Monday, 14 November 2011

Do It Write Now

I'm trying to write a column and I'm struggling a bit. This is nothing new. I have a love/hate relationship with writing. Even the late great Dorothy Parker had this problem, 'I hate writing, I love having written.' is what she said. She also once said that 'A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.' I completely agree with her on both counts.

So as any procrastinator worth his or her salt knows, when you have a print deadline, it's so much easier to blog/do the dishes/tidy your cupboards or surf the internet than to focus on what you are supposed to do. I originally wrote this piece sometime in July for a website called Plate to Page - It's all about writing. So once I've posted this, made a cup of tea and snuggled with the dog I'll work on that column.

But in the meantime take a look at Plate to Page. I first heard about it via the lovely Jeanne of Cook Sister! fame who is one of the clever people behind the workshops and I know that my friend Ishay who puts the fabulous into attended one of the workshops and loved it. For those of us who can't make these incredible workshops in Europe and the UK, we can still gain inspiration from their website. Having visited you'll either feel like writing, cooking, photographing. As for me, sadly, I only feel like eating...

What I wrote for Plate to Page


I was the last in my class to get a reading book. I was according to the teacher, ‘too slow to read’. She made me nervous with her flashcards and angry eyes. And so written words were frightening. A few years later another teacher opened up the book cupboard in her classroom for me, telling me that if I read, I would never be alone.

And so I think that’s why we read. To escape. But also to know that we are not alone. To recognize an emotion as described by someone else, and realize that they too were, sad, frightened, happy, hungry, turned on…

And I think that’s why I write, to tell people about the time that I was sad, frightened, happy, hungry, turned on. Writing reaches people.

I am not a novelist. I have the greatest admiration for their creativity and determination, but I doubt that I have a novel in me. I write what I know. What I feel. But writing is hard. Especially if you have self-doubt. Because you will never feel that your words are good enough. It took me a long time to eventually become a journalist, I waited until I was almost 30 before attempted to write. I was too afraid to start, I case I should fail. I still feel that way later, 12 years on. Every time I begin writing, I hope that I’ll be good enough, that I won’t fail. My husband, Jacques, responding to my many bouts of writer’s block thinks I’m ‘beautifully complex’, my mentor, Joan, practically encourages ‘completion not perfection’. I trust both of them. And myself eventually. I believe in The Muse. She waits inside of you, until the anxiety stills, and then breathing softly, she reminds you to write with your own voice. Because that’s how you should write, with your own voice. Write the way you speak. To do any differently would be akin to having a conversation in another, faux, accent. Impressive perhaps. Amusing maybe. But not authentic. And what this world needs is authenticity. It needs authenticity much more than it needs good grammar.

I fell into food writing by chance. I’ve always though of myself as an editor, first and foremost, as that’s what I’ve been for most of the past 12 years. I’ve worked with some great South African writers, which means that I’m always extra critical of myself, because I know and recognize good writing and because I wanted to see my words in print for so long, that to be careless with them would be disrespectful to myself and to those who read what I write. When I left full-time employ to travel the world five years ago with my seafaring husband, Sumien Brink, editor of one of the foremost South African food magazines, Taste, gave me the most glorious of all gifts, she asked me to write a column about my travels and food. And so Confessions of a Hungry Woman became my way of writing about our adventures abroad, the people we met and the food we ate. It also became a tribute to those I love, because food is intrinsically linked with those we love. Once I started, it seemed natural to write about food. I’ve never professed to be a great cook, in fact, if I had to define myself, it would be to say I’m a comfortable cook. But I do love food and the happy-sad-mystery of life and, somehow, for me the two have always been intertwined.

And eventually the monthly column also morphed into a blog by the same name. It’s a diary I visit occasionally. I really should do so more often. We all should because blogging reaches people, it is personal and immediate and something that appeals to all voyeurs. And who amongst us are not voyeurs? I like looking into people’s houses when I walk past, like to imagine their lives inside. With blogging you don’t need to imagine. Blogging also works on the Karma principal. Act like an arsehole, and you’ll attract arseholes. But if you write and publish with good intent you

will experience the beautiful kindness of strangers. Here endeth the lesson….

The Hungry Woman’s Literary Hot List

In Gael Greene’s Insatiable – Tales from a Life of Excess, she writes about what happened to her after a sexual encounter with Elvis Presley.

‘As I picked up my purse, wondering if a good-bye kiss would be appropriate, Elvis opened his eyes, blinked, as if he wasn’t sure for a moment what I was doing there. He twitched a shoulder toward the phone. “Would you mind calling room service and ordering me a fried egg sandwich?” The fried egg sandwich – that part I remember. I can’t remember how big it was, how long the sex lasted, or even who was on top (probably me). But I have never forgotten the fried egg sandwich.’

AA Gill writing about eating a pomegranates for the first time when he was a young boy in boarding school in Table Talk.

‘The flavor of pomegranate is ineffably sad. It’s the taste of mourning, of grief mixed with happy memory. I couldn’t have picked a better metaphor for how I felt about being away from home, about the girl who kissed me, about my life and body changing from boy to young man. I’d like to say that I understood all this, that I realized that the fruit was a symbolic catharsis, an allegory, but I didn’t. I did, however, learn that nice things given when you’re unhappy can make you sadder, and that the flavor of sweetness counterpoints bitter-salt sourness.’

Isabel Allende’s opening sentence in Aphrodite – the love of food & the food of love – is one my favourite sentences of all time.

‘I repent of my diets, the delicious dishes rejected out of vanity, as much as I lament the opportunities for making love that I let go by because of pressing tasks or puritanical virtue.’

Nigel Slater in Toast – the story of a boy’s hunger – writes heartbreaking stuff.

‘My mother is buttering bread for England. The vigour with which she slathers soft yellow fat on to thinly sliced white pap is as near as she gets to the pleasure that is cooking for someone you love.’

Ruth Reichl throws down the gauntlet in Garlic and Sapphires – the secret life of a critic in disguise – with the following:

“ ‘You gonna eat that?’

