PICTURES: Hennie Fisher
What makes Tshwane such a fascinating foodie region is not just the restaurants or even home-cook scene, but also the many culinary teaching institutions that constantly produce fantastic events, always value for money and with cuisine that is usually forward thinking or at least on the edge of what is happening in the food world. DIANE DE BEER shares her two latest experiences with the city’s smart young training chefs and the way they are guided by the best, including Tashas’ Elze Roome, Geet’s Gita Jivan and Capital Hotel School’s Marlise Whelan, as well as Hennie Fisher of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria:
It started for me at the Capital Hotel School with chef Marlise Whelan inviting Geet’s Gita and Tashas’ Elze Roome to guide the students through an evening of film and food.
The title of the evening was The Hundred Foot Journey, but the movie was simply an inspiration as watching and eating don’t always work well together.
And with this trio of chefs, you wanted to pay attention! It started with bread simply presented with a fresh sourdough, tomato, radish, olive oil, green olives and aioli. This girl could not think of a more perfect start.
The amuse bouche was the drop-dead combo of mignonette oyster and chicken liver paté, followed by the first starter of prawns and Hollandaise which included quail egg and caviar to complete the pretty picture.
The second starter took me back to the ‘60s when my mom, who was a keen dinner party cook, often served mushroom vol au vent, but these spectacular numbers boasted wild mushroom in a creamy ragout and this updated version is especially delicious.
Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent and Prawns and Hollandaise.
Before the mains, the palate cleanser was a tangy lime sorbet followed by an Indian Feast. Gita did her thing with platters of Dhal Arancini, Badami Murgh Tikka Masala, Nalli Gosht, Lemon and Cashew rice, Rumali Roti, poppadom with achar and sweet chili.
I can easily be bought with a roti, so to add all the delicious Indian spices and sauces with hints of cardamom, saffron, ginger, cinnamon and the list goes on, was la taste sensation. It was a licking of fingers as the dhal and the tikka masala had to share honour with the lemon and cashew rice, a poppadom for those who still had room and then there was more.
The desserts included an orange phyllo mille feuille as well as cardamom chocolate ganache, orange confit and sabayon and a pineapple halva with almonds and rose petals.
It was a dreamy meal with Warwick, Simonsig, Paul Cluver and Pierre Jourdan sharing the wine honours.
It was lovely to bump into the bubbly managing director of the Capital Hotel School, Ronel Bezuidenhout, and the evening, magnificently presented from every point of view – parking to presentation of the food – was a huge success. It was great to see that they are maintaining standards and that there’s as much enthusiasm amongst the young chefs of the future as there ever was.
The spectacularly colourful Mapula Embroideries servers.
A few weeks later it was the turn of Hennie Fisher’s students to impress. The menu on the day showcased indigenous produce and products, one of their regular annual features and something I really enjoy. Dene Kirsten was tasked with creating the menu but in the end it was a group effort between her as Chef de Cuisine and the BConsumer Science Hospitality Fourth Years in different roles all participating in testing and perfecting each menu item before the finalised version was served.
We can argue for years about a typical South African meal and some day we might get there, but, if these University of Pretoria students have any say, they will be paving the way. Keeping South African dishes in mind, the brief was to create a menu utilising the gorgeous and abundant indigenous ingredients found in our country. Sustainability was also important to keep in mind when conceptualising the menu and event.
Grilled African eggplant, sundried tomato, roasted courgette and drained Amasi rolls started us off and got those juices flowing.
This was followed by one of my favourites, fishcakes, in this instance, trout fishcakes with Garri, a flour made of Cassava roots, which was used to coat the fish cakes instead of bread crumbs. A salad combining crust spekboom, water chestnut, Jerusalem artichoke and Zulu oregano leaf salad served with a chakalaka pesto blew my mind. It was a most imaginative plate of food.
Just reading through the ingredients gets my mind racing and it was as spectacular as it sounds.
The mains combined palak style morogo (which most of us are familiar with), okra, Venda kale, amadumbe (which is described as the potato of the tropics) and fermented pap paneer curry served with sorghum and tef risotto, marula and quince chutney, plantain chips and cowpea (also called black-eyed pea) Amagwinya (aka vetkoek).
For those not familiar with Venda kale, it is locally known as Mutshaina and a true heirloom plant. It has a much sharper taste, almost like mustard, than traditional bought kale. It can also be described as ‘meaty’ since it has a rougher texture and does not cook as soft as traditional kale.
Using a very popular dish in South Africa, Saag Paneer, as the base inspiration, they looked at various ways to add indigenous ingredients. They replaced the traditional spinach with indigenous morogo and Venda kale and added some okra for an extra touch. The spicy and fragrant sauce was the main flavour of the dish. In the place of paneer they fermented pap, cut it in cubes and grilled it to add a crispy texture on top. With that a creamy and subtle teff and sorghum risotto (sorghum and teff are both underrated indigenous grains which were cooked in the traditional risotto method), crispy and salty plantain chips and fluffy cowpea vetkoek/ amingwenya was provided to mop up the delicious sauce. To balance all the spiciness, a sweet quince chutney was also introduced.
That’s quite a mouthful and quite delicious but as the picture shows, they could have played a little more strongly with colours and textures. The students disagree, noting that taste and flavour trumps everything. They did not want to sacrifice the flavours and fresh ingredients used just to add a pop of colour. I disagree, because visual impact adds to the experience ̶ and one can have it all.
My favourites on the plate were the starches including the sassy risotto, the chips and the Amagwinya! And very high marks have to go for sheer invention.
The sweet conclusion vied for similar honours with a carob toasted Lowveld chestnut roulade served with chocolate and carob sauce, naartjie and mondia whitei (described as a woody climber!) ice cream, gingko biloba brittle, Cape gooseberry and prickly pear salad. Try and top that for something more local!
It was truly impressive, as were the tables dressed in their latest Mapula Embroideries servers which set the tone for a truly splendid South African meal. It was truly special.
This time the wines represented Fryer’s Cove, Haute Cabriére and Orange River Cellars.
And again I doff my hat to the students, their lecturers and guest chefs and their institutions who work hard to get them economically viable as well as energetically enthusiastic for one of the toughest yet rewarding professions out there.
And we’re blessed to have all this food innovation happening in the city. Check it out when you can. There are many different ways to try their food and they are usually at the forefront of what is trending in the food world.