Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Art Also Nourishes – John Kramer

John Kramer’s paintings bring to mind long, hot, lonely Sunday afternoons in the platteland. The images of slightly dilapidated buildings are both achingly familiar and strangely foreign. Inevitably they evoke feelings that hover somewhere between warm comforts and quiet despair.

This piece was first published in Cape Review July 2001. I’m posting it again because I love John’s paintings and also because he is having his first solo exhibition in 25 years at the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town and there are only 5 more days to see it as the exhibition ends on the 27 September and I need to go and see it within the next day or so because art is feeds the soul and sometimes you take it for granted and then one day it’s no longer there, like beautiful exhibitions and old corner cafés…

(I love this painting so much. The Princess Cafe in Hermanus was where we used to buy soft-serve ice creams. We drove passed it last week and it's been replaced by a R5 store.)

A conversation with John Kramer
John Kramer’s paintings portray the everyday ordinariness of our country. Old buildings and corner cafés embody the spirit of a community and times that has almost been erased from our memory. He paints with compassion and affection, affection, I suppose, born out of a familiarity with the scenes he paints.
He explains, ‘It helps to paint what you understand. I’m not saying I completely understand these communities, know exactly how a shop is run or who the owner is, but I certainly understand or can relate to the scenes I paint. I can recall those quiet, boring Sunday afternoons. I’ve sat under verandas in small towns as a child, wishing something exciting would happen. I remember those moods and remember hating it.
‘You must paint from this place inside yourself. And I’m interested in the places I know; the idiosyncratic little towns which are rapidly disintegrating and I suppose a lot of my work today is to hang on to those memories because I actually did experience the end of that era.’
The passion for what John sees as typically South African architecture, stems from his having grown up in Worcester. ‘In a town like Worcester in the 50s, nothing much ever happened but there was the old Van Vuuren’s Milk Bar, a real American Milk Bar with a juke box and soda fountain and there were two bioscopes, the La Scala and Twentieth Century Fox. In the 60s when I left Worcester to go and study art at Michaelis there was an economic boom and things started changing in Worcester. This was the time when TV came to South Africa and inevitably things started changing. La Scala closed and places that I’d associated with my childhood started disappearing. I felt an awful sense of loss and I wanted to hang on to some of those memories, so I went around and photographed some of these buildings, just to have a visual record.’
These photographs would eventually form the basis of John’s early work. In 1971 he went to visit his brother David who was studying in Leeds and it was here that John realized the significance of these seemingly ordinary and almost forgotten buildings. ‘David and I were talking about our search for what we called The Real South Africa, whatever it was in those days. We were looking for something that was essentially South African. Obviously we were looking at it from our white middle class perspective, but we still felt that there was something uniquely South African that wasn’t being commented in in the arts. I returned to South Africa and noticed for the first time the quality of the light and the vast space. In contrast to the red brick and industrial architecture I had seen in Leeds, I was now confronted with buildings in an assortment of colours and houses with gardens and fences. What I had always thought was normal now seemed quite bizarre. And then I realized that it was this ordinariness that was the essence of The Real South Africa. The South Africa of the Cape Dutch kultuur where little architectural gems that were being preserved by the various cultural societies in the small towns were all historical buildings but I felt, and still do, that the Brody’s Hardware Shops and the Van Vuuren’s Milk Bars are the more realistic representation of the architecture of our country.’
John paints buildings that still exist in modern South Africa but which also echo layers of the past. For him, the buildings must have a feeling and this feeling has nothing to do with architectural beauty. It’s how the viewer relates to the building that gives it its significance. Those who respond to his work, do so because there is something in their collective memory that sparks recognition. It may be the building, a windmill or a metal Joko Tea plaque which reminds them of their past,
There is something melancholic about these paintings but still they manage to celebrate the very ordinariness of that society has begun to reject. It is no wonder that his works are highly sought after by South Africans living abroad. Looking at them, you can almost hear the call of the cicadas and smell the small town dust. For some it is the Afrikaans lettering on the buildings that remind homesick South Africans of their heartland. But it isn’t only the images of the platteland which conjures up memories. John’s body of work depicting the corner cafés awaken a long forgotten suburban memory of old chocolates, glass jars filled with loose sweets, brown paper packets and magazine racks where Scope magazines were furtively read by schoolboys behind the trays of warm government loaves of bread.
The demise of the suburban corner café almost caught John unawares. ‘I never worried too much about the corner cafés until one day I realised they were almost all being replaced by franchised cafés. I don’t think any of us could have imagined how fast they would have disappeared in the past 10 years. These are real losses and I’m glad that I managed to capture some of them.’ The Imperial Café with its corrugated iron roof and wooden structure was a Cape landmark; nestling underneath the incomplete flyover at the entrance to the Waterfront. It was a source of irritation to some but a source of joy to others. It burnt down a year or two ago, but John’s painting managed to capture the mood of this late night convenience café. Then there was the exotically named Zanzibar Café in Voortrekker Road. It was one of John’s favourites reminding him of the legendary Baghdad Café (of the film of the same name) where anything may happen.
I remember the Onrus Cash Store. It now longer exists, but then much has changed in this small seaside village near Hermanus. Looking at a painting of it, I’m transported back to cold wet Cape winter weekends in a village with few inhabitants, even fewer playmates and where a visit to Mrs Hen’s café would mean sticking your grubby hand into a jar filled with Apricot sweets, Wilson toffees and cheap peppermints. Hot summer days would necessitate a similar barefoot journey to but ice-lollies which then dripped orange syrup all over warm sunburnt arms.
This is what John Kramer does best. He captures a moment in time.