The woman is eyeing the tray the flight attendant has just set before me. I can’t tell if she wants reassurance that I find it as repellent as she does or if she is simply hungry and hopeful that I will hand my food over. I loosen my seatbelt, swivel in my narrow seat, and see that her face holds a challenge. Is she daring me to eat the food?”

Anthony Bourdain being surprisingly gentle in Medium Raw – a bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook - writes about the pains raisins of a small Parisianboulangerie

‘The baguettes are ready – piping-hot from the brick oven, fabulously, deliberately ugly and uneven in shape, slashed crudely across the top. They’re too hot to eat but you grab one anyway, tearing it open gingerly, then dropping two fingers full of butter inside. It instantly melts into liquid – running into the grooves and inner spaces of white interior. You grab it like a sandwich and bite, teeth making a cracking sound as you crunch through the crust. The reaction is violent. It hurts. Butter floods your head and you think for a second you’re going to black out.’

Monday, 7 November 2011

Leader of the Oven-Garde Richard Carstens

Another divine desert, this time coconut panna cotta, coriander ice-cream and cucumber sorbet. Almost too beautiful to eat. Almost. But not quite!

(This photograph was taken by the lovely Charl Edwards of Elle Deco and is so much nice than the unflattering one he took of me sitting next to the glorious Raphaella Frame of House & Leisure. But he is such a nice guy, and admittedly I had chewed off all my lipstick by the time he took the photo, so I'll forgive him. And in any case, he only took the photo and I am responsible for my own double chin...)

I love birthday parties. And I rather liked the one I was invited to a couple of weeks ago. Tokara was celebrating the first year of Richard Carstens in the kitchen. As always it was lovely seeing Richard, as well as Holy Trinity that is Wilhelm Kuhn, Johan Terblanche and Jaap-Henk Koelewijn who are responsible, as they modestly put it, for the management and running of the restaurant. This fact was refuted by GT Ferreira, who in a lovely speech, referred to them as the true owners and that he himself was merely the lessor. Hmm, he can afford to be generous. Specially when it's his William Kentridge hanging in the restaurant. There was such a happy atmosphere and the affection and respect that all parties involved with the restaurant feel for one another was obvious. The wine was excellent, the company great, and the food, as always, was sublime.

The article below was originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of Cape etc.

Chef Richard Carstens is on top of things. Literally and figuratively. Perched high on the Helshoogte Pass, the new chef of Tokara appears to like the view.

On a slightly overcast morning on the terrace of Tokara over coffee (mine) and cigarettes (his) while chatting about the tasting menu he had served us the previous night, a weird thought popped up in my head: that I had never, in all the years, and quite a few interviews, ever seen multiple award-winning chef Richard Carstens eat anything. The thought was disconcerting because he has probably watched me eating and studied my response to food with more intensity than any other dining companion ever has. It’s unsettling at first, knowing that you are being studied in such a manner. Knowing that the creator of the food you are about to eat will be watching your every response to the plates and tastes he has placed before you. But your initial discomfort soon gives way to something altogether more pleasant. Wonder. The food Richard Carstens creates fills me with wonder.

Over the years I have enjoyed Gorgonzola ice-cream served with poached pear in a red wine and honey sauce (Le Provencal, Franschhoek 2000). I have been swept off my feet by seven courses of foie gras - a study in tastes and textures, where the highlights were ‘semi-liquid’ foie gras with nuts, nougat and almond milk froth; a sweet foie gras churros served with a coffee and hazelnut praline and milk skin; foie gras served with roast beetroot, yoghurt, lemon and tiny pieces of magenta-coloured beetroot ‘styrofoam’ and a meaty foie gras ice-cream in a sweet caramel casing served with Japanese curried vegetables (Lynton Hall, Pennington, KZN 2005). And I fell completely in love with a creamy panna cotta landscape dotted with colourful drops of a variety of intense fruit coulis, which was almost too beautiful to eat, but which, when I did, tasted sublime. (Nova, Cape Town 2009). More recently a fossilized (yes, really) parsnip, served with mushroom soil, honeycomb, pear and truffle and which is meant to be eaten by hand was rivaled only a meat-textured –coloured-looking watermelon carpaccio that played havoc with my mind. In a good way But is was the Rose Geranium sorbet that claimed my heart (Tokara, Stellenbosch 2011).

So it’s not exactly steak and chips. But don’t be put off. Because to be put off, means to deny yourself the absolute joy of looking and tasting food in a completely new way. Because Carstens will forever change the way you feel about food, will challenge what you’ve always believed about food and flavours.

As a chef, he had pretty inauspicious beginnings, cooking for the first time when he was conscripted into the army and decided that wielding a spatula was infinitely preferable to wielding a gun. And so he spent his military training in the kitchen at the Castle in Cape Town. Cooking for the troops, making pies and stews for 300 and more soldiers, and baking Hertzoggies and milk tarts for various functions, could hardly be described as inspiring. But it was beginning. And he went on to train under Ralph Pletzen at his eponymous restaurant Ralph’s in Stellenbosch in the early 90s. He then moved to the Franschhoek region where he worked at the likes of Chamonix, Monneaux, Le Provencal and Bijoux, ensuring that the both Le Provencal and Bijoux made the Eat Out Top 10. In 1997 and 1998 he went to Melbourne Australia where he worked at Le Japon increasing his knowledge and indulging his fascination Japanese cuisine. He came back to South Africa brimming with ideas and went to Lynton Hall in Kwazulu Natal, where he made the Eat Out Top 10 for four consecutive years, and was awarded Chef of the Year in 2005. In 2007 he moved back to Cape Town, bringing with him all his painstakingly detailed journals, noting recipes, combinations, inspirations, timings, and who ate what where. Ok, he brought them all, bar the few that he left on a plane one weekend such was his haste to see his then girlfriend, now wife, Tracy. He feels that loss acutely, but slowly and surely those who worked with him are filling in the blanks. In 2009 he created a stir amongst foodies when he headed up the kitchen at Nova in Cape Town, but while his success was not short-lived the restaurant was, closing unexpectedly and leaving a trail of disappointed fans who liked to eat the style of food that Richard was so incredibly good at. Fans who can now happily eat at Tokara.

