YOU CAN EXPERIENCE THE FOOD PARADISE CREATED BY SAVVY CHEF ELZE ROOME IN DIFFERENT WAYS

When someone so accomplished in the cuisine universe shares her food stories, you listen. Her adventures are many as she shares everything she learns while moving around in different hospitality ventures. DIANE DE BEER visits her current spot Tashas on Menlyn Main:

Pictures: supplied by Tashas

This was the best of worlds. I was having a late lunch with chef-patron Elze Roome at Tashas, Menlyn Main, sampling her new menu in tapas style, while listening to her latest food adventures.

It’s been five years since she and her brother Wally opened this little corner of heaven where people are endlessly drifting in and out and platters of food come streaming past anywhere you sit in the room.

There’s nothing better than have the one who came up with the menu also make the selection of whatever you are going to have. Elze’s favourite (coincidently like mine) has always been the Levant and when she had to introduce her trademark to this particular Tashas, the region was an easy one.

“I’ve always liked the combination of spices,” she says and agrees with me, that a close second is Thai food.

I first met Elze when she was executive chef at Brasserie de Paris following their move to Waterkloof in their iconic Karel Jooste home. With the owner (who also happens to be Elze’s aunt), these two presented me and a couple of friends with many memorable evenings of sheer delight.

The one was an Easter dinner (bunny ears deluxe included) on their magnificent rooftop with food that was quite extraordinary and night skies that stole all our hearts.

But also the dinner led by Elze, when the Brasserie recently decided to close its doors, was quite spectacular. Fortunately for fans, they quickly opened again with new management after only a few months of closed doors and the reports out there are good. Similar ambience and food as before.

In typical Brasserie style, the farewell (if brief) dinner was done with many of the previous chefs slipping in for this one extravagance to celebrate the restaurant and everything it stood for.

Chef patron Elze Roome and Tashas, Menlyn Main.

But since her stint as fine-dining chef, Roome has travelled the world. First she spent some time in France where she trained as patisserie chef and on her return she was courted by Tashas as executive chef and product developer.

She was not easy to lure, but Natasha Sideris was determined. She is obviously someone who knows how to spot talent and once she has, she wants you as part of the Tashas team. Which is exactly where Elze has been this past decade.

It’s been an adventure and much of that time was also spent in Dubai where she helped with the establishment of the first restaurant in the emirates. In Dubai, they now have the fine-dining Flamingo Room, the Avli which is Greek inspired, the Galaxy Bar which has been named #45 in  the world’s 50 best bars, with four Tashas restaurants- one in Abu Dhabi.

So watch this space. The Tasha empire is expanding … constantly.

In the process, Elze gave her heart to Dubai. If you ask her about the attraction, she distils it to the constant buzz. “Both Paris and London are sleepy towns in comparison,” she says as she explains how this desert city is always on the hop.

For this foodie, that’s part of the attraction. Anyone who has watched anything on food in Dubai will know that they have attracted many of the world’s top chefs. “It can take you easily an hour just to scroll through Uber Eats,” she says.

She also likes the idea of night or day, anything you want or wish to do is probably available. And, she says, the people are super friendly. It probably helps being part of the Tashas team which also provides her with a very special place at the Dubai table. After all, the brand has firmly established their credentials in a very short space of time.

One of her most recent Tashas adventures has been developing the recipes for the very smart Tashas Inspired: A Celebration of Food and Art.

The production team was identical to that of the previous book, Tashas Timeless Café Classics, but this was a much more expansive book with Elze focussing on the food side specifically. “We had many team meetings about the way to go, how to approach the book and what the end product should be,” she noted. But in the end, the food was really inspired by Natasha’s food memories.

“She wanted to reflect her food memories by way of her travels and her favourite cities and flavours,” explains Elze and obviously when it came to the Greek side of things, the family was very specific about the food, the presentation and how they do it. After all, this is how Tashas evolved into what it has become today.

It is a franchise but from the start, even in the early days, visitors to the different restaurants knew that each one had its own flavour and if you visit the revamped Hyde Park Tashas Le Parc today, the cake section has been another Roome-inspired  creation.

The book too is something else. It is as much a lifestyle extravagance as it is a food journey as we go from New York deli to Greek taverna. And in typical Tashas style, even though this is a high-end cookery/art book, Natasha hopes it will sit as easily on the kitchen top as it does on the coffee table. In other words, appreciate the art, luxuriate in the lifestyle and travels to get to this continental style cuisine, but also get your hands dirty and start cooking.

Here’s one of my favourites from the latest cookbook extravaganza.. It is an easy salad/accompaniment and it points to the layering of tastes and textures:

Tashas yummy coriander couscous.

CORIANDER COUSCOUS

Caramelised onion, feta, handfuls of fresh herbs and couscous make for a full-bodied flav ourful dish that can be a salad on its own or a side dish.

Couscous

4 cups cooked couscous (I use the bigger sized couscous, but that’s a preferance)

Herb paste

1 onion, caramelised in olive oil (love that they tell you that)

4 spring onions, chopped

2 red chillies (optional)

4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed

80g shaved almonds toasted

120 extra-virgin olive oil,

Plus extra for drizzling

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

120 g feta cheese

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Herb paste

20 g flat-leaf parsley

20g dill

20 g coriander leaves

10g tarragon

10 g mint

150 ml olive oil

Herb paste Blend the herbs and the oil to a smooth paste in a food processor or with a stick blender.

Couscous  Put the cooked couscous in a serving bowl and stir in the herb paste, onion and chilli, cumin, almonds (keep some for the garnish), olive oil and lemon juice and zest. Mix well and season to taste. Cut the feta into thick slices and arrange on top of the couscous. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and garnish with shaved almonds and parsley.

HENNIE FISHER IS A CHEF WHO PAINTS EXQUISITE PICTURES WHILE CREATING SPECIAL CUISINE

Meringue magic.

In times of Covid things have been tough for everyone, but some had no options, they had to make plans. DIANE DE BEER speaks to (her friend) Dr Hennie Fisher, chef and lecturer at University of Pretoria about food and the innovative ways he got working to get the students cooking when the world was in lockdown. But also exploring the way he celebrates his own creativity in this world:

PICTURES: AB Heyns and Hennie Fisher

Hennie Fisher paints pictures with fruit.

Thinking about food, chef Hennie Fisher can’t remember a time that he wasn’t fascinated by it. He didn’t come from a family particularly interested in food, with the result, that food nostalgia has little meaning for him.

And yet, once he moved into the food realm himself, he never stopped experimenting – to the delight of those of us who are part of some of these kitchen creations. He believes culture rather than history is what drives him.

That’s what gives us the measure of things. If, for example, you are doing a korma recipe and it wasn’t part of your upbringing, you don’t have anything to measure it against. But in that instance, because there was no way he was strictly sticking to the food he was familiar with, he developed his senses.

Cake sculpting in progress.

That’s what the modern consumer does, he says. And, more than anything, he loves cooking off the cuff. Something I witnessed again, when we spent a week at the coast where he could let his hair down and cook for appreciative people who love to eat – no pressure. It was a time to relax, with sea air and food to make everyone happy.

The previous year we had gone mad foraging, but this year the pickings were scarce and we did less of that with Fisher relying on the produce we had all brought to the table.

For me, more than anything, it is exciting to witness how the mind of a chef works, what he comes up with and how food enchants when it is well made and the simplicity celebrated.

Floral fantasy.

One of his favourite things to do is baking, especially magnificent cakes which are decorated in a way that’s difficult to absorb. When I think of cake decorating in the past and what happens in that field today when you have a real master at work, it’s astonishing. There’s nothing more beautiful than watching an artist at work and being able to witness what he comes up with.

Like anything in the creative world, when you give artists free rein, is when they have most fun. Working within guidelines is fine, but preferably give them the freedom to play.

Genius at work.

On a trip that we did together to Turkey, six of us stayed together in an apartment block where we cooked on and off when we didn’t go out for a meal.

Watching Hennie put all of this together was quite something. In the middle of a cooking stint, he would dash outside to a pavement quite close by, where he had spotted some herbs growing wild. That would just be the final touch to another taste sensation – and it might have been something as simple as a roasted chicken which he then turned into something extraordinary.

