On a hot summer morning in late-January, I had the privilege and absolute pleasure of sitting down with Michael Olivier in the beautiful garden of The Vineyard Hotel. Fresh from winning the Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award at the Eat Out Restaurant Awards in December of 2013, Michael was hot property. But then, if you look at his life and his achievements, it becomes clear that he has always been.
I was a little nervous about the interview, I hadn’t even had a blog to post it on yet. I had met Michael briefly at events a few times before but his reputation seemed larger than life and I was merely an upstart, fancying herself a wine writer. But the kind-hearted and gentle nature of Michael becomes immediately apparent and I sat enthralled, listening to stories about his life and family. Pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine and let me share some of it with you.
Born and bred on a wine farm in Durbanville, Michael’s fate to become involved with food and wine was sealed from an early age. His mother was a great cook and a woman performing feats that were really before her time. He recalls her learning to cook Chinese from the owners of a Chinese restaurant, deep-fried ice cream and all. Good food was always a part of life on the farm, from fresh milk and cream to the smell of koeksisters frying in the morning. No surprise he ended up such a master of food and wine with such an appreciative upbringing.
Michael left home at the age of 20 and worked as a trainee at the Riviera hotel in Hermanus, owned by a British family of hoteliers. There he learned invaluable lessons about the industry and meet exotic and colourful characters from all over the world. When the Riviera was sold and the hotel closing down, Michael landed a job at Lanzerac, where he would not only further his career but meet the love of his life, his wife Madeleine.
He worked there until 1977, then moved on to Boschendal where he would be for another 10 years. He remembers the buffet offered at the restaurant at R4.50 per person. His great restaurant achievements for the next 17 years included Paddagang in Tulbagh, The Burgundy in Hermanus and Parks in Constantia, one success after the other.
In 2002 he became a consultant for Pick n Pay and worked as a wine and food specialist until 2008. He’s known for talking wine on Fine Music Radio and until recently, you could see him on Expresso on SABC2, sharing his deep love for food with the world.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of all his achievements and success, yet they all seem irrelevant: upon meeting him, it becomes immediately apparent that aside from his lengthy and esteemed career in the food and wine industries, his real greatness lies in his passion; for food and wine but even more so, for people. He is well-loved and he loves well. A friend, an inspiration and local legend, I watch and wait to see what his next great success will be.
P.S. I sat for quite a while, wondering whether I should write this post or simply advise everyone to go out and buy ‘Michael Olivier – A Restaurateur Remembers’ . I decided to do both, as the book is a wonderful journey through a fascinating life, told in a way that transports you straight into the kitchens of his family home, the restaurants he’s visited and run and to the heart of his family and his treasure trove of memories