While some may insist on definitions in order to make sense of this culinary magic, Richard balks at the terms ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ or ‘Deconstruction Cuisine’. The one he is most comfortable with is Avant-garde cuisine, but to him, his style of cooking is simply a way of focusing on the essence of flavours. Richard Carstens is both dead serious about and enormously playful with food. What he does requires a vivid imagination, extensive scientific research and endless experimentation. He takes ingredients so far away from their original form or ‘setting’, yet the essence of those flavours aren’t altered. As he so beautifully puts it, ‘I want the ingredient to speak for itself, but in many different languages.’ His favourite kitchen utensils are a thermometer and a clock, because so much of what he does is based on temperatures and timing. He questions those who say that they cook only with their heart, with what feels right, because Richard believes in precision as well as passion. But while he is extremely comfortable with science, he is also at heart an artist, drawing inspiration from the likes of Joan Miro, Mark Rothko and Richard Prince. The dishes he plates are transient works of art. As appealing as they are, you won’t want to tuck in immediately, there will be a slight hesitation, a moment of regret at having to spoil the image, before taking the first bite. It’s a respectful thing, this waiting. You’ll do it too. Because once you’ve appreciated the dots of colour, the linear patterns, the perfect placements, you will understand that one eats not only with the mouth but with the eyes as well. Richard also believes in fun. And so will you, if you eat and taste and experience with an open mind. But even if you are unadventurous, you will not find the food at Tokara, where he has now taken up residency, strange or alienating. This is after all a man, who owns and uses a copy of that South African classic with the outdated and appallingly-styled photos, Kook en Geniet. But, having said that, The Kook en Geniet stands alongside volumes of books such Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras, who according to Richard is the real father of Avant-garde Cuisine. ‘He has a huge following among the young chefs in Spain, ‘Richard enthuses, ‘even Ferran Adria pays homage to him in one of his books, because he’s the ‘high priest and genius of deconstruction cuisine.’ Clorofillia by Andoni Luis Adulriz of Mugaritz fame has also been a great source of inspiration for many years. ‘His study of herbs is phenomenal and the aesthetics of his plates are very Zen. Aduriz is the Picasso of cooking.’ asserts Richard. And of course there are the tomes of Ferran Adria, for whom Richard once had the privilege of cooking, fulfilling a long-held dream in 2009, when Ferran Adria visited South Africa to be a keynote speaker at the Design Indaba. Topsi Venter, seventy-something doyenne of South African cuisine had been asked to cook for Adria, his hosts and guests at a private function. She asked Richard, who considers her his spiritual mother and mentor, to help plan the menu and cook alongside her. Having spent a whole night speed reading the cookery books of Dr C Louis Leipoldt (1880—1947) the famous South African poet, writers and cookery buff, Richard told Topsi that they should cook the flavours from their heart. According to Topsi ‘Richard was insistent that we cook the way I always do. He said that Adria was coming here to see what we do. To taste our food. So nothing should look or taste like anything Adria had ever done.’ And so they presented the greatest chef in the world with the likes of pickled fish, dried banana chips and coconut; biltong pate, apricot leather and rocket leaves on vetkoek; crayfish and indigenous khoi plants; yellow peaches soaked in brandy syrup; koeksusters; soetkoekies and traditional milktart.

There is the wide-held misconception that Richard trained under Ferran Adria, but it’s not true. What is true is that he is probably the very first South African chef to take note of what was being done at El Bulli, in a small town just outside Barcelona many years ago. Because like Adria, Richard Carstens is a chef that has always been ahead of his time. It’s an uncomfortable place to be in, and he has on occasion been misunderstood, but those few detractors are now eating their words as well as his food, because the rest of the South African chefs have caught up, and what was once thought of as strange is now simply regarded as fine dining.

So at Tokara, the elegantly austere restaurant owned by businessman and art collector (take note of the enormous William Kentridge in the restaurant) GT Ferreira and operated by Wilhelm Kuhn, Johan Terblanche and Jaap-Henk Koelewijn, Richard is free to create. Free to make the food is so extraordinarily good at. The tasting menu is where his creativity is shown to its best advantage, while the selection on the a la carte menu is proof of that Richard can make ostensibly ordinary dishes, truly spectacular. Because he respects ingredients. So a beautifully peppered Springbok fillet will be served with a parsnip puree, beetroot croquettes and hibiscus jus. He can’t resist the hibiscus jus – a little unexpected something to enhance a dish.

And what is a meal without dessert? And Richard is the master of desserts, despite his own affection for Diary Milk Fruit and Nut, and having once admitted to liking shop-bought chocolate eclairs. But here his obsession truly pays off, where his creativity finds the perfect platform. A dessert of lemon mascarpone mousse, white chocolate sorbet, meringue and almond financier is a study of pale whites tinged with hints of lemon, and while the dessert is light, the flavours evoke a warm lemon pudding, comforting despite its delicacy. He has created sorbets which are silky smooth and bursting with pure flavor, the not-so-secret method, something he gladly shares with other chefs. Because Richard is generous that way. For him, it doesn’t appear to be all about the accolades, it’s about an exchange of ideas.

And his intensity is contagious; you can’t help but be caught up in his obvious excitement. And he is not precious about what he does. There is not a hint of arrogance, only an excitement for his chosen profession, a willingness to share his obsession. He believes in training young chefs well. He wants to see them challenged. He wants them obsessed. Inspired. And he is succeeding, because high on the Helshoogte Pass, overlooking the Stellenbosch valley, there is magic in the air. And on the plates.