Driving through a town you may or may not notice the tin barrels converted into garbage cans, or the car tyres now used as a planter for the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, or the windmills, or the short picket fences painted in oranges and browns, or the wire garden gates. It is only in a painting that our attention is focused on these details that convey the soul of a place.
According to John, ‘ I’ve always maintained that the small town is much more interesting than New York. For me a Karoo town is special. You don’t know what’s going to be there. You look and at first you don’t see anything and then you notice the dryness and even though everything is rundown, there’s an honesty about the place. People often ask me why there aren’t any people in my work but this omission is deliberate. My paintings are actually portraits and the buildings with their faded advertisements, mix of architectural styles and peeling paint do convey the history and the personality of the locals.’
John Kramer tells the story of how having spent the day exploring Sutherland, the town famous for its observatory and icy winters, he was ready to check into the local hotel. The receptionist welcomed him warmly, asking him what he was doing in the area. ‘I’m looking around, taking some pictures; it’s a wonderful town this, ‘ he assured her. He recalls her wistful expression, and her skeptical ‘gmff.’
Things aren’t always what they seem.
But for how long will these small towns continue to be an example of Real South Africa? John believes that their time has almost passed.
‘The slow demise of the railways has killed these places. With the railways pulling out of the towns, the economy collapsed and the Karoo fell apart far quicker than one would have imagined. The arrival of television also signaled the end of an era for small town South Africa. Suddenly the whole world was being beamed into everybody’s living room, including the people who lived in these small towns. For the first time they became aware of how the rest of the world lived and those fantastic naïve combinations of colour and whatever they did décor-wise that was perhaps regarded by those more sophisticated people as being in bad taste, disappeared. ‘And then of course city folk bought up houses for weekend homes. New designer colours appeared on the scene, new broekie-lace was put up and while the houses may now look lovely and small town appear on tourist maps, they’ve lost their authenticity and soul.

‘But I suppose that’s what my paintings are about. Memory and loss.’

Monday, 18 August 2014

Ma, It's Been One Year.

