Duncan Welgemoed entered the chef world through rather unusual circumstances. He wasn’t pursuing a dream or following in a family member’s footsteps – his brother, coincidentally, was actually a chef. To put it bluntly, Duncan needed dosh.
“The biggest reason was [out of] necessity from losing all my money in the U.K. six hours off the plane at a strip club,” he says, entirely deadpan.
“I’d been planning on bumming around Europe, but I had to literally go find a job straight away. I got a job at a place called La Bouche, a French restaurant.”
The South African born chef has come a long way from those strapped-for-cash days. For one thing, he now lives in Adelaide and keeps himself busy – and possibly out of trouble – as the head chef and co-owner of Africola. Jumping on the culinary map back in 2014, Africola was a loud and colourful Soweto-styled eatery offering in South African fare. Braai was a mainstay, spices came via Cape Malay, and slow roasted cow's head was a treasure for those who dared. Then in 2016, Africola underwent a transformation – shifting from South African flavours and feels to a northern-inspired menu and brand-new look.
“Every two years we do a flip,” Duncan explains. “So we went from South [Africa] to North, and after North, we’ll go East and West. Obviously there’s quite a lot of cost involved but it’s easier when you have a designer.”
Enter Africola co-owner and Mash Design director James Brown, a creative whiz with a penchant for big, bright and bold graphics – as evidenced by the restaurant’s sharp new fit-out and wow-worthy website. It was up in the Northern Territory when Africola inspiration struck the pair. The idea came, amusingly, while watching a boxing movie with Mohammad Ali and George Foreman.
“James broke his elbow skateboarding in Darwin and was in hospital,” Duncan recalls. “So we watched Rumble in the Jungle.”
“One of the sponsors was Africola – a German soft drink company. They’re still around today but established in the ‘50s. They sponsored the fight so we wanted to do a festival around African food called Africola.”
“We don’t want to buck trends, we want to create them.”
Africola (the food festival) grew into Africola (the restaurant) and now – having swung from South to North – that means a fresh take on Maghreb cuisine.
“We’ve gone from more protein-based dishes to vegetables and grains,” says Duncan. “In the north you’ve got a lot more diversity in spices. There are influences from everywhere – from Greece to Sardinia to the Middle East.”
Despite the menu changes, some things remain the same.
“Smoke and fire have always been a big factor in terms of general restaurant tools,” Duncan points out. “We’ve also got few custom pieces. Like a weird deconstructed rocket been turned into an injera plunger.
“We want to always keep it fresh,” Duncan says of Africola. “Having a restaurant that’s the same after 10 years is not where our heads are at. We don’t want to buck trends, we want to create them.”
Whether it’s on the menu – or simply in life – one thing’s for sure: Duncan Welgemoed is at the vanguard of VICE-dom.