Tokara Winery

Hellshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch


Telephone 021 885 2550

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


(Pinata installation - loved the designs - loved the colourful streamers. I want to live in a room like this)

( The remains of a very happy table. Photo taken by my lovely new friend Eloise Alemany)

On Monday morning I tweeted (because I occasionally remember to do that rather than just stalk people in cyberspace) 'Woke up this morning feeling happily inspired by food, design, pinatas, old friends, new friends, words and wisdom. Big love to Toffie Food'.
I dragged Jacques along to the weekend festival and he, if the way he threw himself into the ceremonial breaking of the pinatas on Sunday afternoon was any indication, had an even better time than I did. There were so many highlights; spending time with old friends , making new ones, the transformation of a staid city hall into something magical, the rethinking of old ideas, the reminder to approach things in new ways, and always the knowledge that food is intensely personal and therefore precious, not only as a resource, but as a form of identity. I think that's why saying grace, or something like it before a meal is important, even if it's just a quick, quiet acknowledgement - 'For what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful.'

My highlights (in no particular order)

Her talk on food in Buenos Aires and her publishing philosophy makes me want to do two things; jump on a plane to BA and work on a book. Eloise's original and authentic approach with regards to food styling and photography and people who love food is something beautiful and meaningful. I am inspired. She is also a truly wonderful woman. And I am so grateful that I got to spend some time with her. She has a quiet grace and a gentle sensitivity. I breath easily in her presence.

I loved the book Julie & Julia far more than I liked the film version. And if I had to choose between having Julie Powell as a friend or Julia Child, I'd choose Julie. No contest. She is searingly honest, fiery and strong, but also fragile and vulnerable. During her well-delivered lecture (she's well-spoken, likeable, funny and self-deprecating), she spoke of how food memories could be sad and conflicted as well as happy and recalled how, as a young girl, her dad's mistress once gave her a chocolate caramel bar, and how awful the moment was but how delicious the chocolate tasted. I cried. I'm reading her second book Cleaving at the moment. And it's dark, and sad, once once again very very honest. And I feel like a voyeur, because it's strange to be able to see into someone's heart like that. Especially if you've met them.
There are two things I wish, the first is I wish I could find her original blog the Julie Julia Project in cyberspace, but it seems to have bloody disappeared. And the second is I wish to share a bottle or two of wine with her one afternoon, while her husband Eric runs a marathon and mine goes to work or something. Because she loves food and dogs. And because she wears her heart on her sleeve. And because she laughs often and says 'fuck' a lot.

I need to be upfront an honest about this one. I really, really did not want to like Anna. I am insanely jealous of her. Of her wonderful book Hunger for Freedom The Story of food in the Life of Nelson Mandela. She has written the book that anybody who loves this country, understands the emotional complexity surrounding food and who admires Madiba wishes that they could have written. The Taste lunch, during which Anna told an abridged version of Madiba's life and the food that defines him and which we ate piece by piece from a brown bag filled with tasters of food, was fabulous. But I cried of course. Especially when she told the tragic story of how Winnie Madikizela- Mandela's saved the top layer of their wedding cake for three decades. And of there came to be chillis on Robben Island. And of how Farida Omar gave Madiba the gift of a banana. So no, I don't actually hate Anna Trapido, in fact I rather like her. But how could you not like someone who buys an ostrich foot ashtray, and then allows her son to take it to his room, believing it to be a dinosaur foot?

We got really lucky with this one as we went to the Sumien Brink and daughter, Cara Brink's dinner. It was held at photographer Ulrich Knoblauch's studio and it was spectacular. All white elegance and platters of incredibly delicious food and fabulous deserts. Starters were cucumber salad rolls, lemon thyme prawns and salted caramel popcorn served on an oversized light box. Mains were platters of beef fillet, slow roast lamb shoulder, Greek beans, roast vegetables, herb salad with Tokyo dressing (amazing!) tzatziki, salsa verde and salsa rossa. Deserts were Creme caramel, candied orange peel in chocolate, meringue sticks and macerated strawberries. I think I may have eaten a kilo of Cara's meringues and half a creme caramel. It was sublime! My friend Annette le Roux (ex Jemima's) was a sort of mentor to Cara a few years ago and she would always tell me how talented Cara was, I think she would have been so proud of Cara on Saturday. The food was stylish, but unpretentious and it was deliciously soulful. Sumien said that this was the way that she likes to cook, that Cara had prepared for us the food she had grown up with. It really was a family and friend affair, Wilke Brink, son and brother, food and wine lover, made sure that we were never thirsty and we were served by Cara's boyfriend and friends. And at the end of the night, all who who had dined there, were friends too. And then as we left, Ulrich generously allowed us to pluck special copies of some of his evocative polaroids off the wall. A take home gift. A souvenir. Mine found their way into my favourite recipe books, to remind me of a really special evening.
For continued inspiration and to see the way in which Cara and Sumien view the world visit

The masterminds behind the Toffie Food Festival are Peet Pienaar and Hannerie Visser. They should be given honorary Mayor and Mayoress status. Cape Town is lucky to have them.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Tough Toffie

(Menu. You have to get your hands on one.)

