Book festivals are becoming more and more popular but if you think they’re easy to curate and organise, think again. You have to think about the where, when and who, what kind of topics you want to present, find a balance between light and weighty, none of which will give you a sure-fire result. Deborah Steinmair from Vrye Weekblad cooked with the right ingredients. DIANE DE BEER was there:
Pictures supplied by Vrye Weekblad
Cullinan was the chosen spot for Vrye Weekblad’s first Gauteng Boekefees following the success of the Cape equivalent in Stilbaai last year. They’re also following with a third one in the Free State’s Clarens in July and there is talk of another one in the Cape. (If you’re interested, follow their social media…)
But this time, book genius Deborah Steinmair was the one who had to get all her ducks in a row. First she found the perfect venue, a church with a large hall, all on one property with parking across the road and in walking distance from where most people would be staying during the weekend.
Architecturally, if that’s your thing, it also had the perfect look. It is a Herbert Baker design after all and that’s what these kinds of towns dotted all across the country offer. Think Dullstroom, Clarens, Tulbach, and more…
And as the visitors started arriving on the Friday afternoon for the editors’ launch Daar’s ‘n Mier in my Broek (There are ants in my pants) with Max du Preez, Anneliese Burgess and Piet Croucamp, it was obvious that the weekend would draw a crowd.
Politics in this country is part of our daily bread – especially now – and if you have a few breakaway voices setting the tone, you’re getting it right. But then that’s been a Vrye Weekblad trademark. You had to be there to catch their drift but what really hit the mark for me was the collective decision that we need new ideas not new ideologies.
And then a few pointers. Watch out for distractions. From what did the media turn their gaze when they were so obsessed with the Thabo Bester saga? But there’s good news on that front as well. Who would have known that Parliament could do such a deep dive when investigating Bester’s miraculous escape?
Lientjie Wessels (left) with chicken croquettes and venison and miso bobotie.
This was followed by another Deborah brainwave: asking one of our most inventive chefs, Lientjie Wessels, to host an old-fashioned grand dinner in what was once a diamond town.
The menu and pictures do the talking: from tomato soup with togarashi, to squash hummus, chicken croquettes, roasted beetroot with feta and herb crumbs followed by a venison and miso bobotie with the traditional yellow rice and pear chutney, and concluding with a Persian love cake with lemon caramel.
And if you are wondering, like I did, about togarashi, it is described as a common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients. It’s one of the things I love about Lientjie’s food, I always learn something. Also, you know that every meal by this creative genius will be something extraordinary, and I’m not exaggerating.
We stayed in the Cullinan Hotel and here I also have to give a plug, I was pleasantly surprised. Nothing fancy, but smartly yet simply renovated furnishings in the rooms turned this into a pleasant stay as well
Dinner by candlelight at the Boekefees.
The next morning kicked off with Renée Rautenbach Conradie’s discussion with author Willemien du Preez on her book described as autofiction, ‘n Plaas se Prys. And what that means is that the story is based on her life but interwoven with fictional elements. The talk was titled Futility farm and the Afrikaner’s farm gene. The drift of the story is a couple following their dream, buying a farm and then finding themselves literally and figuratively overwhelmed by the elements – with dust and flies dominating.
It’s a universal story of broken dreams … and yet she lives to tell the tale and probably another, and another.
A highlight was a collective group of feisty women authors who captured the imagination and the spirit of the book fest.
Borrel, gorrel, smoeg en wroeg (loosely translated à la Shakespeare: boil, bubble, toil and trouble) Women who write can bewitch: including Gerda Taljaard (Vier Vroue), Bettina Wyngaard (Lokval), Renée Rautenbach Conradie (Met die Vierkleur in Parys), Michèle Meyer (Moer), Celeste Theron (her first will be released in the next few months), Emma Bekker (Vel), and Marida Fitzpatrick (Mara).
Deborah took the reins: one needs her kind of wicked humour to get the sharp-tongued talk going and with these more recent than others, but all spending stolen or free time on words.