(Marie loved a voorskoot…)

My mom died a year ago today. They told me the longing would get easier. And it does. Thankfully no one told me it would get better. Because it bloody well doesn't. I miss her every day. Every single day. 
Those last days in the hospital were harrowing but happy. If I think back on the last 24 hours of her life I am grateful for many things. That, as a family, we could share her last meal with her. It was melkkos, brought to the hospital by a dear friend who arrived carrying a huge pot of my mom's favorite milky sweetness and enough spoons and small bowls for the entire extended family. I am grateful that her grandson was christened at her hospital bed. That her favourite nurse was on duty to administer the last morphine. That a kind hospital volunteer came to paint her toes a pretty pale shade of pink, as requested 'for the journey'. And that my father kissed away her last breath. I am most grateful for the latter. We should all be loved to death. 

Comfort Me With Butter.

My mother died a few months ago. But we had time to say goodbye.  Time for her to tell me where she had put the silver cutlery that she wanted me to have. Time for me to ask her for her brandy butter recipe. We dealt in practicalities because it was too horrific to acknowledge the desperate sadness of knowing that time had finally run out, too heartbroken about the fact that we would never share a meal again, too desolate to speak of a Christmas without her. Too sad for conversation. When the end came I simply told her that I loved her, told her that I would one day name my daughter Lily and my son Sebastiaan. I promised her that I would be strong. I told her that words were unnecessary. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want them. Because I do. I still have so much I want to tell her; so much I want her to share with me. While I still could, shortly after her death, I would dial her telephone number so that I could listen to her voice message - so that I could hear her voice.  I would give anything to hear her voice again.

The other night I boiled some mielies for supper and as I was slathering them in butter, Jacques asked me where he could find my mother’s salt. I broke down in tears for I had used the last of the spicy salt my mom made for us a while ago. Thinking that she would, as always, replenish my stock as soon as she felt better. She never did. And I never did find out what it was that she put into the salt to give it that distinctive taste. A taste that will now elude me forever. The taste given to me by the mother I mourn. That night my tears salted the mielies, the mielies that I drenched in butter in honour of my mother. Because my mom believed that butter made everything better. She comforted me with butter, both as a child and as an adult. And now I need butter in the face of my relentless, all-consuming grief. I eat butter the way Marie taught me to. Cold butter thickly spread on hot toast. Buttery eggs. Marie biscuits held together by softened butter. Sweet potato with melted butter. Hot buttered popcorn.  Anchovy butter. Bread and butter pudding. And as I eat the butter I remember. I recall the laughter, the travels, the late night reminiscing in foreign hotel rooms. I remember how we would always hold hands in the cinema, how every phone call ended with a love-you. How she drank cognac from a crystal goblet and tea from a mug. How soft her skin was and how loud her laughter. And as the butter sizzles in the pan, I know, In elke bietjie botter sal ek Mamma onthou. In every bit of butter, I will remember my mom.

(This column first appeared in Taste December 2013.)

Friday, 20 June 2014

A Golden Bowl.

I have written about Jacques Erasmus and Hemelhuijs before. Here and here. He is a close friend so it may be that I am biased but I am compelled to write about him again.
Hemelhuijs is one of my Happy Places. It is also a place that my mother adored and so I go there when I miss her. And I missed her on Thursday. As I do every day.
And so I ordered the mieliepap, served simply with orange blossom honey and salted butter. 
When it arrived, I saw that my pap was served in a gold bowl from Jacques's latest homewear collection. 
There are few things in this world more beautiful than mieliepap served in a gold bowl. 
The warm porridge caused both the butter and the honey to melt in tiny rivulets that ran around the edges of the bowl. 
Small gold streams were circling my porridge. 
The taste was as I remembered: the mielipap of my childhood. 
Warm sweet and salty.
I cried. Because of its familiar comfort. Because I longed for the one who had first made it for me. And because the dish was both opulent and honest. Complex in it's simplicity. Because this particular bowl of pap was both/and. As the most important things in my life most often are.

It is a sign of a great chef when the ingredients are more important than his ego. 
It is a sign of a great artist when he sees the beauty of plain porridge and honours it with his gold. 
It takes a great man to recognize the value of heritage and to love it so beautifully.
My friend Jacques is all three.