In slang Afrikaans 'Ek voel 'n toffie' is a polite way of saying 'I couldn't give a fuck'.
Well, I think Afrikaans needs to be revisited. Because when it comes to toffees, I really could give a fuck. Be they the imported Thornton variety or the sweet Wilson kind (any flavour, but not the purple punch one), or in relation to the or the accessibly subversive Toffie Food Festival. The first ( because I sincerely hope there will be more than one) Toffie food Festival takes place on the weekend of 3/4 September in Cape Town's City Hall. And we have Peet Pienaar and Hannerie Visser of The President to thank for this welcome alternative to the stuffy or commercial food shows we have had to put up with. These two (surprisingly shy) design and marketing mavericks and their cohorts could change the way you think about just about anything. And their latest project, Toffie Food Festival, will certainly change the way you think about food. A two day food/fantasy/flavour melting pot where designer pinatas, breakfasts and lunches on site and dinners in the homes of local foodistas, lectures by the likes of Kobus van der Merwe, (Culinary Conjurer of Paternoster) and Julie Powell (Julia Child wannabe of New York
) and pop up shops are sure to feel hungry souls and stomachs.
As a taste ( I know, enough with the food analogies...) of things to come, I popped into Church on Spin Street last night to drink boozy orange juice out of real real oranges (just like nature intended - but better) and attend the launch of Menu - a magazine/book (but definitely a keeper) of the 167 best dishes to eat in Cape Town. I'm slightly annoyed by it, because as a local it divulges all our secrets like where to buy the best koeksisters, where to find a great boerewors role, how to make samoosas, where to find the best Portuguese Rump (Dias Tavern) and slaptjips (a Greek place which I disagree with because surely the best slaptjips are the ones sold with lots of vinegar from any fish & chips shop? But then again I told you they would change the way you think about food.) I love this book, the illustrations are edgy, and unlike any other food photography you may have seen. Think a heart-shaped soetkoekie crushed into the pavement, or a Malay koesister lying near a drain,a fried egg nestling in brown twigs and chocolate ice-cream plopped on wood.
I'm hooked. Enough of pretty-pretty, I want edgy-edgy. And Toffie is just that. And I like toffie

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

I love, love LOVE this room. And its creator is also ok.

(The M Bar)

I know that my friend Etienne Hanekom is going to be really famous one day. I've also told him that I won't be saying too many other nice things about him and his talents to his face, or else he'll become big-headed and a real doos. Perhaps I also fear that he won't walk into our house and make brilliant decor suggestions anymore. Or that he won't want to bring his power drill and rehang our art for us. Or that he won't be fearless with paint on our behalf. But I have to say this at least once. He is the most profoundly talented creative genius I know. And his latest project at Majeka House in Stellenbosch is pure magic. Commissioned to create the new restaurant Makaron, a cigar lounge, the M Bar, the foyer and a couple of bedrooms, the owners gave him a free hand (and by the looks of it a rather generous budget) and the results are magnificent. I love the serene and elegant restaurant where the Louis Ghost chairs play nicely with the revamped antique ones, and I cannot yet get over the amazing sumptuousness of the I'm-So-Hot-And-Fabulous-In-This-Room-I-Want-to-Wear-the-Louboutins-I -Don't-Yet-Own-To-Drinks M Bar.
I want to move in, I want to be able to play on the grand piano. I want to be thin and wear skimpy cocktail frocks. I want to drink French Champagne and make sparkling conversation throughout the day and consume single malt whiskey all night long until my voice is husky. I want to hold court on the black leather Chesterfield. I want to be scandalous. And daring. Know secrets. I want to be the M Bar.

Majeka House
26 - 32 Houtkapper Street
Western Cape
Tel: 021 8801549

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Kitchen Rumours

(Karen & Nicci fooling around with meds in The Kitchen. I should perhaps say my late friend Nicci, but she's have hated that. She was always on time)

There is a rumour doing the rounds in Cape Town that First Lady, Michelle Obama, was meant to visit The Test Kitchen at The Biscuit Mill, and not The Kitchen belonging to Karen Dudley in Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock on a recent visit to Cape Town. That somehow there was a mix-up and she landed up in the wrong kitchen. I don't believe it. And nobody else should either. With no disrespect to the lovely Luke Dale Robert whose restaurant is wonderful and whose food is quite-quite magical, but Mrs Obama looks like a woman who knows exactly where she is going. I wonder if it was The Kitchen fans Trevor Manual and Maria Ramos who tipped her off? Or if she read about it in the New York Times. But none of that matters, what does matter is that Mrs Obama-oh-she-with-the-nerdishly-sexy-powerful-husband landed up at the exactly right place. She needed to meet Karen. Because Karen embodies the very best of South Africa. She is not only an incredible cook, but an amazing person. I interviewed her for Taste magazine last year and I've included the interview at the end of this post. She's very special.

So last night we had some of Jacques' colleagues over for dinner. Things have been a little crazy around our house lately and I knew I'd battle to get a meal done, so I called Karen in a blind panic on Thursday evening and asked if she could help out. And she saved the day. Two hours before our guests arrived the food was delivered. A beautiful rare fillet with a tarragon sauce, three different but equally gorgeous salads and her I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven Sesame Yoghurt Cardamom Cake . And I didn't even feel guilty. because if it's good enough for the First Lady, it's good enough for our guests. Who were lovely by the way...

The Kitchen

Address: 111 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock

Telephone number: 021 4622201

Opening times: 8.30 to 4pm Monday to Friday


Taste interview with Karen

I first met Karen Dudley when she was head girl of the school I attended 24 years ago. She was a kind, wise face in an otherwise strange environment. I then met her again a few years back when she was making and selling the most amazing sandwiches at the Biscuit Mill in Salt River. Subsequent visits to her small cafĂ© in Woodstock are equally happy encounters. She is passionate about food, obsessed with flavours, has an innate desire to feed people, to nurture them. Her salads are exotic, almost jewel-like, and her signature sandwiches are overflowing with contrasting tastes and textures; a bit of pesto there, a chunk of mozzarella here, crisp salad leaves, slightly spicy salami, soft ciabatta, a nutty olive oil and a sprinkling of salty crystals. Her food is colourful and creative, but authentic – a bit like my gesticulating, comfortable with both laughter and tears, boldly-beaded friend herself is; exotic and familiar at the same time. I visit her at her home where she makes me anchovy toast. Not just any anchovy toast, mind you. First she toasts the brown bread, then spreads it with her signature garlicky Love Potion, before carefully arranging slices of tomato and anchovy fillets on it and returning it to the grill with a good lashing of olive oil. She then pours the tea from a beautiful old tea pot and we sit at her dining room table surrounded by books, sentimental treasures, vintage crockery, gorgeous fabrics and an assortment of creative clutter.

‘It’s going to be difficult writing about my food memories’, she tells, me, ‘Being Coloured is not so clear cut as being Chinese or Greek. It’s a mish-mash, this Coloured thing – a bit of this, a bit of that. But it’s who I am. What I celebrate.’