Hennie’s food feasts.

In the meantime, his real work is as a lecturer at the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria. This is where the real challenge began a few years back with the start of Covid. Their’s is a practical degree and while there isn’t really any replacement for a hands-on food demo with the students doing their own cooking, Hennie had long been thinking about creating a digital library which would be on hand for students to access when necessary.

Now was the time and, when he thought about it, digital demos were the only alternative, but one which would also have long-term advantages. The idea that face-to-face teaching was suddenly impossible was daunting, because there simply was no other option. Working with students you can see where they stumble and you also get to know one another on a deeper level. But this was the challenge.

It meant hard work, as did the new Zoom lectures all of which required a different work process and a deep dive to establish the best way forward in this interrupted and episodic lifestyle we all entered and are still engaged in.

It’s all about setting a base and establishing videos that would be the best version of what was possible. This was as much a learning process for the lecturer as it would be for the students and, having sat in at some of those sessions, the work that goes into the cooking sessions, in preparation and then the actual filming, is quite something.

What appealed to him was the learning process, which is continuous. Even though he had lost the possibility to learn from the students, which was always there when they were cooking together, new skills were suddenly surfacing in this novel way of teaching he suddenly had to establish. Yet, everything, unfortunately comes at a price.

Students at work and play.

He already knew that much of his teaching in the past came about when he watched the students cooking. “It’s about seeing them do it,” he explains. Think of yourself doing something in a kitchen and suddenly being stumped by a particular method  ̶  should it first cool down or should you immediately go ahead with the process, for example. Cooking is like that and by example and repetition, is how you learn.

“Cooking is complex,” says Hennie, and that is something all of us can concede. He does encourage those interested in the food industry to go ahead, however. “There are so many different opportunities,” he says , and both the conditions and the pay have improved over time and trickled down.

A selection of paw paw recipes developed by Chef Fisher for an ongoing project.

With the advent of social media, it is also much easier for people to reinvent themselves, and he feels, the work is much more satisfying than it might have been in the past. If  you think of all the  imaginative developments in the food world, the mind boggles.

With someone like Hennie, who seems to have food and the way to present it as part of his DNA, I can only smile at the future and the many meals created in that brilliant mind that will make my heart sing.

DIS BAIE LEKKER BY DIE SEE

Publishing this following story about a Durban/Kwa-Zulu Natal visit a month before the horrifying insurrection was quite tricky. In fact it was going to appear a day before the riots – but fortunately didn’t. In the meantime we’ve all been holding our breath so I’m hoping and have checked the places mentioned and nothing has changed apart from the city (I am told) getting a clean-up around elections, so please, if you’re planning to holiday in that region in the coming festive months, have a blast.

And for those who don’t understand the heading: It’s very good at the sea, or some such!

DIANE DE BEER gives a few impressions:

Our final birthday destination: Shangrila Beach House (in Bazley), a self-catering house, cottage and chalet with an exquisite garden designed by indigenous landscape gardener and botanist Alice Pooley.

When a friend decided to celebrate her 50th birthday on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast recently, five of us decided to travel to Durban for a few days prior to the celebrations to explore especially the art and the food in a city none of us knew at all.

Art and culinary adventures are passions for all of us and we had read enviously about the hot spots in both Durban and the coast and we were excited to go on this adventure.

Travelling down by car, our first stop was for lunch in the region of Van Reenen’s Pass where two of our companions had previously enjoyed some excellent meals. The road to Oaklands Country Manor with a name change to Oaklands Farm Stay turns off (for a few kilometres) at the little town of Van Reenen and is easily worth the detour.

Together with the handful of super siblings (four sisters and a brother I think) who are in charge, the setting and the farm itself is special. On the day we stopped which happened to be a Sunday, there was a polo match in progress but quite a few families were occupying the outside tables with spectacular views, ready for lunch.

The splendours of Oaklands Farm Stay.

The menu was perfect for travellers, simple but with enough variety to cover the spectrum.

Salads either garden or chicken, toasted sarmies with chips, beef burger and chips, game pie or tagliatelle with garlic, chilli, anchovies, capers, broccoli and parmesan were the options. Our table covered the full menu and while the rest of the team started with a special cocktail, as the dedicated driver, I went for the homemade ice cold kombucha-style mixer, which was spot on.

The food was delicious, (I shared the game pie and the tagliatelle with the birthday girl because we both were undecided), but so was the atmosphere, the company and the hosts. We will be back whenever we travel this way.

We had ample sustenance for the rest of the journey which isn’t an easy one with all the trucks making their way to the coast. The bill without the lunch drinks was R250 per person (coffees included) which was a really good deal.

Durban was a huge surprise, great fun but not exactly what we expected. We took into account that we were there just before a strict lockdown and as we arrived the province was struggling with high covid numbers.

The splendours of the Phansi Museum.

On the art side we had two excursions: the one was the truly mind-blowing Phansi Museum (with on the side the exquisitely stocked African Art Centre if you’re in the need for some serious local craft shopping) and the other the Kwazulu-Natal Society of the Arts with a vibrant indoor/and out coffee bar/deli attached which was buzzing when we arrived.

The Phansi Museum will blow your mind. The breadth and scope of the collection is simply overwhelming and one wonders why this isn’t duplicated in every city in this country. There’s hardly a more accessible way to introduce the depth of the different cultures in South Africa. And I would travel all the way to the coast if only for a visit to this world-class museum.

Taking a guided tour with the embracing and embraceable guide, it’s amazing to discover the wealth and cultural riches of our people. Even if you are aware of the diversity out there, to see it all gathered together is magnificent. And there’s much to admire and much to learn, a truly heavenly experience.

This was followed by the Society of Arts also in the vicinity but unfortunately they were setting up for their next exhibition, which was a development project. We were, however,  enchanted that in spite of the lack of any art happening at that precise moment, the café was packed. That is good news and I want to appeal to all the large art institutions around the country, in Pretoria in particular (The Pretoria Art Museum, The Javett and Association of Arts particularly on my mind), to find a way to serve at least good coffee with some refreshments. It’s a way of drawing people in whether for an exhibition or simply to gather for some bonhomie.

This particular space is enchanting, and you could see that the refreshments and food were as good and it has to have that stamp of approval. Nothing could be more welcoming and it makes perfect business sense if you get it right. They also have a fun museum shop and anyone traveling to world museums, will know how important those are. Our art venues have to find ways to appeal to visitors. Once there, they will hopefully be captivated by the art.

We popped into one independent gallery just off the well-known Florida Road, but they were also busy setting up and apart from these three, that, according to what we discovered and were told, was it.

Florida Road, a destination we returned to time and again.

On the food side it was also hit and miss. Our first stop was a breakfast/coffee shop which came highly recommended in an online paper and sadly was a huge let down. When writers go all out with their praise that might not be warranted, you are then reluctant to follow their advice. With only a few days at our disposal, we didn’t want any more disappointments.

Fortunately we also had some pointers from friends and locals and we started with what for me was a real find and a must if you go to the city. Glenwood Bakery and its pumping pavement area is an instant comfort. These are locals and you can see this is their regular haunt.

Our visit explained why. Starting with the bill, breakfast with two cappuccinos each, cost R100 per person, which was quite extraordinary considering the quality of the food. Bread and pastries is a big thing at the Bakery and our choices were as varied as our taste – from my mushroom and egg affair which was perfect in size, produce and preparation to bagels with various toppings, and even sweet delights with flavours like hazelnut and apricot which had to be set aside because things were flying off the shelves. We were told probably to preserve freshness, only a very specific amount of baked goodies are prepared each day, so once they’re gone, that’s it.

After our previous flop, this was at the other end of the cuisine spectrum and one to keep in mind if you need a failsafe option. It’s guaranteed!

Of course we had to do Indian and the name we had was Palki, which a few sources had recommended. On our last night we wanted to do take-out and as there were restrictions anyway, it worked out well.

Our cuisine connoisseurs made the choices and we had a mixed bag, which in this style relates to a food feast. Again it is the option to go for when you have such a diverse group of diners, all foodies but with different tastes. But it also allows you to be adventurous in some of your choices and to add new dishes to the group’s repertoire. This time round, it was the not to be missed paratha and dhal makhani, both of which should be part of any Indian meal. Added were a paneer driven dish, a chicken curry and a brinjal pakora. And for the solo diner who is reluctant to be too daring, there’s always a Lamb Curry mince.

