DIANE DE BEER
PICTURES: HENNIE FISHER AND AB HEYNS
Blessed with a couple of chefs in my close circle of friends or otherwise passionate foodies, I didn’t pay that much attention when a holiday at the coast was planned with a favourite chef in tow.
Spoilt is probably the word that comes up when thinking back and because he warned us that he wasn’t going to be cooking much, I probably didn’t pay much heed. Who does when on a self-catering holiday?
But this was Covid, no swimming allowed even though the beach and those blue waters were beckoning but we had made certain provisions.
Swimming is my form of therapy and without breaking any laws, I was determined to be allowed in the water. We decided foraging would be the best way and purchased a few mussel licences. And before I knew it, I was dangling with my chef companion Hennie Fisher from a few rocks and collecting mussels for the pot.
There’s no way you can do this without catching a few waves to get to the best place to forage mussels, so some obstacles were crossed in one go.
That’s where all the food fun began. Growing up in a seaside town (Mossel Bay of all places) one would have thought I would know everything about foraging and yet, it isn’t something that we ever did. The sea was a large part of my childhood, but that meant swimming and fish meals. Probably living in a fishing town, all those things one could forage were freely available in those times when the sea seemed to offer everything in abundance.
That’s my excuse anyway. What I discovered though was how much I enjoyed this collecting of the mussels, bringing the harvest home, being taught to clean and preparing the cook and then watching the chef create magic.
We all know that when you know the rules, you can break them and probably that’s the biggest difference between those of us who have to cook every day as opposed to those who have made it their calling – and for Hennie it is just that. He loves feeding people especially those who enjoy his food, and with me he has a disciple.
We knew that with our biggest harvest, a whole bucketful, which we decided to braai over an open fire, and eat as is. It’s quite amazing, as Hennie pointed out, it was even perfectly seasoned and didn’t need anything – not even salt. Hello, it comes from the sea!
The first mussel effort was not planned so it was a relatively humble harvest, which my ingenious chef quickly turned into a chopped and steamed mussel vinaigrette served on his sourdough loaves, freshly baked. It appeared so easy to make something so completely unforgettable. It’s the kind of food I can’t get enough of. It’s fresh so all the flavours are heightened and yet it is so simple. And especially food from the sea is best to keep simple because when it is fresh you don’t need much embellishment. It will dull rather than enhance the flavours.
But what could be better than an abundance of mussels, freshly gathered and cleaned, cooked on the braai. It’s simple, under the beautiful starry skies with all your senses on full alert. It’s the best taste of the sea, which is exactly what you crave when you’re there.
And then there was a final collection which was in-between the smallest and biggest forage which Hennie turned into creamy mussel and chorizo linguine with fresh, home-made pasta which our stylist AB Heyns quickly proceeded to make.
When making fantastic food is made to look so easy – and it is – that’s when your meals are the best especially on holiday when no one wants to spend too much time in the kitchen. But also when it’s all hands on deck, cooking is turned into a party – and the results the payoff!
Even my partner who is usually happy to have a sandwich and needs meat to be involved – was in ecstasy about our holiday fare.
But foraging didn’t only compensate hungry tummies, when planned it also becomes a feast for the eye. AB is someone who knows how to put a room together and even on holiday, he needs to do exactly that.
So when in the seaside town out for a walk, we would pick all kinds of natural foliage along the way and because those exquisite blue hydrangeas were in full bloom in many gardens, he popped into the first one where he spotted people, told a tall tale about celebrating a birthday, and pronto we had our foliage and flowers for the rest of our stay.
Breakfasts were also a family affair, but mostly this is where the freshly baked bread did hard duty as we consumed copious cups of freshly brewed coffee and planned our day. When to eat, sleep and walk – the perfect cure for Covid blues.
The other bonus is that the stylist also has a sweet tooth. And that doesn’t mean picking up the odd pastry from Ile de Pain, it’s making your own yogurt and condensed milk tart which looks and tastes as if a pastry chef was involved!
Thinking about living and lifestyle, because that’s what it is, I suddenly remembered an earlier trip to Istanbul where a group of us (these two creatives included) filled up a small apartment block. On Christmas eve, Hennie and AB were in charge of proceedings which of course turned out to be quite spectacular even with simple means.
But what stood out for me most was Hennie popping out to go and forage some rosemary he had spotted on one of our walks to the Hagia Sofia.
So actually, I should have known. My mother always said that I knew how to pick my friends, all of whom are accomplished in so many ways. There always was method to my madness but it obviously helps to find these rare birds if you are a veteran arts journalists living in a creative world.
And to make sure we kicked off on the best cultural note, we slept over at Harrie Siertsema’s MAPSA (Modern Art Projects South Africa) in Richmond for the most rewarding art experience with their smartly and generously stocked gallery on site.
And now we can let our minds wander and dream … for next time.