‘My mother’s father was the only dark person in his entirely white family so he had to marry a Coloured woman. My mother had white cousins who they never really saw. It was awkward when they became teenagers – a typically sad kind of South African scenario. My mom was a town girl, she grew up in Green Point before Group Areas. She was all about Bo-Kaap, District 6; kind of hip. She was familiar with the Cape Malay flavours as well as the crayfish sandwiches being sold for 2c by the hawkers heading back up to town from the docks. She became an extraordinary woman, she would travel on ships to what was then, Lourenco Marques, something young Coloured women didn’t ordinarily do.

Whereas my dad grew up in Genadendal in a family of hardworking religious people for whom God and education was everything. He was a plaasjapie, never wore shoes till he was 12 years old. When not studying he was working on the farm. He’s never forgotten his origins – as a successful businessman who has traveled the world, he will still reminisce about onions this size, and pumpkins that size. But somehow they met, my mom drove a scooter which my dad fixed for her when he was still working at the City Council, where he was apprenticed so that he could study further.

Anyway, my mom, having grown up on the fringes of Malay culture, knows how to make Boeber. But she would not make it for Eid, to break the fast the way the Malays do, she would make it for us when it was cold. It’s one of my favourite things. I love the warm, fragrant, sweet milkiness of it. The cinnamon and the all-important cardamom are the flavours I crave. I make it now as well. I brown the vermicilli in butter, I crack open the cardamom pods with my teeth, the way my mom does, I add extra condensed milk because it is the sweetness of my childhood that defines me.

I know that I continually reach for the flavours of my childhood. Sometimes I can recreate them, but sometimes they are elusive like my granny’s tomato spaghetti, which although savoury has a sweetness to it. I’m still trying to replicate the cardamom puddings my mother made, she makes a milk tart, not like the Afrikaans one, hers has a cardamom flavour to the custard, with a sweet nutmeg topping. I’m always searching for those flavours. I want to pass them on, because if you know my flavours, you will know me.

I’m also still grasping for the sweetly sour taste of my mother’s Hong Kong chicken, I sometimes find it in the sweetly sour tangy chutneys, or when I buy meebos (sweet but tart dried fruit rolls or squares). I remember stealing meebos out of my granny’s cupboard, this huge dark cupboard that was full of mystery. The meebos came in little packets that you used to get from Wellington’s Fruit Growers. Who can every forget that particular Wellington’s smell…

I also remember going to the Grand Parade for a soda float, You know those hokkies that have now been commercialized and all look the same. Well it wasn’t always like that. There was this one place we used to go to. They had all these amazing homemade cordials; pineapple, raspberry cream soda, pina colada, which they kept in bottles with sticky corks on top that always had bees fluttering around them. They would put ice-cream in a cup, put the cordial that you selected in , mix it up with a special long spoon, then fill the cup with the soda water. This is the stuff of my childhood. Always the sweetness. My granny made a wonderful pineapple foam pudding by mixing Ideal Milk and pineapple jelly which I loved. And I would also create my own desert by mixing one tin of condensed milk with two tins of ordinary milk, mix it together then place it in the ice –cube tray in the freezer till frozen solid for a cold sweet treat.

But is was religion that made me love food. The church community and the extended family is a big thing for us. My parents were very involved in the church and our home was like a railway station. There were always strangers who later became friends who would come and stay with us. So there was always food in our house, people were always coming in and meeting around a table. Talking intently, singing songs. As a child I understood that you eat, and you talk and you pray. Church people always eat well. They are usually the few that have the really good recipes. Who are well known for certain dishes. So at the church gatherings you would go for auntie so and so’s chocolate cake, or auntie Dulcies almond squares…

So there were these local flavours these traditional dishes, but my parents would also travel to Europe in the 70s, experiencing the freedom there, seeing all these new things, and they’d bring back exotic things like olive oil, and herbs, and recipes for paella. They were quite radical for their time. They tried to instill in us the idea that we were universal children. That were were not second class citizens of this world. That while South Africa may look all weird and horrible, we were not bound by this; that there was another way, a different way, a better way. They actually tried to free us of the baggage of apartheid, to free of those lies that constrained so many. In much the same way as they tried to do when they sent my brother and I to private schools. So that we would never think we were different. And so because of this, their exposure to the world, because of the church presence, because of the train station phenomenon in which all these different people came into our lives, we didn’t see ourselves as inferior in any way.

In my family you always have to have something on hand. So that you would always have food to give to or to share with people. And this is part of me, now, I’m like my mother, When my parents sent us my brother and I to private schools and were beginning to socialize with white people, my mother was horrified and would tell her friends ‘ they only offered us a packet of shop biscuits’. In our community, you baked, and you made things pretty for your guests…

Like the legendary Steak Normandy. Where did the name come from? A fancy dish with a fancy name, it probably came from ‘one of those books’. A dish which, when, if you were having fancy dinner parties in the 70s, was the piece de resistance. The flavours are tangy and comforting, slightly sweet, slightly savoury, but it was in it’s presentation, in the puff pastry topping and the elegant name that it’s magic lay.

I still make Steak Normandy when I want to make something special and comforting for my friends and family. And I still make the puff pastry shapes that sit on top. And I serve it on beautiful plates, because like my mother, I believe that if I can feed you well, then you will understand my love for you.'


Friday, 22 July 2011

Rosemary for Remembrance

(Nicky and her husband Steve, taken at The Biscuit Mill last year)

It's my friend, Nicolene's birthday today. She is another one of my strong, kind, wonderful, talented, fabulous friends. She's celebrating it in her new home in Perth, with her husband, her two glorious boys and a very beautiful pregnant belly. I miss her. And if we didn't have other plans I'd make her Rosemary and Lemon Chicken tonight.

Happy birthday, Nicky. Ek lief en mis jou.