And that’s how we even drag the less adventurous along who eventually cannot resist and grow their palate. Palki is not cheap, but it’s quality with great flavours – which is what we were told.

A series of coffee shops and ice cream parlours to choose from in Florida Road.

In between we hung out in the popular Florida Road, kept missing the Patisserie du Maroc which is French flair with Moroccan inspiration, but we had a Monday and public holiday squeezed into our stay, both not good for certain businesses. We caught up on lots of good coffee and artisanal ice cream (a delicious rum ‘n raisin flavour) and even managed to squeeze in some samoosas at the Indian market.

Which is where we spent the rest of the time; a variety of markets on and around Warwick Junction. Outside of lockdown, there are tours available and probably one of these can be fun to do as the different types of markets within the bigger precinct will be showcased.

The colourful area in and around the city markets.

We didn’t have the luxury of a tour guide, but old hands, we easily found our way around the colourful markets, which range from typical Indian and African fare to the ubiquitous Chinese goods which seem to have invaded all local markets.

Getting goods during these difficult times are also problematic and without the foreign buying power, these markets also seem quite depressed. We nevertheless had a great time just walking around, checking the scene (in between a confluence of railway tracks and a graveyard with some interesting gravestones) and seeing how the city centre functions.

From there it was a brisk walk to the Durban City Hall, Post Office and some other majestic buildings including a beautifully preserved Norman Eaton building from a bygone era but many of them still in use today. Sadly the back stairs of the post office was a sight to behold and those who are responsible for cleaning, cannot point fingers at the state of the rest of the city centre if this is the example.

And that was the sad thing about this very vibrant and embracing city centre. With its wide avenues leading to the sea front, it should be a tourist mecca with the markets and beautiful buildings included in this space. But the neglect is horrifying and typical of so many South African cities as white business moves out, it appears owners of the buildings also stop caring.

Also disturbing was the fact that we were the only white people in the area on both days we were there. Just the traffic and the double parking and navigating was like an hilarious movie. It just seems such a pity that a space this vibrant if spruced up and embraced by a much wider community – could become a real tourist mecca.

We had a blast and were welcomed everywhere we went but my heart bled for those who had to spend their lives day in and day out under these sometimes horrific circumstances while hardly a kilometre away, the Durban seafront is a completely different matter.

Personally I suspect its all about money but there’s bags full to be made if the city centre was given a touch of love and care – not gentrified – just a look that a buzzing city centre deserves. It already has all the basics!

We concluded our Durban trip with a breakfast at the promenade at Circus Circus. We were told they serve great coffee and the breakfasts are hale and hearty. It was good to witness the Durban community in all its splendour with joggers, cyclists, rickshaws and hawkers all part of the parade.

From there our trip became a celebration as we moved to a little touch of heaven called the Shangrila Beach House (in Bazley), a self-catering house, cottage and chalet (depending on the amount of people) with the best sea view, its own access to the beach first crossing a working railway line, and an exquisite garden designed by indigenous landscape gardener and botanist Elsa Pooley.

The bliss of Shangrila.

And I haven’t got to the best yet, a mass of friendly dogs and the most wondrous wrap-around stoep. Self-catering with a chef (á la Dr Hennie Fisher) in our midst was bliss and apart from an excursion to Botha House (now a guest house with spectacular views), which was built for the former prime minister Louis Botha by his friend Sir Frank Reynolds, we pretty much stayed put in our imagined home away from home.

Two last suggestions on the way back, was a fuel stop just off Pinetown called the Polo Pony Convenience Centre (571 Kassier Road, Assagay) with a Woolworths food store with the best takeout sandwiches and coffee.

A little further up the road, again at Van Reenen’s Pass (this time on the left hand side of the road on the way to Jozi), there’s the perfect lunch stop at The Little Church Tea Garden which serves food made by the local farming community.

We opted for pies followed by scones and coffee as well as browsing through their well-stocked shelves for some last-minute pressies if needed. There’s also a chance to visit the little church and while having lunch, the views are spectacular. Again, it’s the perfect stop before hitting the road back home.

THE CAPITAL CITY’S DELI QUEENS RISE TO THE TOP

Covid with all the different lockdown phases has been difficult for everyone. Some however felt the pain more directly than others. A handful of Pretoria’s deli dames spoke to DIANE DE BEER about turning disaster into a supercharged expansion…with more in the future…as they tackle the latest phase…

PICTURES: Littish Swarts

Alicea Malan from Lucky Bread Company

When Alicea Malan gets going nothing stands in her way. She’s not scared of failing but she doesn’t simply rush in.

It’s lovely to hear her talk about what she is doing and where she is heading, because there’s constant motion for this owner/chef of Lucky Bread Company with a branch in Brooklyn Mall and another in Mall of Africa.

If you think she has enough on her plate, think again. She’s only starting. On our last morning recce, she showed me two projects she got up and running during Covid. This is apart from their full swing into a delivery service when Covid restrictions were full-blown.

Yes they did some voluntary retrenchments but basically they managed to keep everyone else employed, at the same time streamlining the business in a way that works best for the future.

First off is a fantastic coffee pick-up at her home at 510 Mississippi Street, Faerie Glen, where she appropriated the home of the rubbish bins and with a bit of tweaking changed it into a coffee outlet for the neighbourhood. As we arrived at Press for Coffee (and that’s exactly what you do), there were four women sitting on the pavement, chatting and enjoying their coffee.

She has a few women baking inside for this outlet and it has become a neighbourhood special. “They have taken it to heart,” she says gratefully. And it’s easy to see why.

A few suburbs away, she also has a spaza shop, but the actual value of this lies in the future. She and architect Braam de Villiers have developed this idea together. He has designed the capsule and she is looking at a business app that will help first timers to develop and grow their own business.

The kaleidoscope of a Kospaza

“We have seen with baristas that they all want to go off on their own once they have been trained”, so this is her idea of getting them moving, fully trained and with a business plan. It’s impressive, both the design of the capsule, which can hold everything someone might want, as well as the business plan, especially with Malan au fait with the rules of this particular game. She has been round the block a few times and knows what works and how to go about it.

If someone like her can break even during that first year of the pandemic with all the surprises that entailed and still keep developing and growing her business, that’s impressive. But also the capsule itself. It is self-contained and could actually serve many different purposes as well as stand in different settings.

It’s not quite that simple, says Malan. But then nothing ever is. In the meantime, she is also involved with much bigger plans. At heart, she is a chef and she wants to create and cook. That is exactly what her future plan involves. So watch this space. It is just around the corner and holds some wonderful food surprises for Gauteng as she develops an artisan food precinct with Lucky Bread opening in Centurion at Tribeca Coffee roasters.

In the meantime, Lucky Bread, Brooklyn Mall and Lucky Bread, Mall of Africa keep producing quality – with smiles.

For more info: https://www.luckybread.co.za

PICTURES: Marethe Grobler

Michelle Cronje-Cibulka from Afro-Boer

In a similar way, Michelle Cronje-Cibulka from Afro-Boer has also been moving during lockdown. Driven by the survival of her staff and business, to keep it growing and developing even in the toughest of times, she started a Spaza Shoppe to fall in with the Lockdown Level 5 restrictions, and as these lifted they morphed this into a Café Deli.

She had been planning something like this even before the pandemic, but now things became more urgent as she could encourage customers to pick up coffee and other goodies – from toasted sandwiches (braai broodjies) to cakes to slices of cake, jams and lemon curd, rusks, cookies, salted caramel and the list keeps growing.

As rules relaxed, so the coffee could be enjoyed at small tables away from the main restaurant, and now it has remained the place to collect any orders that can be placed ahead of time. But, of course, you could also just drop in unexpectedly and pick up what catches your fancy.

With lockdown rules changing according to the Covid numbers rising and falling, capacity restrictions have become the new norm. For Afro-Boer it was simply a matter of rising to the fast-changing world and its challenges. “We started changing the Boardroom into a coffeeBAR and soon we will present this as an evening Gin Bar at the start of summer,” she says.

