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.

NATANIЁL – A MAN ON THE MOVE

Nataniel ToegangMany can argue about who suffered (s) most with the appearance of Covid 19 but few will disagree that artists, who make a living by performing to a live audience, have been hit hard. Even the world’s top concert halls are struggling with no end in sight. One of our most prolific artists, Nataniël, tells DIANE DE BEER how he tries to navigate his career during the pandemic:

 

 With NANTES KOOKBOEK finishing this week, Nataniël’s latest series, TOEGANG, starts the following week – but getting that done, as everything else during Covid, was no easy task.

“The series originally planned will hopefully be done next year,” explains the artist. “The concept was a logical follow-up to the series shot in Nantes, to be filmed on the original le Roux farm just outside Kuilsriver.”

Things kept changing but because of lockdown and the necessary protocol, Nataniël  had to do some quick thinking when he realised they had to shoot where they all lived. And that was Pretoria.

“The concept came from being alone in my house for months and realising how simply I actually live and how simple my meals were,” he says. For him, delicious food, made in just one pan, became the limit for for washing-up activities. That sorted the food for the series.

He also realised how many gorgeous buildings in the city would be deserted because of the pandemic, buildings he always wanted to spend time in, but not with the crowds that would usually be there. “So I took my pan and a very small crew and went there.”

Speaking about these lightning-fast changes and the way the series had to be shot, he admitted it suited his way of working. It actually meant a spike in his already high-powered creativity levels. “I loved it. We could do what we wanted, all these fantastic spaces gave us the opportunity to create beautiful scenes, film very dramatic visuals and work without disturbances. KykNET let me be, nobody looked over my shoulder and all the strict rules made me feel safe. I had a tough time with the make-up part, because somebody had to touch me, but I bit my lip and got through it.”

Those who have interviewed Nataniël  will know that getting info about an upcoming programme or concert is like pulling teeth. Not the gist of it, but the detail. He is a man who lives for surprises. When you sit down to watch a programme or enjoy a show, he believes the less you know the better. “I tell nobody about the places we went to, that will be revealed in every episode.”

“Tragically there are no surprises on TV since Oprah left, everything is blurted out for marketing, so there is nothing to look forward to.”

But he reluctantly admits that they work according to themes, every episode has an inspired menu for which he got his ideas from the locations, history, plus his life in isolation. (“Apart from going back on stage now, I am still in lockdown, because I love it. And I will wear the mask for the rest of my life, I look fantastic and it is much cheaper than Botox.”)

nataniel oils2

He also introduces artists who made things for the programmes, including artworks, ceramics, fabrics, prints, jewellery and, of course, some surprises. 

And another secret he allows to slip … Very often a local magazine series get an original theme tune, but there rest comes from a library of canned music. “This time I had the opportunity to write and produce a full soundtrack and be in the studio for all the sessions. (With a mask and bottles of sanitiser!) That was a great experience and fantastic to work with all the musicians after months without performing a single note.”

Shooting locally for the first time in some time following a revamp of the Nantes series, was quite strange. “The European visuals are very filmic, there’s a castle or a cathedral or a museum everywhere you turn and you need to do very little to make a scene beautiful. Also finding props here was a challenge as (at the time) many shops were still closed and nothing new had come into the country for months,” always a Nataniël requirement. He hates introducing and showing things people know.

Looking ahead, Covid has given Nataniël  time to think and make some decisions. “First of all I want to dress more wildly. I realised I am still scared of what people think, but the virus took that away.

Nataniel in full colour
Nataniël in full colour

“I will also stop dumbing down musically because of my fears that the audience will not like complicated or eccentric or sophisticated or unfamiliar songs. At the Woordfees in March I performed a very modern cover song with a very abrupt ending and there was absolute silence afterwards. Then I realised nobody in the audience has heard that song yet, although it was a worldwide hit. So I stopped singing it. During isolation I decided, to hell with that, that song will be back in the new show. Life is too short to compromise.”

It’s about time!

Nataniel gesels

Now he needs to get back on stage which, not surprisingly is what he misses most. “I start with GESELS, my lifestyle talk series, every Saturday in October at the Atterbury Theatre (in Pretoria) starting this coming Saturday. Bookings on iTickets.

