Harald Bresselschmidt – Food Magician

Harald Bresselschmidt

Harald Bresselschmidt, of Aubergine and Auslese restaurants, is arguably South Africa’s foremost food and wine pairing specialist. He has that unique ability to make both the wine and the dish on your plate taste better together.

We caught up with Harald over a glass of Pinot Noir and some famous nibbles from the Aubergine kitchen for a Q&A session.

Where were you born?

I was born and raised in the Eifel region in Germany next to the Mosel river – there, off course, are many vineyards dotted against the steep slopes of the riverbank."

What brought you to South Africa?

"I took over the head chef position at the Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl in 1992, where I also met my wife, Sue."

When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?

"Very early in my life, at eight years old, I started my own recipe collection and I have never stopped!"

Who are your food mentors?

"In my early days, it was the great French chefs – they were like demigods. But I was far away and not able to taste their food until much later."

When did your love affair with wine begin?

"Also quite early – I started sipping the Mosel wines at Sunday lunches. The school where I trained as a chef had a distillery on the premises and we learned about making schnapps of all sorts made from fruit picked in the afternoons."

Why do you love Pinot Noir, and how did you get to know about it?

"In Germany, at that stage of the mid-eighties, we didn’t drink or taste much German red wine - it was all about Italian, French, and Spanish red wine. When I started working in a Michelin Star restaurant at the time, I became friends with the sommeliers and I really enjoyed Burgundy and Spätburgunder."

"I immediately recognised that Pinot Noir is the most food-friendly red wine."

Mosaic Top 5 Pinot Noir Wine Awards You are extremely gifted at food and wine pairing. How did you develop this skill, and what indicators and flavours do you use for the perfect pairing?

"It came naturally to me when I took over the chef position at the Grande Roche Hotel and we started doing wine pairing evenings. I eventually demanded tasting the different wines beforehand, which was not a given at the time. I found that one can pair a wine in the general directions, but each winemaker had his own style and it demanded individual aromas, textures and acidity. I started to drink wine more regularly, always thinking of which dish could accompany the wine well."

What is the secret to food and wine pairing?

"The secret is to respect the wine and to stay just behind the wine with the food. Chefs with big egos will find it difficult to pair."

"Never just add sugar to your food - adjust only with naturally sweet ingredients if necessary and if the wine demands it. Some austere wines do not need any fruit, while others need a little dry red fruit in the background. I often use cherry guavas for Grenache Noir and Rhône style wines, whereas barberries are good for richer matured wines with bottle age."

"Use green and red elements in your dish for contrast and similarity at the same time; this creates interest."

"When I taste a wine, I know whether I shall go the pairing route of matching the wine’s profile, or whether I shall go the contrasting route – especially with dessert wines."

How long have you been building your cellar, and why is it important to have a range of aged wines?

"I started Aubergine Restaurant in September 1996 – my first cheque was used to buy Mulderbosch wines at the Midmar wine store in Observatory. When I bought a house, I immediately started building a cellar at home. This was then my main cellar."

"My cellar started to grow as there were more and more new and interesting producers, and soon that cellar was too small. I then rented various cellar spaces before I found the Auslese property, which was ideal for building a large cellar."

"Good storage is always key in a hot country. If you drink aged wines at Aubergine they are often much better preserved and fruitier then elsewhere because our cold chain is perfect."

"I spend a lot of time and energy to make sure that the best wines are served at the correct age and temperature with the meals at Aubergine. I am a fan of aging white wines to their optimal drinking window."

We asked Harald to share a recipe for a dish that he loves to serve with Pinot Noir. Enjoy!

The best of Rabbit

with white beans, spinach salad with pumpkin seeds and a crisp potato disc.

The best of Rabbit

Main course (Serves four)

For the meat:

1.6kg rabbit

De-bone the loin, fillet, and the legs and marinate in white Port wine, chopped sage, and finely grated orange zest for one hour.

Cut the belly meat into fine strips and keep the liver and kidneys separate on kitchen paper.

For the farce:

One chicken breast

One egg white

50ml cream

Salt & ground pepper

It is essential to use chicken farce (mousse) as a binding agent to make the meat roll.

Ensure all ingredients are well chilled.

Cut the chicken breast into fine cubes, season and chill in the freezer for 10 minutes. Blend the chicken on its own in a blender or food processor for 30 seconds. Add the egg white and blend for a further 30 seconds until it starts to bind, and lastly, pour the cream in slowly. The frace must remain cold during the process. Check seasoning and adjust as necessary.

For the meat roll:

Cut a 25cm x 25cm square of heavy-duty tin foil. Butter a 20cm x 10cm rectangle on the front edge, leave a 2.5cm border on three sides for ease of rolling.

Slice the legs and the loin in half lengthwise and lay-out on the buttered tin foil, season with salt and pepper. Paste the farce on, filling all the gaps, and shaping the meat into a rectangle. Roll over, closing the sides of the foil tightly. Refrigerate.

For the sauce:

Rabbit bones and shoulders (chopped)

50g butter

Two small onions

One white leek

100g celeriac

200ml white wine (a balanced wine like Chenin Blanc or Riesling)

1l chicken stock

Chop the bones and the shoulders in walnut-size pieces and roast in salted butter until brown. Add the onion, leek and celeriac and roast for a further 10 minutes before adding a dash of white wine. Top the mixture with chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add sage, two bay leaves, white peppercorns and simmer for one hour. Pass through a muslin cloth.

For the beans:

100g dried white haricot beans

50g butter

One small onion, finely chopped

30ml white wine vinegar, preferably balsamic-style

One bay leaf

Sprig of sage

Soak the beans overnight in three times the amount of water and a teaspoon of salt. Heat a casserole dish, add the butter and the onion and fry until lightly brown. Add the beans and sweat until hot. Flash off with the vinegar and add the water in which the beans have been soaked. Bring to the boil and simmer until the beans are fairly soft, but retain a firm texture. Take half of the beans out and cook the remaining half until very soft. Pass through a sieve to make a puree and mix with the other beans. The consistency may need to be adjusted using some of the rabbit stock.

For the potato disc:

Slice two medium potatoes into fine strips and season with salt. Place in a pan within an egg ring and fry in canola oil until crisp.

For the spinach salad:

100g young spinach leaves

2T pan-roasted pumpkin seeds

1T pumpkin seed oil

2T olive oil

1T sherry vinegar or white balsamic

Prepare the meat:

Heat a pan large enough to fit the roll in, add canola oil and fry the roll in the foil on all sides. Place the roll in an oven dish and roast at 140°C for 12 minutes, turning every two minutes.

Fry the belly strips in the same pan until crisp. Keep warm in the oven.

Flour the liver and kidneys and fry in the same pan for one minute.


Construct the spinach and pumkin seed salad and top it with the crisp belly strips.

Slice the meat roll into eight slices and arrange with the beans and the liver and kidneys.

Dress with the sauce and garnish with the potato disc.

Enjoy with a glass of your favourite South African Pinot Noir!

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Published: 15-09-2020