Asked about feminism, the responses varied from an aversion to labels to Wyngaard’s struggle with the basics. If people aren’t accepted as equal yet, how can we ignore the fight?
Some members of the panel are inspired to write by history, others want to investigate certain questions, yet another talks about fever dreams or even nightmares when awake. There are also those thoughts that burst through from the unconscious just before you nod off and another feels for her, writing is the only way to express herself.
And just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons, Deborah wanted to know whether women write better sex scenes than men.
For Gerda it was simple: The male gaze can be quite technical. Replace that with a woman’s perspective and it’s softer, more subtle.
And then I have to agree with Anneliese Burgess about the deeply serious closing conversation of the day between editor Max du Preez and writers Johann van Loggerenberg (former head of the investigative unit at SARS) and Pieter du Toit discussing ANC Billionaires and Rogues.
It’s the kind of meaty discussion, “an in-depth analysis about the state of the nation”, is how Burgess describes is, you want to conclude with, even though I sadly had to leave after the cheerful chatter of the female authors.
Sunday suitably swung into a gathering of poets (Johan Myburg, Jolyn Phillips, Kirby van der Merwe, Eunice Basson, Martjie Bosman, Emma Bekker, Johann Lodewyk Marais, Pieter Odendaal and Jaco van der Merwe) who did their reading in the Baker church before a final meal with Frik de Jager whose selected dishes each told its own story.
And just like that, it was all finish and klaar. With the next one just around the corner.
I have been a Lientjie Wessels fan forever – of her food, her art, her writing and more. Having tried for quite some time to go to one of her Cullinan long tables, I was excited when finally I could go with a group of foodie friends for one of her delightfully quirky meals.
That has always been part of her charm for me. She makes the kind of food with ingredients I really love. A long time ago she told me that for her mother, who passed on her love of food to her daughter, it was all about taste. I think she also taught her about unusual flavours and combinations.
What Hennie loved about the dish was once again her creative playfulness. “It’s the clever way she emulated bonito with the fine powder biltong, almost turning the biltong into a kind of ‘land’ bonito,” he explains. “But also because she so cleverly combines meat and fish (even if both are dried), because it is so often a combination used in Asian cuisine. And how brilliant to make that connection with biltong and bonito!”
Just listing the ingredients should inform anyone about her innovative choices. But she’s not just throwing things together. Her cooking is instinctive yet thoughtful and she knows her customers. In her kitchen, she is always at play. And for diners, this is a fun adventure if you’re up for it.
The next one stuck to the Asian theme and clever combo with peri-peri prawns and miso with sesame coleslaw. It was just a dream and perfectly cooked. She seamlessly ticks all the boxes.
A Lientjie meal is possibly the only time I won’t shy away from krummelpap (maize, polenta), not one of my favourite foods but I knew if anyone could, she would convert me. She won me over with her specific buttermilk version served with Koji beef rump, a ginger steakhouse sauce (how can you not fall in love with that choice!) and pickled cucumber. It’s in the detail and the combinations, everything contributes to that single spoonful taste explosion.
And to perfectly conclude in Japanese style, the dessert, a cotton cheesecake with cinnamon syrup and tennis biscuit crumbs, sealed the deal, which I proclaimed perfection. Even as a cheesecake fanatic and two visits to Japan, I had never encountered a Japanese cheesecake before.
And blessings to the internet, which explained that this version is also known as a soufflé-style cheesecake, usually lighter in texture and less sweet than the more traditional version. But then also to serve it with Tennis biscuit crumbs! How could she not?
It’s not only the food that’s spectacular – the fact that Lientjie no longer has a restaurant in Cullinan hasn’t deterred her one bit. She simply commands the kitchens of friends in venues that contribute to the ambience of the event. And this one certainly did as I’m sure each one will. The walk up to the house was like stepping into a fairy tale.