“Then in November Charl du Plessis and I will finally do our gala concert to celebrate working together for 20 years.” TWINTIG, the gala Concert with Charl, Sunday November 15 at 3pm in the  Atterbury Theatre. Bookings on iTickets. “In December I will stage a new production, as always.” Bookings will also be on iTickets.

He has also launched the LIVE LIKE N collection of healthy cooking oils which can be ordered at https://liveliken.com/. And a new book (a collection of short stories) will be available in October. 

Nataniël has been working on his blog called SmallCoronation.com, which was quietly released recently. “It is all about simple food in beautiful settings, creating atmosphere. I see it as sharing my personal archive with others with all the food coming from dinners at my house.

“There’s no interaction and talking nonsense with people I do not know, just an online magazine to be looked at with a cup of tea when somebody needs a break. No strange ingredients, no modern techniques, just fun, ideas and hopefully inspiration.

“It will be launched with the TOEGANG series next Monday at 8.30pm on kykNET and the English version of all the recipes will also be available on the blog.”

And if you were wondering  in anticipation about the next memoir…

Nataniel boek

That will have to wait says the author. “Too many of the characters are still alive. And LOOK AT ME (KYK NA MY) still needs to get the attention it deserves. Everything stopped when I had to stop performing and touring.”

But for the moment, the new normal kicks into action and Nataniël in full colour steps into the spotlight with even more than his usual fanfare.

I’ll be watching for those outlandish costumes and outfits as well as the music he really loves to sing … whether they like it or not!

TOEGANG starts on Monday October 5 at 8.30pm on DStv’s kykNET.

Lientjie Wessels Showcases Connections Between Food and Cultures in Geure

Cover and food pictures: Donna Lewis

Foodstyling: Hannes Koegelenberg

Anyone who knows artist/chef/stylist/entrepreneur Lientjie Wessels will remember her for her imagination and individuality. It is exactly those two elements that she exhibits so joyfully in her new recipe book titled Geure (flavours by Annake Müller Publishing). DIANE DE BEER spoke to the author:

As Lientjie tells it, she has for a long time been thinking of writing a cookery book. “My love of  strong flavours and tastes came to the fore when I participated in kykNET’s Kokkedoor 3,” she says. And those of us who know her were quite surprised by her participation. But no one more so than Lientjie herself. That’s just who she is.

The first time I bumped into the extraordinary imagination of the larger-than-life Lientjie was with her Brooklyn Mall shop Lemon Lounge. You knew immediately if this was your kind of place or not and if it was, you were hooked on the Lientjie sensibility and style, which is all her own and has a charm that is completely unique. Her food and her fine art are interlinked and -twined – similarly in this book, which makes this one such a feast for the eyes with the food further enhanced by her paintings.

Her spectacular flair and flights of imagination flourished during her years in magazine styling and also in her much-loved restaurant Li-bel in Sunnyside and later Albizia in Cullinan and for a while on a family farm in that neighbourhood.

There has always been something of a gypsy about Lientjie, the way she embraces life and everything it offers. For those of us who favoured her food tables, there was always the knowledge that it might all be gone tomorrow, but also that it would appear in some other form – as it always does.

That’s why this book, which encapsulates it all, is such a treasure – so if your Afrikaans language skills are on par, this is one worth checking out.

Because flavours, which were introduced to Lientjie by her mother (to whom the book is dedicated), have played such an important role in her food journey, this is the focus: vinegar, citrus, ginger, olives and olive oil, flowers, chilly and mustard, honey, saffron and vanilla, garlic, herbs, spices and salt, sumac and tamarind, nuts, sesame seeds and tahini.

Yum!

Lientjie and Robert.jpg
Soulmates: Lientjie Wessels and the late Robert Denton

She was helped by her late husband Robert (who sadly died suddenly last year) with the writing and, like with everything these two life travellers tackled, it is quirky and simply a joy to experience. Each chapter starts with a description of the flavour showcased and in many of them, Lientjie’s mother’s influence surfaces. “My first memories of vinegar,” she writes, “is absolutely the rows and rows of pickled onions that my mom made each year.”