Ideas have always been percolating but Covid just hurried things along. ”We always wanted to build a wood-fired oven on that bottom side of the garden to extend our artisanal bread baking approach, and finish with a small Charcuterie to incorporate an even more of a ‘farm to plate’ food approach.”

“The Baker’s Café main building is well on track to expand into evening trade in a month or so pending curfews and possible alcohol restrictions.”

Afro-Boer’s garden spectacular

From their earliest days, planning never stopped. And this has been Afro-Boer’s success from the beginning. Started in 2013, it has grown organically as they could meet the demands and also determine exactly what those are. Covid played devil’s advocate with many lives and business plans, but the dramatic effects have simply made Afro-Boer look at time differently.

They are blessed with one of the best spots in town. Part of a business park owned and developed by her father, Cronje-Cibulka has her own spot of sunshine and a garden that is as enchanting as it is inviting. Don’t be surprised if you have a cackle of hens join you at breakfast.

“Since we are still forced to have a single entrance to the main building, we closed off access from the Baker’s Café (the original Café for those who aren’t sure) side into the garden, which has allowed us to serve towards the garden from the Café Deli side, incorporating this second premise in a more informal style with our deli goods while we step up business in the main Baker’s Café and quite possibly bring in a Wine Bar that side …”

They have stepped up their take-away side of the business, which was pretty much the only thing allowed to happen during the strict lockdowns last year… and again in these renewed lockdown times. In normal times, it becomes just an added convenience to the regular deli fair which can still be had on the stoep or inside of the main building or in their beautiful garden.

For more info: https://www.afroboer.co.za/

PICTURES: Theana Breugem (thefoodphotographer.co.za/).

The Original Delicious Lulu de Beer, Rachel Botes and Naomi Lourens

When the new weekend market Busstop 7 opened in the east of Pretoria, Rachel Botes (of the acclaimed former Carlton Cafe Delicious) decided it was time to expand the cooking and baking she was doing via orders and test the waters with two of her favourite cooking cohorts, Naomi Lourens and Lulu de Beer, each with their own specialities – and to change the name slightly to address their latest venture.

Those who knew the deli will recognise The Original Delicious fare as the same people are involved and that’s why the name rings in those changes but is still familiar.

They do regular orders as well as some of their old favourites like the very popular #DinnerSorted on Fridays. It all started at the deli when customers complained about Friday night dinners and Botes decided to devise these affordable weekly menus that could be ordered during the week (closing on Thursday at 4pm) and be collected on Fridays between 3 and 5.30pm close to the Faerie Glen Hospital in Garsfontein.

On Friday June 4 for example, the menu took into account the cold weather and presented a comfort dish of note: creamy chicken, corn, potato and bacon chowder (thick soup) with garlic and cheese baguette. Serves 4 at R200 and simply needs reheating. The menu changes every week but quality and competitive pricing are the main drivers.

On their order list they have anything from quiches (tomato, basil and camembert, beef biltong and green fig; bacon, mushroom and feta) to very specific baked goodies for those with food intolerances.

Very popular are their family meals which are frozen immediately after preparation using only quality, fresh meat and other ingredients that are free of preservatives, additives and colouring agents. These include mac-n-triple-cheese and chicken or beef  lasagne, which can be ordered in medium (6) or large (12) servings. “Some people bring their own dishes and we prepare the meals in that,” explains Botes, never missing a trick! These are best ordered before the time and once you’ve served this easy supper, you’ll be back for more.

A selection of pies fantastic.

Another Botes speciality is a variety of pies, including chicken, beef and onion, BBQ pork belly, lamb and oxtail, as well as rhubarb. These are also available in different sizes, including singles pies, medium serving 6 and a generous large which is enough for 12 people. “I’m chuffed that people are starting to recommend these,” says Botes. It’s a no brainer!

If you want to wallow in comfort food, Botes is famous for her melkkos. Especially in cold weather it is the perfect meal, morning noon and night!

Ignore this trio’s baking skills at your peril. Bakes and cakes include baked milk tart, chocolate ganache cake, baked milk tart cheesecake and a baked New York cheesecake with other sweet treats like millionaire’s shortbread, dark chocolate brownies and white blondies, anzac biscuits, red velvet biscuits, olive shortbread and polenta fingers.

Chocolate Ganache Cake

Add to that the Lourens bespoke cakes and De Beer’s allergy and food-intolerance products and this trio cover the spectrum.

As they don’t have a regular physical space, they are active on Facebook and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/original.delicious/ and easy to contact, but they need time when things are baked on request.

Cafe Delicious’s followers will be delighted to have Botes and her cohorts back. She has an unusual food mind and while something like a cheese-n-mac might sound familiar, there’s always a delicious twist. Once you run through their order list, or even better, you visit them at the market when lockdown rules are relaxed, you won’t look back.

Visit The Original Delicious at Busstop 7 Market on Saturdays (when allowed) or email them on original.delcious@icloud.com with enquiries for pick-ups or deliveries.

MILK TART HAS BEEN ADOPTED, ADAPTED AND SUBSUMED BY DIFFERENT CULTURES AND BACKGROUNDS INTO SOUTH AFRICAN HERITAGE

PICTURES: Theana Breugem (thefoodphotographer.co.za/).

DIANE DE BEER

The milk tart queen Rachel Botes.

From the time I first heard that power chef Rachel Botes was going to do her masters in the origins and originality of the South African milk tart, I knew that she would be stretching the limits of this local sweet thing to places where none of us could imagine.

Now with her master’s degree (Cum  Laude) in hand, she has done exactly that. I also knew that her approach and research would be complicated and worth getting your teeth into. Her aim was to also use the milk tart as an artefact of food culture to enable a better understanding of food as a vehicle for identity, food as memory as well as a form of communication.

Just allow your mind to linger a little on that and the of scope of what she was hoping to achieve boggles the mind.

Botes stated her intent right from the start as she approached her research from a historical point of view, with the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies (Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria) her place of departure.

She notes that the milk tart is often perceived as something that’s derived from Afrikaners’ tradition and culture. This, however, isn’t entirely  founded. “…milk tart has been adopted, adapted and subsumed by women of different cultures and backgrounds into South African heritage,” which is good news for our South African cuisine  heritage … and something most of us have suspected anyway. With our history and diversity, nothing simply happens simply.

She further notes (and that’s more good news) that it has been given the nod widely and indigenized to such an extent that it is now considered a national treasure regardless of background. We even have  a National Milk Tart Day, for heaven’s sake!

At the heart of investigating the much loved milk tart lie questions of identity, belonging and heritage – all arising at the intersection of food culture and history.

She quickly discovered that recipe books would be her best source of information – that and food writing. These were generally done by women and thus became the diaries, the memory bank and a gendered food archive that reflects as  a particular identity marker within the South African context.

Melktert at its best

As we know, women are not well considered or documented in the past (look at writers like Hilary Mantel,            who are taking new points of view just to introduce everyone into their writing) but what has emerged has exciting consequences. “Whole classes of documents which were previously held in low esteem, including household inventories as an index of kinship, obligations and ties” come into play, for example, argues historian Raphael Samuel.

She also deals with the problematic racial classifications of our past, the national identity of food, with examples of every nation borrowing freely  –  as renowned South African author Louis Leipoldt states, “often with unblushing audacity” –  which leads to  the term “indigenization”, meaning something becomes distinctive to a particular people or place.

Many argued that women’s handwritten books and published guides or recipe books, as well as those of servants, will not be found in history books. Their history, especially in the domestic domain, was not regarded as important enough to be formally. But that is what turns this into something so much more than simply the origins of the milk tart.

Penelope Hetherington, for example, explains that women’s history was ignored in the documentation of national history at least until 1960! That’s yesterday!

Keeping all this in mind, even though enslaved people shaped South African cuisine in many unexpected ways, it was never formally recorded and thus has to be found in the pages of the recipe books of the time.

As Botes reviews the research she has done on the milk tart, she encapsulates some of what food means (with a smile) in the following quotation in Hastings Beck’s book Meet the Cape Food: “During the war a general who is, in the grand phrase of Izaak Walton, now with God, visited a school in the Cape, somewhat suspect of subversive activities. On his return he declared, ‘There is absolutely nothing wrong with that school. Why! They entertained me with milk tart!’