I must have made this recipe, given to me by a friend, more than 100 times over the last 13 years. I serve it with garlic mashed potatoes and a crisp green salad. And each and every time I have credited her. Because, like my friend, Nicky, it has never failed me. Ours is a friendship that happened effortlessly, easily. We met in our first year at university and I have found myself, over the past 23 years, continually drawn to her gentle spirit, her kindness, her occasional vulnerable moodiness, her unexpected and infectious laughter, and her deep sincerity.

We have not always lived in the same country. More than a decade ago, we were both single and living in London. This was when she gave me the recipe, having listened to me moaning about my lack of ability in the culinary arts. We used to meet up on weekends, window shop while walking down the King’s Road, always stopping for coffee at Designers Guild. It was Nicky who took me to Columbia Road Flower Market for the first time. She has always had a thing for beauty. And we would explore the city and talk. About our experiences in London, our European travels. Our dreams for the future. Our wish to meet the right man. About family. And issues. And what it means to be a South African. We sought out one another’s company, because when we were together we didn’t have to explain ourselves. As most South African who have lived abroad know, there is always a slight feeling of being an Outsider. We laugh at different things. Feel certain things more acutely. It is as if growing up under an African sun separates us from the rest of the world. As strangers in another land, we may appear to fit in, may even make our mark, but our heart longs for something else; As Africans our internal rhythm is essentially different.

A few years later we were both married and living in Cape Town. We were home. Sometimes still longing for the excitement and cultural intrigue of Europe, but glad to be back amongst our own. She gave birth to her children and I, in blissful oblivion to how hard being a new mother sometimes is, was a less than thoughtful friend. I deeply regret the times I didn’t offer to baby-sit her two boys, didn’t meet up for quick coffee. But we saw one another occasionally, and had lovely dinner parties with mutual friends and each time, we swore that we would do so more often. I mourn those missed evenings, those lost dinners. The time we wasted.

For the past 4 years, she and her family have been based in Abu Dhabi and I traveled the world with my husband who worked on cruise ships. And strangely enough this is when we saw one another the most; we made a concerted effort to spend time together. We wrote emails to one another; always in direct correlation with how one of us were feeling. Sadness, confusion and homesickness gave rise to a flurry of correspondence, and harmony at home and a happy work environment would see only the odd email.

Jacques and I have come home this year, knowing that this is where we ultimately want to be. And so I waited for Nicky and her family to return, because working and living in the United Arab Emirates is a temporary thing. It is an extended work contract, an enriching and financially experience for the whole family, but certainly not an adoptive home. But they have made the difficult decision to relocate to Australia. And I am filled with grief. In all these years of long-distance friendship, I have never mourned her not being close to me. I have missed her certainly, but our friendship has gone unchanged. And will continue to do so, but I am filled with an overwhelming sense of loss. This move seems permanent, the boys are school-going age, and we’re in our 40’s. It’s time to settle. I had always assumed it would be here. For both our families. And suddenly our emails are strained. I know she is sad. Frightened of what lies ahead, already grieving the imminent loss, and devastated that her children will not grow up in the land of her birth. And I cannot console her. Because I grieve too. But in our friendship there are none of the recriminations that so often affect others when the emigration debate crops up. There is no attempting to justify an already heartbreaking decision, no judgment because we choose to stay and they choose to go. For us there’s only loss. And we need to be there for one another. Knowing that our friendship will always be. Knowing that I will continue to make her rosemary and lemon chicken for family and friends, but that from now on the presence of rosemary – the ancient symbol of remembrance - will be all the more poignant.

‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember’ William Shakespeare - Hamlet Act 4 Scene 5

Nicky's Rosemary and Lemon Chicken

Chicken breasts - with skin. ( as many as you need or like)
Fresh rosemary
Fresh lemon juice

Season the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper and generous amounts of fresh rosemary, and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Cover the dish and refrigerate for 12 hours. ( you don't need to do this,if in a hurry, a couple of hours will do)
Then bake ( covered in tin foil) in a preheated oven for 220 degrees for about an hour.
Then remove foil and grill till the skin is crispy.


Monday, 30 May 2011

My South Africa

This my love letter to South Africa. Love letters can be sad. But they are still love letters.

I sometimes fear that loving South Africa will break my heart. But I remain helpless in the face of this fear, as I suppose one remains helpless in the face of any fear. But yet I choose to live here. Here, in my South Africa. Here in the land of my birth. And I do so with hope and faith. Fear. Faith. Hope. A staccato rhythm that beats in my chest; fear –faith-hope. Fear-faith-hope. And I taste it in my mouth; this bitter-sweet taste of fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is the spicy bite of pickled fish, the saltiness of bokkoms, the distinctive taste of smoorsnoek, the vinegary comfort of a parcel of hake and slap chips.

On my morning walks through my neighbourhood I always look out for Josef, the sad-eyed man of indeterminate age with the beautiful smile. He wears long-sleeves and a knitted cap pulled down low over his forehead, trying to show as little skin as possible. But his hands belie his prison past, they have the bruised-blue tracings of prison tattoos. And underneath his eyes, trailing over his sunken cheekbones are the tattooed tears of a man who has seen too much, done too much. He always playfully rubs my dog’s ears and calls him ‘Oubaas se honne’. While me, despite my protestations, he calls ‘Nonnatjie.’ One morning he tells me that he is ashamed of his markings. I tell him that they are but skin deep. But in my South Africa, skin deep has always been the problem. He tells me he lives alone, distanced from his old friends. Far away from the old habits. That he mostly keeps to himself. That he believes in a compassionate God. As do I. Perhaps we are not so different after all. Fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is a cheesy braaibroodjie seasoned with white pepper. It is boerewors and Mrs Balls chutney. Karoo lamb. Waterblommetjiebredie. Pap and fiery chakalaka.