And then the recipes follow and in this instance it stretches from pickled walnuts on toast with goat’s milk cheese and fast fridge pickle. Citrus is included in recipes of lemon mousse, lemon curd, soup with lamb shanks, rice and lemon, pork fillet with a lime sauce, fruit salad and more.

Lientjie’s food has always been rooted in South Africa but with a strong dose of Middle Eastern and Asian flavours. Her mother was her first and strongest influence and, according to Lientjie, started to cook because hér mother could not. “My grandmother taught me everything else, but  not about making food.”

Lientjie Gnocci
Spinach and ricotta gnocchi

From the first time we talked about food, she has talked about her boredom threshold, and she believes that her restaurant days were always doomed, because she couldn’t be bothered to make a dish more than three times. By then she had achieved everything she wanted. Also probably influenced by her mother, who had such an unusual palate and constantly introduced her family to new flavours and textures. “She always wanted to make something new,” notes Lientjie.

But of course, that’s also what made her dining experiences so unique and unusual. She has a very distinct signature and the menu would always be a surprise. Similarly she has achieved that individuality in this absorbing book.

The colours are vibrant and welcoming, the food – apart from being grouped according to flavour – is a lovely mix of starters, mains and desserts with sauces, snacks, breakfasts and more.

There’s never anything conventional or contrived about this artist. She is probably the last one I would have expected to appear on Kokkedoor and yet, in the end, it resulted in this fantastic book and when you listen to her, she also discovered a newfound confidence in her cooking during the show.

She also realised that she really likes food. Anyone who has had a restaurant will know that it must be one of the most challenging endeavours to attempt . She did it twice and then created a very niche way of dining. It was spectacular and appealed to a select and very loyal group of diners. Local chefs will tell you that South Africans are tough to feed and Pretoria, I have often been informed, is an especially  difficult market at best.

But some of my best experiences were either at a pavement table at Li-bel with Lientjie and Robert’s dogs lying around, drinking a coffee after a delicious meal and never feeling I had to rush anything; or checking in for a Sunday meal at Albizia with Robert, a storyteller extraordinaire, entertaining us with his fables of life on the fast side.

And then there’s Lientjie’s art. It has been incorporated into the book in simply the best way and introduces even more of the way her mind and creativity works. For her, when she makes food or paints, the same principles come into play. “I can taste things in my head,” she says. It’s all conceptual, exactly like her art. “It’s about balance, colour and texture.”

Lientjie Wessels1
Lientjie Wessels

 

Looking at the future, she wants to find a way to make people and cultures touch one another. “We have so many connections through food,” she explains.

And then she shares her delights in the best way she knows how – with her recipes and through her art.

 

 

For more detail on buying the book, contact Annake Müller Publishing: annakem@mweb.co.za. After lockdown they will be sending those books via courier.

Prue Leith: A Splash of Vibrant Colour

Pictures: Corne Ann Photography.

Prue Leith school

With her recent visit to the Prue Leith Culinary Institute in Centurion, mainly to celebrate their success as well as her 80th birthday, it’s her youthfulness that bowls you over. DIANE DE BEER finds out more about her unstoppable drive:

It’s Prue Leith’s constant refrain when talking about yet another venture, “I’m a  commercial woman”, and how fast she runs her life, that keeps her young. The energy obviously rubs off, that and her exuberance, her dazzling embrace of bright colours, and partner John Playfair who never stops the banter, but also gives a helping hand when she moves around the room for book signings.

Prue Leith and partner
Partners in cameraderie John Playfair and Prue Leith.

That’s just who she is. Instead of asking everyone to stand in line, she moves around the room to do the necessary with John in tow for selfies and anything else she might need, the perfect team.

In town for amongst other her birthday celebrations (she wanted to do some of that in Cape Town as well), she admits that she isn’t that happy that everyone knows her age. But when she opened her restaurant in London at the age of 29, she was loud and proud about the achievement.

Ever practical, Prue isn’t too fussed and chats happily about her many endeavours, of which her return to the food world precipitated much of what is bubbling in her booming business sphere.

Prue blowing out the candles...finally!
Hurricane Prue blowing out the candles in her exuberant style.

At the time of her first association with the food world, the British food establishment was in the clutches of Escoffier (but not in the right way, according to Prue), it had become stifled, always sticking to the rules and not taking heed of the great French master’s advice that one had to move with the times. “It was all about following the rules and if it wasn’t Escoffier, it wasn’t cuisine,” she says.

