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Maranda Engelbrecht: The Road to Babel

July 24, 2018

The many roads – of designer, stylist, chef, restaurateur, author and product developer – that Maranda Engelbrecht has traveled in her career thus far have led to her current role as creative director of Babylonstoren – the historic Cape Dutch farm and garden in the Cape Winelands of South Africa. ‘Babylonstoren feels like the culmination of my sensory journey,’ explains Maranda, whose passion for fashion and food has, through the years, found expression in everything that she does. ‘I have always seen food in beautiful clothes and clothes in beautiful food and at times, have unwittingly worked to create a world where they are one,’ she adds.

As the founder of Babylonstoren’s flagship restaurant Babel, Maranda’s belief that food that looks good, tastes better too, has given rise to a menu that subscribes to the farm-to-fork philosophy where food is served as close to how you’d find it in nature. ‘It’s very much a pick, clean and serve approach,’ says Maranda, whose signature red, green and yellow salads display definite sartorial sass whilst bursting with vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants. ‘I’ve learned so much about the natural world and plants since I’ve been at Babylonstoren that my creative processes have become more spontaneous and organic too. In fact, unlike elsewhere in my career where I have had to work hard to affect change, here ideas and inspiration seem to find me.’

Anyone who has been to Babylonstoren will understand why for this Winelands property with an original manor house and restored Cape Dutch cottages dating back to 1690, it is an original, ground-breaking and very much the gastronomic, wine and lifestyle destination for those in the know. Of course, it helps that Babylonstoren’s location is off-the-charts impressive. Set against the backdrop of the majestic Simonsberg, Du Toit’s Peak and Franschhoek mountains and comprising eight acres of cultivated fruit and vegetable gardens with more than 300 edible plants, a plethora of trees sourced according to historical significance and provenance, and a willow said to have originated at Napoleon’s grave.

Babylonstoren’s contemporary incarnation is thanks to the vision of its owners, South African media mogul Koos Bekker and his wife, the extraordinarily talented stylist and ex-magazine editor Karen Roos, who bought the farm over a decade ago with the idea of turning it into a working farm, public garden, and authentic farm hotel. Incorporating their combined passion for and knowledge of historic Cape Dutch properties and formal gardens and inspired by the Company Gardens in Cape Town, (established more than 350 years ago to supply fresh fruit and vegetables to passing ships from the Dutch East India Company), Babylonstoren is every inch the real deal and as such has garnered countless awards, rave reviews with a cult following of return guests.

‘What has been different for me at Babylonstoren is that I have come much closer to nature, it has changed the way I cook and most certainly the way I live,’ Maranda says. ‘I remember in my first year here we had these delicious parsnips that had sprouted with five incredible fat fingers. The following year I kept asking where the wonderful parsnips were until I was told that they were actually a mistake as they had been planted upside down. For someone like me who has never been very successful at gardening or known much about the natural world, it’s been humbling to witness the beauty of nature’s imperfections and to let it be, rather than try and force things into man’s idea of perfection.’

Maranda is one of the headline female chefs in our inaugural Flavors of a Rainbow Nation tour that will take place from October 27 to November 5 this year. This phenomenal nine-night itinerary and once-in-a-lifetime culinary and cultural journey of the Cape and beyond will be hosted by passionate foodie and renowned New York chef Dan Kluger and ROAR AFRICA’s founder and CEO Deborah Calmeyer. In addition to three days in Cape Town where we will take in food markets, artisanal stores, delicatessens, restaurants, cafes, cocktail bars and breweries, we will also spend three nights at Babylonstoren where Maranda has devised an exclusive one-day, multi-sensory experience that will encourage you to see, hear, taste, feel, smell and participate in the farm experience of Babylonstoren. She will also teach us how to style and plate colorful combinations of food. From here we will head to the magnificence of Singita Sweni for more exciting and experimental gastronomic experiences. For more information on this exciting itinerary, please email welcome@roarafrica.com

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