71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town
Telephone: 021 418 2042
Monday to Friday 9:00 – 16:00
Saturday 9:00 – 15:00

(I hesitated before posting this photo. It doesn't do the dish justice. Believe me, in real it surpasses anything you could imagine or see on a photo)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Banana Balm - In which I revisit an old column and an old hurt...

I wrote this for the August 2013 issue of Taste magazine. The events relate to May earlier that year. I want to put it in a blog post because it goes some way in explaining why I neglected my blog for so long but also because I am living proof that the heart can heal. Even from unimaginable hurts… 
During the month of May this year I was acutely aware of Jack Adriaan, but I was also holding our son Sebastiaan in my arms (much more about him later!) and all I felt was gratitude and love for a small boy who entered our life for 14 days and then left to be with his biological mother, making way for our son Sebastiaan to enter our lives and hearts. My Aunty Janet who passed away this month visited me during those months of devastation, she held me tight, called me 'dear heart' and told me she thought that the reason Jack Adriaan left was that he didn't need us as much as another boy would. I found some solace in her words. It gave me some measure of hope And like in most matters Aunty Jan was right. And so I send this column out into the universe again, all the while wishing the boy who now belongs to others so much love and happiness. May his life be blessed. 
Jack Adriaan, it was our privilege to look after you until you could be reunited with your mommy and daddy. And thank you for bringing us the joy that you did. We have no regrets.


A lot can happen in two weeks. You can go from being sublimely, deliriously happy to having your heart broken. You can become a mother to a baby boy on Day 1 and on Day14 you have to hand him back to his birth mother. You can find your faith and then lose it again. Two weeks is a long time.
I was a mother when I started to write this column on bananas. I wanted to write about them because they are boys’ fruit. I have watched small boys peel bananas the way monkeys do and derive enormous joy from eating them while the peel hangs in strips over their small, almost-always-dirty hands.  I have known boys to weep with laughter when watching cartoons where someone slips on a banana peel. I wanted to write about the healthy banana-fool-the-kids-ice-cream, the one where you place peeled banana pieces on a plate in the freezer for a couple of hours and then blitz them furiously in a blender, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl when they stick to it and blend it again. The result is a smooth, creamy, deliciously natural banana ‘ice-cream’ which I fully intended giving to our son as soon as he could eat solids and the summer sun came out to celebrate his arrival with us. However long that took.

Having been told to sing to my baby, I started singing the familiar childhood hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ as it was one of the few songs I knew the words to. But soon both he and I tired of that and so I sang John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ to him instead. Now it appears that those lyrics were both a premonition and a promise of comfort. I know that my heart will heal, know that I will be happy again. I also know that while I will not carry our beautiful son in my arms, I will forever carry him in my heart.  But in the meantime, life does go on. And the bananas ripen.  And a column must be written. I briefly contemplated celebrating the decadence of  bananas fried in butter and served with bacon and maple syrup on mornings-after the-night-before. But I battle to recall those sensual, self-indulgent times. I thought about reminiscing about the deep fried bananas in rum sauce which we ate in the Caribbean but those memories were obscenely carefree. And the thought of indulgently whipping up a caramel-laden banoffee pie seemed too quick a fix, too sweet a thing for so bitter a time. So I asked my mom about the banana bread recipe she used to make for us as a special after-school treat when my brother and I were young because I didn’t know what else to make with the now rapidly over-ripening bananas  on my kitchen counter. It wasn’t a recipe she had written down anywhere, so we cobbled this one together from various sources, making sure to add the cinnamon-sugar-buttered pecans which were always her thing. This was the sweetness I remembered from my childhood. And I was grateful that on that stormy Sunday, with tears running down my cheeks, I could still bake banana bread with my mom, who, while also mourning the loss of her third grandchild, was being so strong for me. Later, sharing thick slices of warm banana bread with hot tea, I understood that you can be grateful and angry at the same time; be both distraught and comforted; that you can hold both joy and sorrow in your heart. But only when you are surrounded by the love and strength of others…

