Liezie Mulder and her family’s restaurant île de pain in Knysna are legendary. Her second cook book île de pain ANYTIME (Quivertree) has recently been published. If you love food, playing around in the kitchen, take note. She tells DIANE DE BEER about her way with food and how best to replicate her passion:
If you have been to Knysna’s famous île de païn, buying into Liezie Mulder’s latest (2nd) cookbook will be easy.
She says it herself in the introduction: As a chef I borrow, share and am inspired by the works of others and I absorb what is happening around me, at home and on my travels, and then make it my own. …what is important is to use my own voice, to be honest, to be unique and true to myself.”
She wants to make it better using different techniques or using ingredients in a way that’s different or by introducing unique flavour combinations. Sometimes she simplifies it to express her style and philosophy more emphatically.
Travel is a huge source of inspiration for her. It gives her a chance to breathe far from her immediate surroundings, to experience, listen and be immersed and influenced by different cultures. She scribbles notes while watching cooking shows and collects food memories when she travels- here or abroad.
The restaurant menu is constantly evolving but for her the important ingredients are simplicity, uncomplicated and wholesome. And then she adds: “There has to be a party in your mouth with every bite!”
The past 15 years at île de païn with much heartache and joy has taught her to have more fun and not to take work and food too seriously. It shows and comes across especially in her philosophy. Asked about her recipes, she says they should be fresh, simple, uncomplicated and fun. “I like to keep flavours in a recipe clean, working within the flavour palette of one region or country. I like to combine unexpected flavours and present it in a way using few components on a plate, so as not to confuse the palate.”
It’s about celebrating her favourite food memories … and food! “I wanted to create something lasting, beautiful but also useful. Something that captures the essence of what we do, and at the same time inspires others.”
If you’re interested in the food world, watch food programmes or speak to foodies, you will already know that sourcing ingredients is hugely important. “It is vital to use quality, healthy, fresh produce that offers high value in terms of both vitality and beauty.” All of this will contribute to the quality of your food in a way that saves both money and time in the long run.
The restaurant is a family affair with Mulder and her partner and master baker Markus Färbinger at the helm. What they initially set out to do was a village bakery which has now turned into a fully-fledged restaurant that works around the clock. She gives insight into the running of that as well: “It was only after five years that systems began to flow. Better-qualified chefs joined the team, we changed our working hours, took a step back, and grew as a result of becoming more aware of what needed focus.”
Because this was their family’s life, they had to adapt the running of their restaurant to suit their lifestyle. Everything was going well at the 10-year mark and then something dramatic happened – a fire in 2015 and everything burnt down.
But this gave them time to rethink their lives and their restaurant – and whether they wanted to start again – from scratch. The answer was yes but this time they could take a deep breath and design a new île de païn which she describes as “confident, lighter, happier, sophisticated but not perfect”.
This time it’s all about quality and not quantity – in their food and their lives. The recipes included in the book are the most popular from the restaurant menu, her own personal favourites and those of her family. Each one tells a story from where the inspiration comes from and how it became part of their menu. It could be cooking with her mother-in-law or sharing a meal with a Vietnamese farmer or even something as exotic as being invited to cook with the chef of the King of Bhutan.
Before she gets into the real recipes, Mulder has some advice:
Basics, basics, basics, she stresses. Only when you have mastered the basics can you start playing around. That’s the rule with most creative endeavours.
One of this chef’s strengths is organisational skills. She advises cooks to work with checks and balances. Take the time to read through a recipe, weigh out all the ingredients, organise your work area, get all your equipment ready – and clean as you go.
Quality ingredients has already been highlighted and with equal importance, she stresses detail and consistency in everything she does in the kitchen.
Speaking as a professional chef, she believes passion about food, people, creativity and a need to be of service are what you need to make it in the hospitality industry.
There’s much to like about the book but with bread and baking a strength of this restaurant whose name translates as island of bread, pay attention. And when she notes that the concluding chapter – Prep Time – is her favourite, also take note.
She loves sauces, relishes and dips, almost all of which can be made ahead of time and are jampacked with flavour as well as guaranteed to deliver a punch at every meal, she assures. So perhaps that’s the right place to start. She believes the great start to any successful meal, menu or dinner party is in the planning and preparation.
Especially if you cook and entertain mainly on your own, here’s heartfelt advice and if you listen to what she says and how to go about it, your kitchen can become a great source of joy.
What makes this such a special book is the fact that Mulder spends most of her life thinking about and working with food. It’s not just the recipes that are precious, it’s also everything she has to say about the recipe and how best to prepare a certain dish or bake a brilliant loaf of bread.
Get thee into the kitchen!