Lientjie has recently bought a house in Richmond (Cape), a town that is fast becoming yet another food destination but with added interests like Die Karoo Padstal, Richmond Rooms and Café, MAP gallery with one of the best local art collections you will find anywhere, a bookshop to keep you busy for days and much more. It’s the perfect halfway stop.
And in future, when she’s in town, she will also be doing lunch in Richmond, like on April 9 when she is presenting a fantastic feast. If you’re passing through or sleeping over, book a table. She’s also doing a dinner in Cullinan at the Vrye Weekblad Boeke Fees, which promises to be spectacular.
Check her out on Facebook and Instagram for information. And whatsapp her on 082 531 6141 for bookings.
But while in Richmond, that’s also the location of my other much loved chef, Klaradyn Grobler of Richmond Café and Rooms and Die Karoo Padstal fame, who is also back in business. Yet she is still arguably the hardest booking to pin down.
I was thrilled when on our last trip to Cape Town, to show the London family the best of the best, we could manage to secure a booking for dinner while sleeping over at another guesthouse, one with an attached gallery – it is that kind of town, one with many hidden gems.
We had the best of all worlds to show off this spectacular landscape with a dinner celebrating Karoo lamb included. On our journey that morning we were sent the menu on our phones with three of us opting for lamb chops with roasted vegetables, while I couldn’t resist the lamb curry and one of the diners who couldn’t eat lamb, had a bacon pizza.
As with Lientjie, the venue is just as important as the food. In fact, I recognised Klaradyn’s style (having seen it in the Free State) when I first had a meal at her Richmond Café and Rooms. It’s unmistakable, buzzing with creativity and probably complemented by her husband Nicol’s architectural skills.
And with both these chefs, their style enhances the full experience. On the night, we had two charming women in the kitchen, and as they had our choice of meals ahead of time, everything ran very smoothly.
We sat down at 6 pm because the kitchen closed at 7 (one listens to their commands!) and were presented with what was the perfect starter, home-baked bread (deliciously thick slices) with farm butter and fresh tomatoes from the garden. We had to battle not to indulge to the point of messing with our mains.
And then the main attraction. I absolutely lost my heart to Simon’s lamb curry with flatbread even though the lamb chops (I had a taste) were fantastic. For me the curry had just the right flavours to celebrate the lamb and after a long day’s travel, it was the best comfort food.
The chops were served with roasted vegetables in just the right mix. It is a skill to present a simple meal to perfection. There’s nowhere to hide so everything has to work. And it does!
On the counter was the night’s dessert, a bumper milktart, which had us licking our lips. At R250 a meal, it’s a steal.
Both these chefs, Lientjie and Klaradyn, popped in to discuss their food and acknowledge that they were dealing with diners who are devotees of their special way with food. We appreciated that.
It’s not difficult to understand these two spectacular women, the way they cook and how in different ways they celebrate their strengths. For me part of the charm is their similar ethos, presenting diners with food to die for and yet, their menus are so different. It’s about how they go about it and what they come up with – and in the end, as they say, the proof is in the pudding!
For bookings and info: Richmond Café and Rooms 079 755 8285.
What makes Tshwane such a fascinating foodie region is not just the restaurants or even home-cook scene, but also the many culinary teaching institutions that constantly produce fantastic events, always value for money and with cuisine that is usually forward thinking or at least on the edge of what is happening in the food world. DIANE DE BEER shares her two latest experiences with the city’s smart young training chefs and the way they are guided by the best, including Tashas’ Elze Roome, Geet’s Gita Jivan and Capital Hotel School’s Marlise Whelan, as well as Hennie Fisher of Consumer and Food Sciences at the University of Pretoria:
It started for me at the Capital Hotel School with chef Marlise Whelan inviting Geet’s Gita and Tashas’ Elze Roome to guide the students through an evening of film and food.
The title of the evening was The Hundred Foot Journey, but the movie was simply an inspiration as watching and eating don’t always work well together.
And with this trio of chefs, you wanted to pay attention! It started with bread simply presented with a fresh sourdough, tomato, radish, olive oil, green olives and aioli. This girl could not think of a more perfect start.
