Duncan Welgemoed has the most incredible “becoming a chef” origin story I’ve ever heard – it’s a crazy tale that also involves George Clooney and ends with Duncan quitting his job by escaping through a window.
Duncan was prepping chicken intestines from the age of eight in South Africa, so maybe it’s no surprise he ended up working at Michelin-starred restaurants run by Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay and Raymond Blanc.
As a chef at the Adelaide Showgrounds, Duncan dealt with riders for Rammstein (their rider request was kind of adorable) and cooked for his favourite bands. He currently runs Africola in Adelaide, which is #29 on the AFR Top 100 Restaurants list and ranked in The Weekend Australian’s Hot 50 Restaurants list.
This year, Duncan has creatively reused wine waste at an OzHarvest dinner headlined by Massimo Bottura and, after seeing Marco Pierre White for the first time in 15 years, collaborated on an event together. “He’s one of the greatest food minds that’s ever lived, in my opinion,” says Duncan. “He’ll always be the master and I’ll be the apprentice.”
Throughout the podcast, Duncan is impressively forthright and honest on many topics – from the time his dad was shot in South Africa to his outrage at discovering food five years past its best-before date being sold at a store in the indigenous community of Yirrkala. He also stresses the need for Australians to become way more engaged with the Aboriginal population. “They’re not closed communities, they welcome everyone with open arms. It just pisses me off that people don’t do it,” he says. “Meet people, that’s all it takes. Those small steps … just exploring your own country, opens your mind so much.”
One of the best meals I had in the past year was at Africola, which launched with a South African focus, then (after several fires inside the restaurant) switched to a menu inspired by North Africa in 2016. (The cabbage hearts dish with smoked butter is insanely good.)
If you don’t have immediate plans to visit Adelaide, good news – Duncan is bringing out his crew to the Africola Sound System dinner at Hyde Park Palms on October 7 for Good Food Month. The menu includes his peri peri chicken (which he thinks is “the best” in the world) and the restaurant’s incredible eggplant with sheep’s milk cheese. Find tickets and info here.
You can listen to this episode on iTunes or download it via RSS or directly. You can even find it on Stitcher nowadays. And thanks to everyone who has said generously said nice things about this podcast (especially Matt at the Carriageworks Farmer Markets) or even dropped a kind review in the iTunes Store (aka Apple Podcasts) – it’s all galvanising encouragement for those long editing sessions!
*Apologies for the incredibly noisy background – we only had a short time to record and this was the quietest spot we could find!