This, explained the author, was the significance of milk tart, which he describes as more than a pastry. ‘It is a gesture, like the breaking of bread or the offering of salt in other times and places. When judges go to circuit or Important Persons open bazaars, they must be served milk tart. To fail to do so would be a social solecism if not an actual affront.’

Rachel Botes, a woman who knows her food, knows best how to make it and knows how to write about it.

Another quotation that appeals was that of Charlene, Princess of Monaco, who announces in You Magazine, “I want to take milk tart and mealiepap to the rest of the world.”

Botes also reports that milk tart was often served during the Mbeki presidency, but she reminds us that he certainly was not the only South African head of state to do so. The Rand Daily Mail of 6 January 1975 announced that “melktert and eclairs for tea…” were served at formal talks between Prime Minister John Vorster and Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Callaghan.

Milk tart was also a conciliatory symbol when former President Nelson Mandela went to the Afrikaner enclave of Orania in August 1995 to visit Mrs Betsie Verwoerd.

She notes that as indicated by philosopher Martin Versveld, it is evident that the cuisines of the world came together at the tip of Africa. In most cases, she suggests, it was not a willing or voluntary convergence and therefor the process to reach the fusion of these cuisines must have been troublesome.

It is apparent to her from many of the recipes discussed in her dissertation that custard tarts were introduced and adopted in the early colonial era by the people doing the cooking, either on their own or under instruction. It is also clear from the recipes she investigated (and these are all included) that a basic milk tart recipe evolved over time, but that each baker had her own secret milk tart success, be it in method, the pastry, the preparation of the filling or its flavouring.

She highlights that the role and influence of all the women from diverse cultures is undeniable in this process and most often not acknowledged. Most importantly, she adds, considering the milk tart as an artefact, it becomes clear that the archive was not only silent about women in history, but also about their day-to-day activities – whether it was baking a milk tart or recording a recipe for the family collection.

The original Rachel Botes.

It’s a tough one to capture everything of interest in a column like this, but being a fly on the wall during these studies, I always knew that Rachel Botes could publish the definitive milk tart book once her studies were completed.

Here’s holding thumbs that it will see the light of day!

And some examples from the earliest, then earliest local and then a local favourite:

“Tyropatinam” (Milk and egg sweet)

Origin:    Roman, 1st-3rd century CE

Estimate the amount of milk necessary for this dish and sweeten it with honey to taste; to a pint of fluid take 5 eggs; for half a pint. Dissolve 3 eggs in milk and beat well to incorporate thoroughly, strain through a colander into an earthen dish and cook on a slow fire [in hot water bath oven]. When congealed sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Apicius, 2009, De Re Coquinaria, translated and edited by J.D. Vehling and published digitally as Project Guttenberg’s Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome, E-book 29728, Recipe 301, no page no. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/, access: March 2020.

The earliest local milk tart recipe found for this study was in a handwritten manuscript identified as Keuke boek van mijn De Weduwe Blanckenberg gebore Zeeman Den 15 October 1819 (Kitchen book of mine, the widow Blanckenberg born Zeeman The 15[th] October 1819)

Recipe 49 is for a Room taart (Cream tart)[2] that is made with eggs and sweet cream or good milk. A little flour is added to stiffen the mixture. It is left to cool before the mixture is poured into a tart base and baked until cooked. It is finally sprinkled with sugar. This recipe is similar to that of a milk tart, except for the fact that no butter is added to the filling and it is not flavoured in any other way. Recipe 75, for Melk taart (Milk tart), is briefer and makes no reference to the method, crust or flavourings. It simply reads “6 eyeren, 2 lepels meel en een bottelmelk” (6 eggs, 2 spoons of flour and a bottle milk).

And then perhaps to bake …and one of the Botes favourites

The Zola Milk Tart

Crust:

Origin:    South Africa, 2017

60 g butter, at room temperature

¼ cup (50g) castor sugar

1 egg

1 cup (140g) cake flour

1 tsp (5ml) baking powder

A pinch of salt

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180° Celsius. Grease a 23 cm tart tin.
  2. Cream the butter and castor sugar together.
  3. Add the egg and stir to combine.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix into a stiff dough.
  5. Press the dough onto the base and sides of the tart tin.
  6. Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.
  7. Blind bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy.

Filling:

2 ¼ cups (565ml) milk

1 cinnamon stick

1 egg

½ cup (100g) sugar

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp (20ml) cake flour

1 tbsp plus 1 tsp (20ml) corn flour

1 tsp (5ml) vanilla essence

20 g butter

1 tsp (5ml) ground cinnamon

  1. In a saucepan set over moderate heat, add the milk and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Remove the cinnamon stick.
  2. Whisk together the egg, sugar, flour, corn flour, and vanilla essence
  3. While whisking continuously, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture.
  4. Return the mixture to the saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk until the mixture has thickened.
  5. Add the butter and stir through.
  6. Pour the filling into the prepared pastry crust.
  7. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
  8. Allow to cool completely before refrigerating.

M. Loewenstein, ‘The Zola Milk Tart’, Woman and Home Magazine, 24 February 2017, pp. 3-4. https://www.womanandhomemagazine.co.za/recipes/zola-milk-tart, access: October 2020.


 

 

FLAIR AND PLAYFULNESS CREATE CUISINE PERFECTION TO CELEBRATE JAPANESE CULTURE

PICTURES: HENNIE FISHER

When the Japanese Ambassador invites you to lunch and there’s no specific directive, you pay attention. DIANE DE BEER gives you some table talk:

Perfectly placed Japanese sweetness.

As my dealing with the Japanese have been mainly about their beautiful country, where I lost a piece of my heart, and their magnificent cuisine, which I still know very little about but am learning step by step, I was excited.

Instinct told me I should take along my chef friend Hennie Fisher, who shares my obsession with all things food and Japanese – and he takes fantastic pictures.

I was right, and delighted when Ambassador Norio Maruyama received us and we discovered we were the only guests on the day. That meant personal attention and  ̶  we suspected  ̶  a spectacular meal.

We had no idea. I hadn’t met the ambassador before so I didn’t know that he had a specific interest in food, and is also a marvellous storyteller. He told us that he had only arrived a year before Covid and when the pandemic hit these shores, he had to come up with innovative plans.

Dining companions Hennie Fisher, Ambassador Norio Maruyama and Diane de Beer.

He is in the fortunate position of having a fantastic chef, and his wife as his assistant, in his employ. When he was leaving for South Africa, a friend of his suggested he check out a young chef who was in the process of opening his own restaurant in Tokyo. Maruyama persuaded Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi to accompany him to South Africa, and after a few hours in the ambassador’s company, I know his powers of persuasion are impressive.

What he decided was instead of trying to host large functions in these hectic times, he would invite small parties to dine at his home in Waterkloof. He happens to have magnificent views and of course, the secret ingredient, a chef and his partner who are willing and able to play. How clever of him to allow these young ones to experiment with their country’s cuisine with such spectacular results.

Cold brewed green tea.

Maruyama explains that because of their relatively new emperor (since 2019), the current theme of the country is beautiful harmony. And as ambassadors do, he has decided with these meals to incorporate it in a way that honours both Japan and South Africa – hence the harmony between the different cuisines.

What that means is that while there is a strong Japanese influence and theme running through the menu, it is combined with food flavours and dishes we’re familiar with. This was a tasting menu with the added flourish of a green tea pairing. A silky smooth Sake, and a couple of South African wines, also with a particular story, were included.

Even my wine connoisseur had not hear of the Stark-Condé winery and the first wine offered, Round Mountain (a sauvignon blanc) is actually the translation of Ambassador Maruyama’s surname. “The owner’s grandmother was Japanese and the wine was named in honour of her surname!”. This was followed by their rich cabarnet sauvignon, which was as impressive, but the focus of the day was the green teas, which were all cold brewed, a method which originated in Japan.

Just like the superior sake we were served as an aperitif, we have all had our own versions of green tea, but nothing to compare with what the Japanese themselves serve you. Each one is carefully selected to go with each particular tasting. It added to the overall taste as well as intrigue of the masterful menu.