“You would find all the same items on the menus across London,” she says. When she left, she started campaigning in the food world for good school lunches, for example, and another successful launch was her fiction writing, which resulted in a clutch of novels and a revealing memoir. And she’s still writing because it is something she loves.

After a break of 25 years, she was lured back into the food world as a judge on The Great British Menu and discovered a brave new world. “It was so different with the chefs all turning to flavours from the  Middle East, for example,” and she found herself stealing their recipes.

Suddenly chefs were regarded as the great artists they had become and were taken more seriously. All of this appealed to Prue as after 11 years she was lured to The Great British Bake-Off, replacing Mary Berry when the show moved to Channel 4 in March 2017

Prue Leith dessert
An extravaganza of honey festivity, Ode to Bees,  at Prue Leith’s Chef’s Academy as they spotlight the role of bees with some food for thought.

Not only is it one of the most watched shows on British TV, it also has a huge younger demographic. “The children are all watching,” she says, which has brought her new-found fame in the food world. “I was absent for so long and suddenly there are new generations discovering me.”

Prue pretty in red
Prue, pretty in red, casts her much prized eye in the kitchen.

She’s excited about this younger generation who probably all start off baking cupcakes but even if baking is what gets them started, they will follow with cooking meals. She recently participated in the first Junior Bake-Off series with the children ranging in age from 9 to 15 years. “I thought it was unfair, that the younger participants would be at a disadvantage, but it wasn’t the case,” she says.

What she discovered during her conversations with the youngsters is that most of them learnt to bake and cook on Youtube. To her it doesn’t matter how it happens. “The more children bake, the more will cook,” she believes.

Prue Leith and another selfie...
Prue Leith and a selfie with 2nd year student, Obakeng Chiloane.

Even a stop at a petrol station means endless selfie moments says John. But what really excited Prue with her re-entry into the food world was the opening up of new vistas. She published a new recipe book after a long absence and was urged by her publishers to start with an introductory book covering all her favourite recipes, rather than launching into a specific genre.

She followed this with The Vegetarian Kitchen together with her niece, pastry chef and vegetarian Peta Leith. “I have wanted to do this for ages but 25 years ago, my publishers advised that a similar title would not sell,” she says. Even though she is not a vegetarian herself, she has always been partial to vegetables and had a full vegetarian menu alongside the main menu in her Michelin-starred restaurant.

These days, she often opts for vegetables but isn’t preachy about it.

A totally new venture and one she’s eager to promote is her collaboration with eye wear specialists Ronit Fürst. She was quick to make a note of the many people that asked her about the brightly coloured specs she was wearing on Bake-Off.

They were hand painted and expensive but her timing was right when she approached the company to come up with a bright yet more affordable series which is now also available in South Africa. She advises that one simply googles Prue Leith glasses. I did and found a few optometrists in Joburg but with the range available locally, you optometrist should be able to get hold of the distributors. When you see the range, you will want them.

Prue’s advice: “Shoes and handbags spend most of their time under the table. Across a table, people are looking at your face – hence the glasses.” Always the sensible woman.

Prue Leith graduate
A graduate that gives them bragging rights.

And then to a matter of the heart. It took Prue a while before she became involved with a cookery school but from the start, she was hands-on with the Prue Leith College of Food (1997) named Prue Leith Chefs Academy (10 years later) and now another decade on, Prue Leith Culinary Institute. She visited sometimes twice a year and was always aware of what was happening and where she could offer advice.

Prue with the Prue Leith staff
Prue with the female-dominated staff at Prue Leith Culinary Institute: From Left to right: Nicola Eksteen, Executive Chef, Prue Leith CBE, Patron, Maria Dixon, Head of Training, Adele Stiehler-van der Westhuizen, Managing Director, Debby Laatz, Head of Academics .

These days with the classy Adele Stiehler-van der Westhuizen as Managing Director and a brilliant female-dominated team of super chefs, Prue hardly has to do more than admire – and she’s smiling.

“I am so proud,” she says and as the trooper she is, she returns enthusiastically to yet another of the many functions hosted on this celebratory visit.

For more info, check http://www.prueleith.co.za