The amuse bouche was the drop-dead combo of mignonette oyster and chicken liver paté, followed by the first starter of prawns and Hollandaise which included quail egg and caviar to complete the pretty picture.
The second starter took me back to the ‘60s when my mom, who was a keen dinner party cook, often served mushroom vol au vent, but these spectacular numbers boasted wild mushroom in a creamy ragout and this updated version is especially delicious.
Wild Mushroom Vol au Vent and Prawns and Hollandaise.
Before the mains, the palate cleanser was a tangy lime sorbet followed by an Indian Feast. Gita did her thing with platters of Dhal Arancini, Badami Murgh Tikka Masala, Nalli Gosht, Lemon and Cashew rice, Rumali Roti, poppadom with achar and sweet chili.
I can easily be bought with a roti, so to add all the delicious Indian spices and sauces with hints of cardamom, saffron, ginger, cinnamon and the list goes on, was la taste sensation. It was a licking of fingers as the dhal and the tikka masala had to share honour with the lemon and cashew rice, a poppadom for those who still had room and then there was more.
The desserts included an orange phyllo mille feuille as well as cardamom chocolate ganache, orange confit and sabayon and a pineapple halva with almonds and rose petals.
It was a dreamy meal with Warwick, Simonsig, Paul Cluver and Pierre Jourdan sharing the wine honours.
It was lovely to bump into the bubbly managing director of the Capital Hotel School, Ronel Bezuidenhout, and the evening, magnificently presented from every point of view – parking to presentation of the food – was a huge success. It was great to see that they are maintaining standards and that there’s as much enthusiasm amongst the young chefs of the future as there ever was.
The spectacularly colourful Mapula Embroideries servers.
A few weeks later it was the turn of Hennie Fisher’s students to impress. The menu on the day showcased indigenous produce and products, one of their regular annual features and something I really enjoy.Dene Kirsten was tasked with creating the menu but in the end it was a group effort between her as Chef de Cuisine and the BConsumer Science Hospitality Fourth Years in different roles all participating in testing and perfecting each menu item before the finalised version was served.
We can argue for years about a typical South African meal and some day we might get there, but, if these University of Pretoria students have any say, they will be paving the way. Keeping South African dishes in mind, the brief was to create a menu utilising the gorgeous and abundant indigenous ingredients found in our country. Sustainability was also important to keep in mind when conceptualising the menu and event.
Grilled African eggplant, sundried tomato, roasted courgette and drained Amasi rolls started us off and got those juices flowing.
This was followed by one of my favourites, fishcakes, in this instance, trout fishcakes with Garri, a flour made of Cassava roots, which was used to coat the fish cakes instead of bread crumbs. A salad combining crust spekboom, water chestnut, Jerusalem artichoke and Zulu oregano leaf salad served with a chakalaka pesto blew my mind. It was a most imaginative plate of food.
Just reading through the ingredients gets my mind racing and it was as spectacular as it sounds.
The mains combined palak style morogo (which most of us are familiar with), okra, Venda kale, amadumbe (which is described as the potato of the tropics) and fermented pap paneer curry served with sorghum and tef risotto, marula and quince chutney, plantain chips and cowpea (also called black-eyed pea) Amagwinya (aka vetkoek).
For those not familiar with Venda kale, it is locally known as Mutshaina and a true heirloom plant. It has a much sharper taste, almost like mustard, than traditional bought kale. It can also be described as ‘meaty’ since it has a rougher texture and does not cook as soft as traditional kale.
Using a very popular dish in South Africa, Saag Paneer, as the base inspiration, they looked at various ways to add indigenous ingredients. They replaced the traditional spinach with indigenous morogo and Venda kale and added some okra for an extra touch. The spicy and fragrant sauce was the main flavour of the dish. In the place of paneer they fermented pap, cut it in cubes and grilled it to add a crispy texture on top. With that a creamy and subtle teff and sorghum risotto (sorghum and teff are both underrated indigenous grains which were cooked in the traditional risotto method), crispy and salty plantain chips and fluffy cowpea vetkoek/ amingwenya was provided to mop up the delicious sauce. To balance all the spiciness, a sweet quince chutney was also introduced.