Recently while rushing to deliver some documents, I passed through several security check-points in a building in the city. It was hot and I was late and irritable. It was nobody’s fault but my own. In my haste, I hooked my handbag on the turnstile causing me to falter and angrily swear under my breath. ‘Easy now, Sisi’, the security guard gently admonished me. And I was shamed by my own unnecessary annoyance. ‘Sister’, this man has called me, thus implying an intimacy our shared history had previously denied. And then he smiled. And I did too. Because we are closer to one another than we could ever have dreamed of. Fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is the taste of cinnamon melkkos, custardy milk tart, of Cape Malay koesisters. Of sweet, luridly-coloured Bashews cooldrink. Of milky Frisco and sweet rooibos tea. Of Wicky-Wax and Chappies bubble gum. Red jelly and Ultramel. Canned fruit and Ideal Milk

Down the road from where we live, there is a ramshackle urban farm with chickens, and geese, and sheep and pigs. The ladies who lunch and recycle drop their old vegetable and fruit peels off there. This is where Andre and his extended family live. He is soft-spoken, wears kakis, goes barefoot and sports a long beard. He has kind blue eyes. He looks like a farmer. The forgotten children find their way to him. ‘God knows,’ he will tell you, ‘I never chose to do this, but they came my way and someone must take care of them.’ ‘So you take care of street children?’ I ask, to be sure. ‘No’, he denied emphatically, ‘these are not street children. They once lived on the streets, but they are not street children.’ And then a little girl runs up to him, laughing happily, for a quick hug before darting off to go and play again. Her dark skin and bright eyes are a sharp contrast to his weathered face and caring eyes. ‘The damaged souls take care of one another.’ He says after a while, apropos of nothing, while cradling a small newly hatched chick gently in his large hand. Fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is the mince samoosa, the bunny chow, the prego roll. Samp and beans. Dried apricots.

These are the flavours that define me. These are the moments that both heal and break my heart. Fear-faith-hope.


Saturday, 28 May 2011

That Heston Blumenthal Magic

(The signage at The Fat Duck entrance)

(Sound of The Sea)

(The Not-So-Full-English-Breakfast)

(Taffety Tart - from a recipe dating back to 1660)

(The 'BFG' Black Forest Gateau)

There appears to be an awful lot of Heston love in the Cape Town air. I could have predicted this, having a thing for bald men who wear fabulous spectacles myself. But it’s more than the look. Heston Blumenthal is the Rock Star for Food Nerds. So there he was delivering lectures (did you really expect the whole liquid nitrogen, painstaking detailed cookery demonstration?) at the Good Food and Wine Show this past weekend. Which may I add was horribly crowded and really should be relooked and revamped. If Cape Town is a culinary destination, we should really glam things up a bit more, surely? And also, how about a decent auditorium for speakers where the noise of the main show or backstage don’t annoy the speakers or those who have paid a substantial amount to hear him/her. But I don’t want to appear ungrateful, because our tickets were a much appreciated gift, and it was wonderful to hear one of the greatest chefs in the world explain the thinking behind some of his creations. Heston Blumenthal is a passionate scientist/historian/sociologist/therapist who uses food to communicate beautifully.

In January this year Jacques and I had an incredible meal at The Fat Duck in Bray, I wrote about this experience for the May edition of Taste magazine, but just a few, more thoughts, anyway…

If I could swallow the sea...

Sound of the Sea is served alongside an iPod hidden in a large seashell, which when listened to plays the sounds of the ocean - crashing waves and screeching seagulls. Slivers of fish, sea kelp, foam – so totally appropriate in this dish - and salty ‘sea sand’ made of a particular type of tapioca flour were so deliciously realistic in both appearance and taste that I imagined I was sitting with my bare feet in a rock pool on the West Coast with the sun beating down on my bare neck and that I was scooping up and swallowing mouthfuls of seawater and sea creatures, with the exception that on this occasion it tasted as beautiful as it looked.

A Snail Tale...

And what of the legendary Snail Porridge? Unbelievably wonderful. The bright green parsley and fennel infused porridge oats and garlicky snails was so delicious I could have eaten another huge bowl full. But I will never look at garden snails in quite the same way again.

What’s for Breakfast...

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast with nitro-scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream? Well it looked like an egg, and it was indeed a proper egg that was broken into a pan filled with liquid nitrogen, and the contents were scrambled at our table, and had the look and texture of softly scrambled eggs, except when you tasted it, it was ice-cold, as ice cream should be, and tasted sweetly-smokily of bacon. Confused perfection.

A giant gateau, of sorts...

The BFG – Black Forest Gateau, but also a literary reference to Roald Dahl’s book by the same referring to the big friendly giant, was magnificent in taste (and I usually don’t like black forest gateau) but also in appearance – the chocolate column was flocked (as in the appearance of flocked wallpaper) a process referred to as flocage. And upon being brought to your table the waiter spritzes a fine mist of kirsch around your head, so scenting the air with cherries.

I scream for ice-cream...

Equally wonderful were the Savoury Lollies. A trio of small lollies and ice-creams reminiscent of those found in an ice cream van. The first one was shaped like a 3-coloured ice-lolly and had all the taste of a Waldorf salad, the second was a cylindrical Salmon Twister, and the last one was a foie gras version resembling a small Magnum ice cream.

On Sweets and small spaces...

Before heading off and snooping around in the tiniest restaurant kitchen I have ever seen, (there are about 2 other small ones across the road, and a makeshift area in the back parking lot, as well as a small cupboard-like pantry area where the after-dinner sweets are made. In these areas 50 chefs work tirelessly to serve 42 diners for lunch and dinner. Mind blowing), we ended off our meal with Whisk(e)y Wine Gums. Five tiny golden gummy bottles, stuck to a glass map of whisk(e)y producing regions, that dissolve in your month and then fill it with the very distinctive smoky tastes of various whiskeys. And then the pink and white striped bag of candies arrived containing, amongst other things, the Apple Pie Caramel with its edible ‘cellophane’ wrapper, or the Queen of Hearts chocolate card which tasted of jam, and the coconut tabacco and eating it I felt exactly Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop. As Heston Blumenthal intended. In a single afternoon, I had gone back in time; my inner-child had come out to play. And my adult-self will be forever grateful

And the websites to end all websites...