I can’t think of many things I enjoy more than being served the food of a particular country by someone who is a specialist and then to have an expert explain everything you’re savouring from beginning to end. That’s soul food for me and the best way to get to know a particular country’s cuisine!

They started us off with something they named One Bite Happiness of which there were two sample tastes. The first was the Reiwa Monaka, a rice wafer that appears cheekily more like a French macaron filled with duck rillettes and topped with a Japanese spice called kuroschichimi. Paired with a one-bite Kobucha, a green tea beverage using dried seaweed and coagulated with a seaweed-based ingredient. In different fashion, both captured the essence of Japan in the fine detail and the delicate taste.

This was followed by something more familiar, or so we thought, but the Salmon mi-cuit, Yuzu (Japanese citrus best described as tart and fragrant) flavoured, is an extremely slow- and low-cooked salmon. It was melt-in-the-mouth.

This was followed by a green salad with Hoozuki  ̶  Cape gooseberrie, which the ambassador explained, are regarded as a fruit in South Africa, and a vegetable back home in Japan. The compromise in the salad was perfect and pretty.

The meat of choice was a beef fillet with Kyoto miso (soy bean paste) with the meat thoroughly cooked first, then roasted topped with miso and roasted again together with leeks. Stone-milled sansho (a citrusy Japanese pepper) is sprinkled carefully as a final touch. It had a spectacularly robust Japanese flavour because of the flavouring.

To complete the main tasting, there was a Japanese-style pasta combined with fermented tuna and seasoned with Ume (Japanese plum), dried fish flakes and finished off with nori, all sparingly and subtly done and served in a spectacular dish. It’s all about the flavours, which make this Italian staple their own.

A Yamogi chiffon cake with Anko.

The sweet piece de resistance is a Yamogi (Japanese herb) chiffon cake accompanied by Anko (sweet bean paste). Light and airy as they are traditionally, yet in colour and taste, quite unique. The sensational tasting concluded as it started with two small bites in perfect harmony with a walnut mochi (tapioca) and a matcha coated cashew nut, so perfectly served as if offered to a fairy queen.

It was simply extraordinary and just the most exquisite meal to have in a mid-week breakaway lunch. And apart from the food, the plating and the presentation was  breathtaking.

Meeting the kitchen artists, dressed in kitchen couture perfectly suited for what I imagine a Japanese kitchen would need, was wonderful. We didn’t expect them to be quite so young, but in reflection, I thought the meal showcased exactly that.

The stylish couple Chef Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi

The thing about young creatives in any artistic endeavour is that they show respect for what has come before and they honour it, but they also play around to reinvent in a manner that shows their personality and reflects the times – and that’s what keeps us interested.

RESTAURATEUR GIOVANNI MAZZONE WILL BE REMEMBERED AS A GIANT OF A MAN WITH A GENTLE SOUL

DIANE DE BEER

Father and son Giovanni and Forti Mazzone

When Giovanni Mazzone passed away last week, it was with great sorrow that I received the sad news. But it also reminded me of the warmth and gentle smile of someone who very easily crept into your heart.

Paging through stories I had written through the years about the Mazzone father (Giovanni) and son (Forti) team, emphasizes the fact that any of their restaurants but especially Ritrovo (because my focus had been especially at that time), is as much about family and friends as it is about food.

Once you got to know these two very special men, you understood what their restaurants through the years meant to them. As Forti so poignantly wrote on social media the day of his dad’s death, Giovanni died like he lived – surrounded by his family.

That word is writ large in their world and it was always clear for everyone to see. One of my best invites was always to join the post-lunch meal in the deli-side of Ritrovo with the whole family and some staff gathered around the table.

It was a Giovanni institution which he explained was his solution when he realised he had to do something practical about cementing family life when his children were young.

This is what I wrote in the past: Visit the restaurant on any day in the early afternoon and the Mazzone clan and colleagues are gathered around a table enjoying their late lunch. Large bowls of pasta or some of their moreish pizzas are scattered on the table and in-between the patter, the diners are tucking in before they start preparing for the evening rush.

What started as a single restaurant (Giovanni’s brainchild) in Sunnyside a few decades ago has been turned into a small empire by an inspired son.

But that is only one of his legacies. Think of Giovanni the restaurateur and if you are led by your stomach you will remember that he is the bread specialist and to this day, it is his recipe that plays such a huge role in any of their restaurants or coffee bars.

That and of course the magnificent ice cream that was served by all the many BICCCS stores from here to Cape Town and in Franschhoek. And Forti is always very proud to point to his heritage. We were lucky enough to be close to his dad’s birth town in Naples while Forti and his family were doing their annual Italian trek.

He picked us up in Naples and took us to the quaint mountain village of Giovanni’s roots, Pietrastornina  and it was with great pride he introduced us to his dad’s family and showed off the region and the secret of his Italian flair.

It was a day filled with family, friends and the Mazzone warmth and bonhomie. And that started with Giovanni who in contrast with his flamboyant son, was quiet and always gentle with a twinkle in his eye. You could slip into a chair, he would bring a coffee and chat about his life and his world. But always he would make sure that you were content and had everything you needed. His was a quiet yet impactful presence.

Three generations with Forti, Giovanni and granddaughter Isabella Mazzone.

Right up to the end, Forti made sure he was kept busy where he knows what to do and how to be. Brooklyn Bridge’s BICCCS was specially created for his fabulous father and more often than not, that was where you would find his son during the day. These two were inseparable and like father like son, Forti was given the foundation to create what is there today. And rumours are swirling about new ventures!

Pretoria is a city that is known for its family restaurants and by that I mean there are quite a few of our most popular restaurants, which have established themselves because of the family running the establishment.

They love what they are doing, are usually on the premises and the standard has been established and maintained because of dedication and determination.

This is what it meant to those of us visiting the their premises. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Mazzone restaurants through the years.:

“It’s catching, this enthusiastic approach to life which is the ethos that runs through the restaurant. The staff has been empowered to take ownership and it shows from the moment you enter.

That is the secret Mazzone ingredient. It’s tough to invent or teach. You either have it or you don’t and you find it here in abundance. It’s what makes the Ritrovo (and now Forti’s Grill) ritual such a compulsive one.

It’s not just about serving good food in a gracious venue. It’s about the ambience and the attention that makes dining out at this Italian home-from-home such an embracing experience.”

And still Forti says it best: “I, who had the privilege of working with him for 35 years, only knows that he entered life a simple man. He left life calmly and with a simple beauty. But in between. He became an icon. But always part of the people. He served kings. Presidents. Ministers. Captains of industry. But always spoke to a humble sculler with the same respect and warm twinkle in his eyes. Pomposity never impressed him. He had a beautiful way with everyone and they gave it back in ladles. He was a soft touch for those in need. He could never say no. And his grandchildren adored him. And he adored them more.”

For those of us who knew him, the silver fox will be missed but his memory won’t fade. About that – with his gentle soul – he made sure.

BRASSERIE DE PARIS LED BY SARIE JOOSTE JORDAAN TAKE THEIR LEAVE – OR NOT YET

PICTURES: Hennie Fisher

When you are invited to the final meal at a favourite restaurant, there’s naturally some excitement about the event – but also a sadness because of all the memories. DIANE DE BEER predicts this might not be their swan song:

Especially in these Covid19 times, it’s been a tough environment for the restaurant industry. There is, however, one beacon of hope and that is the diners’ awareness about how much they miss restaurants when they’re not there.

Being human as we all are, we tend to take our luxuries for granted until someone takes them away. The place I’m talking about is Tshwane’s Brasserie de Paris, where proprietor Sarie Jooste Jordaan magically created a very special restaurant. It’s something she and architect husband Johan Jooste almost fell into when they were invited by patron-chef Christian du Bois to  become partners in his business.

When he decided to leave, Jooste-Jordaan knew she had the perfect setup. Her husband’s father Karel Jooste had designed and built one of Pretoria’s iconic homes in Waterkloof and while some might argue it’s not the perfect home, it turned out to be the perfect dining venue.

And then they had something to live up to. Expectations were set but Jooste Jordaan had a few aces up her sleeve. Her niece Elze Roome was a trained chef, which made this the perfect solution – a match made in heaven.

