The Lowveld village of Dullstroom is renowned for its abundance of trout, rolling hills and mist so thick you can barely see the tumbler of whiskey in your hand. In a peaceful valley, not far from the village centre, you’ll find Walkerson’s Hotel & Spa – a place where the fires are always roaring, the wine cellar fully stocked and the food is lovingly prepared by Chef Adri van Wieringen.
“This is my second career,” says Chef Adri. “I joined SAA to see the world, and worked as a flight attendant and then on-flight manager for 25 years before deciding in 2000 that I wanted to do something else with my life. I took a break for two years, which led me to Dullstroom and in 2003 I joined the small Stonecutters Lodge, where the two owners gave me a chance to head up the kitchen. I’m completely self-taught, but my family is Dutch so we’ve always cooked up a storm.”
In 2006, Chef Adri joined the Walkerson’s Hotel & Spa, which was a very different establishment then. “Walkerson’s was much smaller and a typical Scottish-style lodge when I joined the team – all the staff wore kilts then! Since the new owners took over, the hotel has been taken up to a new level – it’s still a grand old lady, but we’re a bit more modern. As children are allowed now, we also have a different type of clientele and cater for families.”
Now the hotel has 25 hotel rooms, in beautiful locations surrounding the dining room and main lodge area, with a number of self-catering cottages spread across the sprawling property. Though the property has been modernised and improved, it still retains the classic charm that has drawn visitors escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for decades. Rooms are homely yet chic, with plush furnishings that enhance the Scottish highlands-like surrounds. The thick stone walls of the dining room and lounges are all draped in tapestries, with huge fireplaces both inside and outside on the deep verandah.
“We cater for the diverse groups of guests that visit us, serving traditional food with a modern flair,” says Chef Adri. The breakfast menu has all the favourites, with a hearty Dullstroom twist – trout tops Eggs Benedict and oats are laced with whiskey. The lunch menu is composed with a light touch – fresh and flavourful salads and sandwiches mix with the perfect tribute to the area – whole de-boned oven-roasted trout flavoured with lemon, served with cous cous and roast vegetables. “Chefs shouldn’t kill the trout,” says Adri. “Smoke it, yes, but it has such a delicate flavour that it really just needs to be flavoured subtly with a touch of dill and lemon.”
Five course dinners are on offer in the evening, with elegant takes on comfortable classics served up to guests – dishes can include Kudu carpaccio, crusted rack of lamb, roasted duck, and a perfectly-aged selection of cheese to finish off the meal.
In the kitchen, Chef Adri is joined by a loyal group of chefs, many of whom have been with him for 7 years. “I don’t have a high staff turnover at all,” says Chef Adri. “We’ve just employed a Senior Sous Chef Natasha Smith, who is fully trained and has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens overseas. In the kitchen, we are constantly training through hands-on methods and working on improving ourselves – our motto is that we are a good hotel, and want to become a great hotel.”
Chef Adri’s warm, welcoming spirit permeates not only Walkerson’s Hotel & Spa, but clearly has a far reach through to Dullstroom. Spreading the passion for cooking, Chef Adri contributes to community classes every Wednesday at a learning centre in Dullstroom. “At the moment I’m running a training course with 8 gogos, showing them how to bake and cook items that they can sell at the local market. Since I started helping with cooking courses in 2013, I’ve created 14 jobs.”
And it doesn’t stop there – next on Adri’s busy schedule is the search for young talent to represent the Mpumalanga Lowveld in the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Young Chefs competition. Maybe it’s because he discovered a passion for cooking later in life, but Chef Adri is clearly wasting no time in spreading the knowledge that he’s gained – luckily, his love of food is infectious.