Story of a Plate: Octopus at La Tête

On the menu: Octopus, fennel and sea spinach

The octopus was phenomenal. Would you mind telling us how the dish came together, with the fennel and sea spinach?

Chef Giles Edwards: As with most of the dishes, it’s really about the supplier. Our chicken hearts come from Angus at Spier – they’re amazing, so I think about how I can make them appealing to everyone else. I put a deep-fried potato bake on the plate, and it just works perfectly with the dish, and it becomes an attraction – it’s the same with the octopus. I always cook it the same way; it just comes down to what I pair it with and how I use it. The octopus comes from South Coast Fisheries, who source it from False Bay. It’s Atlantic octopus, and there are not many restaurateurs buying it.

And why did you decide to slice it rather than serve a full tentacle (as they do in many tapas places) – do you think many people would be intimidated by that?

Giles: One thing with the octopus is that it’s very expensive, it’s labour intensive, and it takes a long time, so as much as I’d like to serve it like that, it’s not really feasible, and not everyone would enjoy gnawing on a big tentacle (which I do like myself, dipped in aioli – chef’s treat!). Everyone thinks about “nose to tail” food, but I think it’s much more about making things accessible to the diner. Slicing it makes it lovely and tender, and easy to eat.

Would you agree that your kind of cooking is more about subtraction than addition? If you’ve got great ingredients, it’s about minimising what you do them?

Giles: Definitely. The octopus just works as it is. The marinating also does a lot – a kind of Mediterranean style, with olive oil, red wine vinegar, red onion, garlic and thyme, which also helps to tenderise the meat (so it becomes less labour intensive on the mouth!). The sea spinach comes from Scarborough, and is foraged by local guys. It’s nice and subtle, not too salty, with a bit of succulence, and just very pleasant to eat, The fennel comes from Harvest of Hope, a local collective which supports different organic farmers who are all assisted in doing their own thing, so one would just grow spinach, another just carrots, or celeriac, and Harvest of Hope helps to facilitate bringing it all together and delivering it to restaurants. Excellent meat and fish is easy to source here. Good dairy and vegetables – not so much. But now, with these guys, and the Oranjezicht City Farm Market, it’s become a lot better.

How well does the octopus dish do?

Giles: Very well! Even the guys at South Coast Fisheries can’t believe it. I go through about twenty kilograms of octopus a week. Not many people are fishing for them, but it’s quite a thing to do – they can be massive!

Where to get it: La Tête, 17 Bree Str., Cape Town. 021 418 1299

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