That was 26 years ago and in the meantime and a lifetime in the world of a chef, Roome (with her brother as partner and many adventures in-between) has opened a Tashas in Times Square and you just have to experience the buzz to know that they have struck gold – or more likely, they know what they’re doing.

The team from Brasserie through the years and the reason for their success : from left Marlise Whelan, Ané Wait, Sarie Jooste Jordaan, Elze Roome and Loodt van Niekerk (behind)

“It all happened quite organically,” notes Roome, who has kept in touch with all the chefs who followed her at Brasserie about the celebratory final meal. Ané Wait (now from Buffelsfontein Beesboerdery in Greenlyn), Marlise Whelan (lecturer at Capitol Hotel School) and Loodt van Niekerk who pleaded to be head chef on the day because he hadn’t been one previously.

All of these  chefs have a classic slant and drawing up the menu was a full-on team effort. For example, Roome explains that Whelan had created the original apple tart but Wait had refined it. It was a no brainer that it would be the dessert on the day.

Reading through the menu, memories flooded back, as they had put together almost a prototype of everything Brasserie represented. Starting with an amuse bouche of blue cheese cream and figs as well as Springbok carpaccio, these were started with a celebratory welcoming sparkling wine on their amazing roof, which probably everyone there had probably experienced in some madcap dinner. Ours was an Easter affair and one of the best evenings I can remember with the stars all aligning for a spectacular event all those years back.

But that’s what Brasserie has always been. I can’t remember them ever not getting it right. As chef Hennie Fisher always says about them: “One of my personal most favourite elegant dining choices – a sophisticated mix of old world charm and modern flair. And never broke the bank!”

Following Covid protocols as they would, the restaurant again proved its many assets because of the way we were all protected and yet not without managing to create the fondly remembered Brasserie ambience.

I was blessed to be in the company of a chef and two wine connoisseurs, so I knew this was going to be special. Leaving the wine in their capable hands, the men u prompted them to kick off with a white wine (Lismore Viognier) followed by a red (Thelema Merlot 2017).

Once seated we were first presented with a smoked salmon rösti, a smart choice because of the combo and the distinct flavours. Just the right entrée to get you hungry and with what was to follow, we needed that.

A plump scallop, sharp green pea purée and bacon crisp richly finished the seafood side of the menu. Following these teasers, Brasserie got stuck into the serious stuff: meat. I knew when the Japanese Embassy a few years back invited me to lunch here, it was a huge nod of approval. They were especially guided by the quality of meat and I suspect, the no-nonsense approach to things and the stylish setting also appealed to their specific sensibilities.

The trio of meat dishes was led by duck breast and sauce bigarade (orange sauce), a classic combination, followed by lamb loin, basil oil and wild mushroom and completed with a beef fillet, potato crisps and Bearnaise. These were all melt-in-the-mouth

And if it sounds like a mouthful, that’s exactly what it was and still remains my best way of sampling food: a tasting menu. This one was obviously substantial but for those of us riffing on nostalgia, this gang of superb chefs all had a role in establishing this kitchen and to come together in this way, could not make a stronger statement.

Apple Tart

Finishing with the prettiest of apple tarts and mignardise with coffee, it was the perfect dining experience and especially savoured because of the people, the place and of course the times.

My hat off to the gracious Sarie Jooste Jordaan who had no plans to run a restaurant, but given the splendid setting and the right ingredients to make it work her way, in the end it was truly a grand affair.

I remember, part of the original idea was to stick to Du Bois’s menu guidelines and while settling in and finding their feet, they did exactly that. But having established the basic rules they could then start playing around, making it their own.

Patron Sarie Jooste Jordaan (right) and her niece Chef Elze Roome

And that they did with classic flair and flourish. These are peculiar times and I know this is a business that isn’t easy but I just have a feeling that this is not the last we hear from the indomitable Sarie. So I’m tipping my hat to all the chefs for a fantastic experience in the Jooste house – once again. But I’m holding my breath before saying final goodbyes…

And holding thumbs for the next chapter!

CHEF MAHDI SANATKARAN INTRODUCES HIS IRANIAN CULTURE AND CUISINE

It’s become a mission for chef Mahdi Sanatkaran to introduce people to the Iranian culture and cuisine through his glorious meals. DIANE DE BEER experiences one of these gourmet gatherings and chats to the chef:

Pictures: Hennie Fisher and Mahdi’s daughter Maryam.

Iranian chef Mahdi Sanatkaran busy cooking his kebabs

When Iranian born Mahdi Sanatkaran started working with the Iranian Embassy in Bahrain, he didn’t know that 2 and a half decades later he would be cooking Iranian cuisine for South Africans intent on promoting his culture and his cuisine.

The route was a meandering one as he moved with the embassy to Nigeria, where he was appointed as head chef. “I didn’t have any formal training but they gave me some classes at the Foreign Affairs guest house to get me up to speed,” he says.

At one of the embassy events a man asked to meet the chef because the food was so good, and as the general manager of the Hilton in Abuja, he invited Mahdi to join his kitchen to learn more about cooking. “He enjoyed my cooking and wanted to enhance my skills,” explains the amateur chef.

Never someone to miss an opportunity, he worked from 7am to 7pm at the embassy and then he would be off for a stint in the Hilton kitchens. It was his first formal chef’s training which he kept up for quite a few years.

After nine years as an embassy chef with a daughter who was born in Lagos now reaching school-going age, Mahdi and his wife Hamideh Najafi decided to move to Pretoria for suitable schooling. He had met a man who invited him to join him in a restaurant partnership but when they arrived here, he discovered the potential partner didn’t want to invest anymore.

He had a family to support and quickly Mahdi was working in construction, and off to Mauritius on a landscaping job. He was finally appointed as a cameraman, translator and interviewer at the local branch of the Iranian Television Bureau in Pretoria where he worked from 2008 until 2014. He travelled all over Africa interviewing many leaders and heads of state and when they closed the office, he turned to something familiar, food.

Also familiar with the Subway franchise, he was off to the US for training before opening in Menlyn, but he soon realised it was difficult to survive with such exorbitant rentals. Instead he hoped to find a more unique offering by changing to Iranian fast food in the form of kebabs, so popular in his home country.

He changed the name from Subway to Shiraz the Kebab House (a historical city in Iran), but still the venue was problematic. Neither I nor my foodie friends were aware that this Iranian cuisine was on offer in our city and just before Covid-19, which would have closed them anyway, he decided again to try new avenues.

Iranian saffron marinated kebabs

And this is how I finally had the chance to taste Persian food and discover more about its many hidden treasures. Of course with the country not fêted in the rest of the world, little is known about its food and this is what Mahdi finds especially challenging. He wants to change that with every meal he makes.

Together with an import business selling Iranian foodstuffs (tahini, dates, nuts with especially pistachio a favourite, saffron – Iran is the biggest producer, he says – rose water and other rose products and more), he also offers Iranian meals to groups. The idea is to present it at someone’s home. They will invite the (paying) guests, say approximately 20 people at approximately R450 per person, allow Mahdi, his wife and daughter to take over their kitchen for the day, while those attending will be served a very generous Iranian menu.

It’s ideal during this time because you will be in charge of the guest list and it can be hosted – preferably in our summer weather – outside, which will allow for social distancing.

Iranian food, explains Mahdi, covers a huge spectrum. “Every city and region has its own cuisine and culture that comes with it.”

As a starter he served barley soup, a favourite in his country. It’s very traditional and often served with a flat bread but on the day, he didn’t include that because the rest of the menu would prove too overwhelming – and it still was.

This was followed by a meze-type table which Mahdi describes as similar to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines with differences in spices and marinating sauces. Saffron is the star of almost all their dishes with sumac a runner-up, and you’re not easily going to go without aubergine popping up in one or two dishes.

It could be grilled eggplant served in paste form with yogurt and walnuts (called burani and similar to what we would know as baba ganoush) or even a pickled and stuffed version. Accompanying that is something quite close to what we would recognise as tzaziki, perhaps a bit thicker than we’re used to it, with herbs. A typical salad is a shirazi with chopped cucumber, tomato, red onion and mint. Part of the deal which he couldn’t find on the day is what he describes as an unripe grape juice very common in Iran. He knows he can source it here too but also found an alternative solution.