Banana Bread with Cinnamon-Sugared Pecans

1 cup of roughly chopped pecans
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of melted butter
 cups of cake flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
¼ teaspoon of salt
125g of softened, unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 medium, ripe, bananas (the riper the better) mashed well with a fork
½ cup of buttermilk

Preheat over to 170 degrees. Grease a 23 x 13cm loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper.
Mix the chopped pecans, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter together and keep separate.
Sift the cake flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and the sugar for about 4 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Then add the eggs, beating well after each egg has been added.
Add the mashed, well-ripened bananas  to the butter mixture and stir well.
Now slowly add the flour mixture gradually to the wet mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat well after each addition.
Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and top with the pecan, cinnamon-sugar mix (the nuts will sink to the middle of the loaf in cinnamon-sugar-pecan-buttery deliciousness)
Bake for 55 minutes or until the top of the bread is firm and a warm brown colour and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in a tin for 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Little Italian Flavour

In this month's Taste magazine I wrote about my longing for Venice and the almost-desperate need I have for a long-haul flight that would take me straight to Italy. Well that's not going to happen any time soon despite my spending the morning obsessing over glorious Venetian canal-facing apartments on a Home Exchange website. 
For various reasons we're very much stuck in beautiful Cape Town for the forseeeable future. And I'm ok with that I really am, but a girl can dream. And she can eat plenty of pasta. And while the universe doesn't magically give her exactly what she wants, it does send a kind consolation prize every now and then. Which I like to think is what happened when I got an email from Woolworths asking me if I wanted to participate in this months Italian-inspired Flavour Society. And of course I said yes. Who would refuse a generous bag of Italian goodies? Pasta, Gnocchi, olive oil, salami, Grana Padana, pine nuts, Balsamic vinegar - all those delicious flavours which remind me of a country I have have grown to love so much. The nutty saltiness of the Grana Padana and the tart sweetness of the Balsamic vinegar reminded me of that trip to Italy when I was first told to dip small chunks of Parmigianna Reggiano  into well-aged Balsamic vinegar. I was hesitant at first but once I'd tasted it I was hooked. The pine nuts made me long to make a fresh basil pesto which would be scooped over swirls of pasta. The tomato paste made me long for the simplicity of a thin- based Margharita pizza bought in the backstreets of Naples. These were the flavours of the Italy I had come to know, flavours which I could use here in Cape Town and which brought back all those memorable Italian travel moments. At this stage on our lives, this is probably as good as it gets. So I played around with some flavours and finally decided on roast pumpkin drizzled with sage butter and served with generous amounts of Grana Padano and pine nuts. It was the perfect weekday lunch whether here in Cape Town or in Rome.  (The recipe will appear on www.woolworths.co.za sometime soon)

I've also had an enormous amount of fun pinning to the Woolies Flavour Society Italian Pinterest board. I've posted a really easy Limoncello recipe, a couple of great gremolata recipes as well as several fabulous ways to work magic with cauliflower. And of course I pinned pastries and cake because I have an insatiably sweet tooth. Pinning is addictive and I think I've come to love Pinterest almost as much as pasta. Head on over and drool over some Italian inspiration.

So while we're all feeling the Italian love, make that pasta, rent any one of the great Italian movies and get into the Italian spirit. See if you can find the wonderful documentary Italy - Love it or Leave it. It's about two Italians who go on a roadtrip through Italy before they make up their minds whether to move to Germany or not, because, apparently, things in Italy are not quite as good as they appear in the movies. As a South African I could really relate to their angst and their love for their country.

Best way to know what the buzz is surrounding the WW Flavour Society is to check in online on the Woolworths website and to follow both @WOOLWORTHS_SA  and the #wwflavoursociety on Twitter. you want to be part of this online community that promises some real life events as well. It's a great idea. The first month the Flavour Inspiration was coffee, last month was chocolate (oh yes!) and this month's Italian, of course. I'm excited to see what next month brings. Really I am. you should be too.

