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Ralph Panebianco

White Bread

Ralph Panebianco (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Ralph Panebianco (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Along with our new look Durbanville racetrack, we have a new look team manning the catering. Meet Ralph Panebianco.

Ralph’s family hails from Sicily and his father emigrated to South Africa after having been a POW in the Second World War. “It’s a long story,” says Ralph, with a friendly shrug that echoes his heritage, but his roots are buried deep in Cape Town.

He grew up in the Northern Suburbs, qualified as a carpenter and originally joined his father in the building trade. He opened a fish shop in the early 80’s and has been in the catering business ever since. It is a particularly appropriate choice for a man whose last name means White Bread in Italian.

With his broad smile and a warm, welcoming disposition, Ralph is uniquely suited to being a host. “While it’s difficult to make millions in the food business, I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and I stick to what I know,” he says equitably. He used to run Harbour Lights in Gordon’s Bay, but these days focusses on events, catering for the likes of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, the South African Cheese Festival, Rocking The Daisies and also did the Community Chest Carnival for many years. All their food is prepared fresh on site and seafood and calamari in particular is their speciality.

Racing connection

Racing fans may have sampled Ralph’s cooking at the annual prawn festivals, which he originally helped establish and catered at for the first three years as well as being involved with the Queen’s Plate and Met. Ralph has also worked with Agri-Expo’s Anne Dalton for many years, providing grooms’ meals for CTS sales.

He has been operating his events company out of the Cape Hunt & Polo Club clubhouse for the last 4 or 5 years and has just signed a contract to run both the infield clubhouse – now named Marco Polo Club – as well as the racecourse facilities as fully fledged venues. Durbanville’s ‘upstairs’ members’ facilities have been renamed High Stakes, while the downstairs facilities have been christened the Winning Post. While Ralph will be focussing on finding his feet with the racing crowd, he has plans to put both Marco Polo Club as well as The Winning Post to work.

Getting started

Durbanville (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Durbanville is nearly ready for action (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Racing folk who attended Durbanville’s opening gallops on Monday, 28 August 2017 were treated to a small taste of what’s in store as the eats and – perhaps more importantly the coffee – were all provided by Ralph. As part of the tools of his events trade, Ralph is the owner of Caffé Primo which means, happily, that Durbanville patrons will now have access to great coffee. “Elton is our in-house barista and has been with me for years, so you will now be able to have proper lattes, cappuccinos, hot chocolates and so on,” he confirms with a smile.

The Durbanville refurb commenced on 14 November 2016 and the track was originally set to re-open on 9 September, but thanks to a combination of the unseasonally long, dry Cape winter and temperatures not rising enough to ensure the all important root bed was sufficiently established by the due date, it was decided to postpone the first meeting at the track until the Settler’s Trophy card on Saturday, 23 September 2017. The country course will then host seven meetings before racing moves back to Kenilworth on Saturday, 21 October.

(photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

A sneak peek at the menu (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Ralph acknowledges that it has been a difficult last few months waiting for the refurb to be completed, but he is looking forward to getting started. The turf is looking good, there is a new winning post and the finishing touches are all being applied to the course ahead of this weekend’s meeting. He is not planning a lavish opening, sensibly preferring to feel his way slowly. “I know my way around the kitchen, but racing is a new clientele for me and it will obviously have its own unique dynamic, which I’ll need to learn. I’ve liaised with Chef Walter at Kenilworth in putting together a menu and then added my own twists. Once we’ve had a few meetings I’ll have a better idea and will be able to refine things.”

But for starters, he has put together a 4 page a la carte menu, with an eye on trying to strike the tricky balance of providing value as well as service. While he is not ‘going big’ on Saturday, Ralph has promised some opening specials to mark the occasion.

The first Graded races for the Cape season are the Matchem and Diana Stakes on 7 October. Kenilworth Racing are planning to make a day of it with a bring and braai, a potjiekos competition, a screening of the day’s rugby game, the annual jockey dash and of course some good racing. While folks are welcome to bring their own provisions, for those who prefer to decide things on the hoof, Ralph and his team will have braai packs on sale on the day.

Thinking ahead

Ralph also has plans to turn the Winning Post into a full-time restaurant and hopes to market it to the local community. If all goes according to plan, they will be up and running in November.

(photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

Seafood is the speciality (photo: hamishNIVENPhotography)

“Durbanville racecourse is a fantastic space and it would be great to get the community to be able to make more use of it. Seafood is my speciality, so we’re aiming to make it a good restaurant with a focus on seafood. Kenilworth Racing would like to attract more punters and I would like my restaurant to be busy, so I’d like to get it to the point where the racecourse restaurant and facilities become an attraction on their own and if we get people in the habit of coming to the track, hopefully we might interest them to come racing as well.”

Why base the full time restaurant in the Winning Post rather than ‘upstairs’? “If we had the restaurant up there and non-racing customers decided to come for lunch on a race day, it would be difficult to have to explain that on race days it’s for badge holders only. It just avoids confusion,” he explains sensibly.

The stoep area with its eye level proximity to the track and the horses is also a plus and Ralph has plans to incorporate gallops as an attraction for the breakfast crowd in particular. However, with all the facilities now licensed function venues, all with fully functioning catering facilities and their own staff complement, they are available for event hire for everything from children’s parties, to weddings and conferences. “Imagine the parade ring for a wedding setting? Beautiful!” he enthuses.

Part of the family

In anticipation of getting everything up and running and in order to be as hands on as possible, Ralph has quite literally moved in, taking over the old course manager’s house. He has done a fantastic job of sprucing it up. Having been a Durbanville resident for the past few months, he has integrated into the local community and somehow already feels like part of the family.

While it may feel like a lot of change, Ralph has been mindful of the racing base and carefully incorporated it into the menu design as well as the venue names. The main on-course venue names are self-explanatory, while the infield clubhouse is Marco Polo Club. “It’s named after the adventurer Marco Polo. Everyone still calls it the Cape Hunt & Polo Club – I’ve given up correcting them,” he smiles wryly, “so I went for something as close as possible. It’s easily recognisable and with my son being called Marco and the word Polo in the name, it was an easy choice.”

Ralph is taking bookings for this Saturday and anyone who would like to reserve a table can contact him on 074 200 4550. Of course the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, so come and get a taste this Saturday.



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