Duncan Welgemoed (pronounced "Velgamoot") is head chef at Bistro Dom, Adelaide, and The Advertiser’s 2013 Chef of the Year. Born and raised in South Africa, he trained at London establishments including Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
Catherine Osmond

25 Jan 2014 - 9:58 AM  UPDATED 14 Aug 2014 - 12:17 PM

Morning Duncan. Have you eaten breakfast?

My wife makes me eat breakfast – this morning a banana smoothie and Marmite toast. Because I’m South African, Vegemite is banned. And I like tea but I do have a cheeky quadruple macchiato when I’m a bit under the weather.


What about lunch? Will you sit down with the staff at Bistro Dom?

We usually grab lunch from somewhere else; a new little place has opened across the road that does modern Vietnamese takeaway. I think today I’m going to get their "KFC Bao" for the staff. It’s pretty wrong, but a morale booster.


What are your other naughty food indulgences?

At home we’re pretty good about only eating fresh food, but Spaghetti Bolognese and a bottle of red is probably my biggest fetish.


Your wife Catherine is a chef: do you cook together at home?

No, we generally fight about it. Our most heated arguments on a weekly basis is what’s for dinner and who’s cooking it. I do a lot of cooking outside when I’m at home – barbecuing, smoking, grilling...


South Africans reckon they’re the best barbecuers in the world.

Yes we are, 100 per cent. It’s completely embedded in our culture.


Any tips for we sorry Aussie barbecuers?

Use coal. And big joints, or second cuts of steak.


How did your upbringing in Johannesburg influence your attitude to food and your style?

I did cook a lot with my Dad (a chef) but also with a domestic worker who was like my second mum, so there was lots of African food and "necessity cookery". When you’re killing animals in your backyard and using absolutely every part of them, you’re desensitised at an early age... also my personal palate is influenced by the African liking for heat, high acidity, salt and chilli.


Are you a fan of South Africa’s famous cured meats?

It’s more of a deep-seated fetish for those foods, biltong especially. I go to South Africa once a year and eat my own body weight in biltong.


It seems your compatriots can’t be without their special condiments, either, like Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney.

For using at home, it’s one of those tastes you can’t really replicate. I suppose the biggest one is having a chilli sauce at home, and my mum obviously makes the best in the entire universe. She was in Australia last month so we made about 50 litres. It’s called Mpumalanga fire and I’m using it in the restaurant right now with a dish of charred octopus and black peppers.


There’s an interesting contrast between the elegant look of your dishes and your reputation for being the wild man of the Adelaide food scene. How far are you willing to push the envelope?

Things excite me; it could be whatever and I’ll put it on the menu but it all comes back to whether or not it’s delicious. Right now we have some fermented cabbage that’s about a year and a half old. It’s extremely high, extremely complex and useful – but when that runs out we move onto something else. Every week there’s something a bit different but that’s more for our own education as opposed to getting a cheap thrill. 


I have to ask you about the insects, like ants and crickets.

When in season we use them, more as a seasoning as opposed to "here’s a giant scorpion on the plate".  And only when it feels right to have them on the menu; it takes away so much when you try to do stuff for novelty value.


Is there anything even you have baulked at eating, here or overseas?

The most challenging thing was in South Africa; every spring some people dig up a particular red soil that’s unbelievably rich in minerals and extremely acidic. You’re eating dirt straight from the ground from the side of a highway – that’s pretty confronting.


What would your Last Supper look like?

First course would be Gordon Ramsay’s roasted foie gras, crispy sweetbreads, carrot puree and amaretto sauce. Second course, my Piri-piri chicken with my Mum’s Mpumalanga fire; then an apple tarte tatin, with a shot of Calvados to finish it off.


Photography by Andrew Nowell