Dare I say it? Of course I do…. Buon Appetito!

(The Italian Flavour Drop. I ate the salami right away. To help me think more creatively of course.)

(My creation (such as it is) - I just mixed some great ingredients together. An easy recipe. Just the way I like them. So here it is in all its glory: Roast pumpkin, Sage butter, Grana Padana and Pine nuts. Easy perfection.)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Youdidnoteatthat? No, I didn't think so. (but I'm smiling anyway.)

My latest obsession is the Instagram account youdidnoteatthat . I derive enormous pleasure from it. It's pure silliness. Macarons and doughnuts, manicures and toned tummies are exposed as having very little to do with one another, another than being hugely desirable. Everyone featured (without their permission of course) is sexy with fabulous bodies. Only when you have body issues, such as I do, would you  DREAD being photographed eating something fattening and would you NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS post a selfie doing said eating on Instagram. Which begs the question,  'Did they really eat that?' 
Some contributers to the Huffington post have their knickers in a knot about it claiming that the account is picking on thin people.  Policy Mic took it all rather seriously and weighed in on the matter. New York Magazine interviewed the anonymous person behind the account and I think she came across as quite sane, not a thin-shamer at all. 
It's not meant to be taken seriously. And really I don't think it's mean. If I looked that good and could do so while eating a dozen doughnuts, then I'd also post it on my Instagram account. And if someone wanted to pick up on it and show that same gorgeous image to 97K other followers that would also be ok. In fact, I think I'd be quite pleased with myself. And if they laughed at me? Well honestly I'd still be the one with the fabulous legs who could eat carbs without fear. And if those featured didn't eat that, well then they shouldn't have been playing with their food in the first place.  Not so?

(youdidnoteatthat when I last checked in this morning)

(Oh, look, they're picking on the boys as well.  Just look at that six-pack? It's tough choosing which one you'd like to go to bed with, that or just double up and go for the dozen doughnuts. Erm having said that, he's not my type, so I'd take the doughnuts.)

(Ok seriously? The lid is still on the Nutella jar…)

(Nope. No eating done here. Teeth are barely touching the doughnut glaze. But I wish I had her body and her self-restraint.)

(Weirdly enough. I really like this image.)

(And I love this one as well. So she's not really taking a bite of that Big Mac, but she's rocking those bling rings.)

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Michael Broughton is The Flavour Merchant

So last night at 18.15h  I settle in to watch the first episode of a series of one of my favorite chef's in one one of my favorite restaurants on one of my favorite wine estates. Seasons at Terroir on DSTV Nat Geo 181 did not disappoint. But how could it? Magic will reveal itself. 
Now if that sounds gushy, forgive me, but last year I had the privilege of interviewing him for Cape Etc magazine and and it turned out to be one of my my favorite interviews ever. He is a lovely, lovely man. Both inside and out.
Here is that article.

(And yes, I know it's been almost a year since I've blogged and reposting an old article may seem like a bit of a cop out, but a lot has happened the last year and for a variety of reasons I was hesitant to share them at the time. I'll get around to them. You know I will, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve….)

(The Lovely Chef Michael Broughton)

The Flavour Merchant

In some circles, chefs have become the celebrities of choice. They generate a lot more excitement that models or actors do. There is something very attractive, dangerously so, about someone who makes their living playing with fire and knives. And of course, the plus side is that they encourage you to eat dessert which, clearly, models or actors would never do. But by their very nature, celebrities are also the cause of much gossip and misconceptions.  So in walks celebrity chef, a regular (nine times to be exact) on the Eat Out Awards Top 10 list Michael Broughton, good-looking in that laid-back, sleepy-eyed, 5 o’clock shadow kind of way. And you expect him to act in a certain manner; perhaps be a little arrogant?  A tad too blasé? Or charming in that well-practiced I’ve-done-this-all-before manner. But he’s none of these things. He is sincere, kind and principled. And suddenly his celebrity status and his culinary accomplishments, both well-deserved, are overshadowed by the the character of the man.

