memory.”
Later on in the evening, I taste a delicious dessert which includes caramelised apple, pistachio, fresh apple and apple sorbet. Dino overhears me saying that the taste reminds me of Christmas time. His face lights up in delight, pleased that he has accomplished this. Food and brandy pairing is referred to as a marriage between the two, evoking memories from taste and smell. He has accomplished his mission.