Stuffed and marinated olives with pomegranate paste and walnuts, all Iranian staples, a spinach and bulgur wheat salad and a potato croquettes add to the taste explosion. One has to be careful because there’s mains to come but all of this is so moreish and hard to resist. It’s familiar yet with an unexpected fresh take.

Iranian chicken kebabs on the fire

Many of us could easily have stopped eating at this point, completely replenished, but the mains and dessert were yet to come. Kebab, an Iranian specialty, was on the menu with two favourites, a saffron-marinated chicken kebab (jooje kebab) and a grounded lamb cholo kebab, which means it is served with a loose Basmati-type rice. When you get the family talking about Iranian rice, they are in full agreement that this is the best rice in the world. “The scent of it alone lingers,” says daughter Maryam, who is in her final year to qualify as an industrial engineer.

Another Iranian treasure is something called tahdig (translated as potato crust). Mahdi describes this simply as a knockout! When they cook rice, potatoes are put in the bottom of the pan to prevent the rice from burning and this crispy crust is brought to the table for the guests to pick at. “If we don’t serve it, guests will ask,” he says, comparing it to that special ingredient not to be missed!

Also something unusual and part of the meal is a rice cake (tahchin), which is exactly what it sounds like but it has a crust and is made in a square. Sometimes it has a chicken filling or I suspect a chef can play around.

An Iranian rice pudding

The meal concluded with a rice pudding, which is another version of something we’re quite familiar with but by that time, I didn’t even have the tiniest space.

One doesn’t think about the cuisines you don’t know and hardly hear about because of those available out there. But one of the many benefits post-1994 has been the introduction of so many flavours to the South African food scene.

Contact Mahdi (who comes as a package deal with his wife and daughter) if you’re interested in hosting an Iranian feast. You can discuss the menu and everything about the event according to your needs and wants. He doesn’t supply the drinks, and guests bring their own. But nothing can prepare you for something presented with such warmth and deliciousness.

For more detail or to discuss bookings, contact Mahdi on email: sanatkaran2001@yahoo.com or on Instagram: @persian_food_stop.

Changing Lanes, Hilary Prendini Toffoli Turns to Italy and Food for Debut Novel

 

With Covid19 hastening the demise of print media (in this country but also across the world) as we know it, journalist Hilary Prendini Toffoli knew she had to reinvent herself – and she has, in most intriguing fashion. DIANE DE BEER chats to the veteran journalist about her first novel Loves & Miracles of Pistola (Penguin):

“I worked on Pistola on and off for several years when I was a journalist, but it was only when the media industry was really crumbling that I decided to reinvent myself and complete the novel,” explains Hilary Prendini Toffoli (Penguin).

Yet it is something that started even before her journalism career. She had her first short story published in what was then The Cape Argus when she was about 20, a BA student at UCT. Later she joined The Argus and became the company’s first female sub-editor.

Then she moved to Joburg and ran the Star Woman with Sue Grant Marshall (another journalist turned author) doing the Woman’s Page.

Where I became hooked on her writing was during her time as  a journalist for Style (remember them?) from 1983 to 2006 covering everything “from social and political satire and profiles (21 eligible bachelors in one story), to features about high profile local murders and rapes, as well as writing edgy short stories.”

Then she went freelance doing features and columns for a wide variety of publications including Noseweek, Insig, Financial Mail, City Press, Business Day, House&Leisure etc.

For her the move from journalism wasn’t difficult. “Over the years I’d written a few terrible unpublished novels, both here and overseas in my twenties, living in Spain, France, England and Japan, trying to find myself, that old cliché enacted out by a lot of us those days.”

What also came into play were all these interesting characters she’s interviewed over the years which gave her a helluva lot of material. “I think much of it went into the subconscious, to come spilling out when I write. So the process of writing fiction is not for me a case of ‘Open a vein and bleed’ as someone once described it. My MO is more on the lines of what Stephen King says. ‘Put interesting characters in interesting situations and see what happens.’”

She does however make it sound easier than it is. Not all journalists have books in them even though it is also about writing, it is something completely different. Yet those familiar with her work will not be surprised. Hilary’s interviews were special. She had an acerbic eye but was never unkind – funny yes, and capturing the zeitgeist of her time, absolutely. And she never took life – or herself – too seriously.

She is right when she notes in our correspondence that Love & Miracles of Pistola came at the right time. “In these tricky Covid times the book’s nostalgic flavour has given a lift to readers. Plus they love the food angle because they’re all cooking more than ever before. And they love Pistola because he had his own battles and survived,” she reports.

Hilary in her kitchen

The characters of Pistola and his grandfather Nonno Mario first popped into her mind during the long stretches of an Eastern Cape road trip. “I’d wanted to write about the life of my husband Emilio who grew up in a post-war Northern Italian village in the fertile Po Valley with pigs as big as small Fiats, and where people have survived in spite of the battles that have raged for centuries over these maize and rice fields. This was a way to do it.”

But for local readers especially, it’s more than just looking back. It’s also the diversity of our  people – always a South African strength – that captures the reader’s imagination. We’re all lovers of Italian food (and that isn’t an exaggeration), and this is a story which gives us insight into some  of the roots of all that glorious Italian food … today still.

Hilary explains: “At first the story revolved around food and its importance in this place where the daily greeting is “So have you had a good meal?” Then I remembered the piece I’d written for Style magazine on the young Italians brought to South Africa in the fifties as train stewards by the Nationalist Government. I’d got great anecdotes from several who were still here running restaurants.

Hilary and her husband Emilio
Picture: Alex Moss

“So I put Pistola into this story and it really worked. I could show that repressive political era through the eyes of these naive young foreigners, most of them in their teens, with Pistola going to places like Sophiatown and the Malay Quarter. For an Italian village boy, South Africa’s increasingly racist laws were a challenge, but also a journey of self-discovery – Pistola’s miracles.”

And she says it herself: “What makes the story particularly interesting for South Africans is the fact that many of those Italians then stayed on and opened restaurants all over the country, introducing Italian cuisine to people whose only knowledge of Italian food was Heinz spaghetti on toast. Places like La Perla in Sea Point gave South Africans not only great pastas and pizzas but also a taste of Italy’s extraordinary range of culinary masterpieces.”

We can all agree when she says that it was the beginning of a love affair with Italy.

What is also evident is that her husband, Emilio, being a great cook, played no small role. At one stage he had a deli in Oranjezicht, and he made most of the takeaway foods. Lasagne, ravioli, cannelloni, gnocchi, parmigiana di melanzane, minestrone, osso buco, chicken cacciatore, pesto Genovese, and tubs of sauce – arrabbiata, amatriciana, napolitana. “Clients loved to come and talk to him about their Italian holidays. It was then I began to realise how South Africans love Italy. Not only the food. Also the art, the music and the picturesque towns and villages with their fountains, piazzas and romantic Roman ruins.”

Personally, she has no Italian blood. “My first encounter with Italians and their culture was on the Lloyd Triestino ships that used to sail between Venice and Cape Town in the sixties. Far cheaper than airflight In those days. Those two-week trips were heaven. Great food and music, and good-looking officers!

“I’m a WASP, born and brought up in Cape Town. My mother Constance Young was a prolific journalist for the old Outspan magazine. She also wrote short stories that won prizes on the radio. So for me writing has been a lifelong obsession. Especially fiction.”

Author Hilary Prendini Toffoli

The book has also been a family affair in other ways. “I was lucky to have my daughter Caterina, a graphic designer with Yuppiechef, do the vibrant cover. 

“Meanwhile I so enjoyed writing Pistola I’ve just finished the second in my Italian trilogy. Not a sequel to Pistola but the story of another young Italian migrant, Furio, an opera-singing romantic with a broken heart and a volcanic core, who finds himself working on the farm of a great white hunter in Kenya at the time of the Mau Mau. Challenging stuff he has to find ways to deal with.”

And that’s done in Hilary’s typical Sjournalist style! While still in the throes of doing publicity for her first, she has already completed the second – and I would not put it past her to be already working on the third.

So start where it matters, and get onto this first one. It’s a great read, informative, and captures a country and its people in a particular time.