And that takes some doing. Because the food Michael Broughton creates at Terroir, on the Kleine Zalze Estate in Stellenbosch is pretty damn impressive. The restaurant itself is elegantly subdued, which is perhaps a kind way of saying, slightly ordinary, but the service is excellent, the glassware good, and the linen stiffly starched. The best tables are outside with views of the lovely gardens and historic oak trees. But you come here for the food. Not for design porn or hipster credentials. If you’re serious about food, you go to a place where food is more important than fashion. If you’re serious about food you go to Terroir and struggle to make your selection from the chalkboard menu, because you’ll want to choose everything. Using seasonal and where possible, locally sourced ingredients, Michael’s deceptively simple menu is both a celebration of and a tribute to what eating is all about. Eating is about tasting food, about appreciating flavours. The rest, which admittedly Broughton is rather good at too, is just bells and whistles.

His food is grounded with the magic lying in the sauces. And interestingly enough, according to Michael, had he not become a chef, he would have liked to have been a cabinet maker. ‘There is something very creative but also timeless about working with wood. A good piece should stand the test of time. It should be able to stand alongside a modern Perspex table or next to an antique chair of ancient wood. It has to be solid. In a way that’s the way I feel about cooking. Cooking must be timeless. It must be able to be carried through and stand firm against fashions that come and go. I’ve had to make peace with food fashions. But I still feel you should guard against reinventing something for the sake of reinvention. How many times have you seen a tiramisu dressed up and down when all you really want is a nice piece of delicious tiramisu. Don’t give me the coffee bubbles here, a piece of deconstructed biscuit there and a squirt of cream somewhere else. That makes me see red. It may look beautiful but for me the most important thing is the mouthfeel of something and the deliciousness of the taste. It’s been hard to withstand the pressure of fashions but I’ve decided I will remain authentic to what I believe in.’ And it is this authenticity which he shares with Kobus Basson, owner of Kleine Zalze and Terroir, and for whom he has so much respect. ‘ I learned a lot about wine from Kobus. He is very clever and incredibly knowledgeable about wine. He’s the only guy I know who does not spit, still stands up straight after a marathon winetasting session and walks out with complete control. Every year when we compile the wine list we hold our own blind tasting. About nine of us sit with 40 bottles of wine at a time. Each bottle is covered in brown paper and only the year, the cultivar and the price is known. This way we select the best wines, fairly and without influence. When I first arrived at Kleine Zalze the receptionist was a wine maker, the lady who did the books was a winemaker, then there was the winemaker and the winemaker’s assistant. When you’re in this environment you listen and learn. And for me, coming here from Johannesburg, being afforded the opportunity to listen to the wine ‘speak’, and just taking everything in has been an incredible journey in the food and wine paring world.’ So where does he get his inspiration from? ‘I don’t eat out that much so I don’t get to try other chefs food as often as I should. I get my inspiration from reading. I read incessantly. I’m a great Alain Ducasse fan and I really rate Pierre Hermé. I think that those two guys can keep you busy for years. But my library grows.’

Michael Broughton never set out to be a chef. As a child he was never particularly interested in food but he liked cooking. It was in his blood. ‘I was a first team rugby player who was zipping home in between practices to make scones with my mom. So I enjoyed cooking, but I never thought that much about it yet, tellingly, for my 15th birthday, my dad bought me a Kenwood Chef. In those days you didn’t tell your mates you liked to cook because that would be a problem; you could get your arse kicked for that. But all I knew was that I liked to go home and cook with my mom. But then my mom and dad got divorced, and my mom left and my dad had to look after us three boys. And my dad, being this big time banker, would come home from work in his suit and tie and he’d cook for us. Jacket off, tie on, apron tied around his waist, he’d cook. He’d never cooked before but when he knew he had to feed three boys, he opened a recipe book and began cooking. When he finished, he’d whistle and we would all sit down at the table and enjoy a two course, sometimes three course meal prepared by our dad. Every single day for 5 years, from Std 5 to matric my dad cooked for us. My father was quite arty, but he could never make peace with that. In that time it was verboten. You had to do a ‘manly job like banking. Not cooking or something creative. I’m quite like him in that way. It’s taken me 15 years to come to terms with the fact that I’m an artist. I work a dodgy job. In a dodgy industry. It’s very uncertain, very unstable and it’s hard work. But it’s a compulsion.’

Broughton never formally trained as a chef, he went to hotel school for three years and for the next 10 years he was a hotelier; a general manager for the City Lodge Group. But at 30 he hit a mid-life crisis and decided he’d had enough of corporate life so he handed in his resignation and bought a restaurant on auction. This restaurant was to become Broughton’s (in Johannesburg) and would garner him his first two Eat Out Top 10 awards. He had no formal training and had never worked in a restaurant before. Soon after opening the restaurant he bought a book by the 3 Michelin star chef, Nico Ladenis, who became one of the single most important culinary influences in his life  and who he regards as a mentor and with whom he is in regular email contact. But it wasn’t all that easy in the beginning. ‘ We were empty for 18 months. We would perhaps have 3 or 4 tables on a Friday night. But that was it. And 15 metres up the road there was a very successful Italian restaurant that was full 7 nights a week. And for 18 months I’d watch his customers park in my car park, walk across to my entrance with their bottle of wine under their arm and they’d walk up the road to his place. And eventually I had no money left. I’d borrowed from my dad, borrowed from my mom, from my brother and eventually the family said no more. I was bankrupt, I had taken every single last bit of my savings, I sold my house, my car, my bike. I had no medical aid, So I told the staff that we had about 3 weeks left but that if they got a job offer, they should take it. But on the same day I told the staff this, I got a phone call at the restaurant from Barry Ronge (famous South African columnist and restaurant reviewer ) saying he’d like to have table for Friday night. Now this was Wednesday, and I looked at the reservation book and there’s not a single booking on that Friday. So I phoned a friend of mine, and said ‘Bokkie help me.’ And she did. She got 45 friends to book for that Friday night when Ronge came to dine. And from that Friday onwards, thanks to the Ronge’s favourable review, we were full every day. 60 covers for lunch, 60 covers for dinner. I paid my debt off in 9 months.  And that year I made the Eat Out Top 10.’
‘How did you keep the faith?’ I asked him. Michael’s answer is simple. ‘I have faith. I’m a Christian. And I just stuck my head down. I just stuck my head down.’

And then a few years later came his move to Cape Town, to Terroir, where he won seven more Eat Out Top 10 awards and where his food has been recognized as being consistently amongst the finest in the country. Where he runs a kitchen of quiet generousity. ‘I treat my team the way I treat my children. I teach them about life. I teach them how to talk to one another, how to treat one another. No swearing, no shouting, no screaming. I always say if my daughter was standing in the back of the kitchen, would my behaviour be ok? And 99% of the time I’m fine with it. I don’t lose my rag easily.’

So what does he do when he’s not at the restaurant, when he’s at home? ‘I love being at home. I love having my kids around. I’d rather be there than anywhere else. So for me it’s always a push-pull. How much do I work? How much time do I spend at home. And I know that in between there’s not much time for anything else. But that’s ok. I read. I’m a Bible scholar. I study. I play guitar. We cook. There will be those nights at home when I’m with my wife Jane and I’ve made a kickass pizza, when we’re drinking a great bottle of wine, when the kids are in the swimming pool and the sun is setting. When you just breathe in. Breathe out. Breath in. And you know that it doesn’t get much better than this.’

(This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Cape Etc.)

Kleine Zalze Wine Estate, R44, Stellenbosch
Telephone: + 27 (0)21 880 8167
Terroir is open for lunch 12noon-3.00pm  Monday to Sunday

Terroir is open for dinner 6.30pm – 9.00pm Monday to Saturday