That’s quite a mouthful and quite delicious but as the picture shows, they could have played a little more strongly with colours and textures. The students disagree, noting that taste and flavour trumps everything. They did not want to sacrifice the flavours and fresh ingredients used just to add a pop of colour. I disagree, because visual impact adds to the experience ̶ and one can have it all.
My favourites on the plate were the starches including the sassy risotto, the chips and the Amagwinya! And very high marks have to go for sheer invention.
The sweet conclusion vied for similar honours with a carob toasted Lowveld chestnut roulade served with chocolate and carob sauce, naartjie and mondia whitei (described as a woody climber!) ice cream, gingko biloba brittle, Cape gooseberry and prickly pear salad. Try and top that for something more local!
It was truly impressive, as were the tables dressed in their latest Mapula Embroideries servers which set the tone for a truly splendid South African meal. It was truly special.
This time the wines represented Fryer’s Cove, Haute Cabriére and Orange River Cellars.
And again I doff my hat to the students, their lecturers and guest chefs and their institutions who work hard to get them economically viable as well as energetically enthusiastic for one of the toughest yet rewarding professions out there.
And we’re blessed to have all this food innovation happening in the city. Check it out when you can. There are many different ways to try their food and they are usually at the forefront of what is trending in the food world.
A sadness for many Café Delicious fans (like myself) was the day Rachel Botes threw in the towel. It wasn’t only that I would be deprived of her food, it was the venue, the bonhomie, the sidewalk chatter, a quick pitstop for coffee and chat … and yes, of course the food. But this is again their time, writes DIANE DE BEER:
But I knew that would come again because this is a chef who was born to do what she is famous for – her food and that embraces anything from breads to pies to cakes to delicious meals.
So when I was invited by the grande dame herself to attend one of the #OriginalDelicious team’s latest endeavours, I was excited.
They had been invited to collaborate with @Landje46, a beautiful performance venue in Shere, Pretoria East, and if, like me, you have no clue where that is, the entrance is on the extension of Lynnwood Road almost opposite Lombardi’s, very convenient and not difficult to find.
The invitation was for a once-off, full five-course sit-down long-table style Sunday luncheon under the trees on the lush property.
(The meal excluding drinks was R450 per person, R100 per child under 12.)
Because we were guests of the chef, we were given the opportunity to enjoy the day with the chefs and the serving staff – something I absolutely love because it makes me a part of the process – without having to work but able to watch how one does these elaborate dining experiences.
I also knew that the thing that has always excited me about Rachel’s food is her innovative nature. As a welcome snack, she already raised the bar with her raisin and black olive phyllo cigar. What a combination and what thought to put into something that is often an afterthought.
This was followed by the starter, again unusual, a pear, perfectly poached (a knife slipped through it like butter) in white wine and saffron stuffed with parmesan and Parma ham mousse. Pretty as a picture but also light and just the thing to get those juices flowing.
And we would need that because mains was another Rachel favourite, slow-roasted lamb in a pizza oven – brilliantly done.
It was served with vegetables and butternut roasted in condensed milk and rosemary. And as a delicious afterthought, a handmade olive shortbread topped with a slice of brie and preserved fig concluded that part of the meal and you could choose what to do with dessert.
In a smart move, they served Dessert in a Box, to take home. This consisted of a cocktail-sized milk tart, a mini bread-and-butter pudding, a cocktail-sized chocolate tart and homemade nougat, yet another #OriginalDelicious speciality.
You could have the desserts there, but for those of us who would have struggled with yet another course, it was the perfect ending to a special day. You could go home and in your own time, have the best teatime snack.
What I liked about this affair, was the ingenuity of the venue, which was new to me yet ideal for many different occasions. The fact that they picked the #OriginalDelicious team was an indication of the kind of quality they like promoting and thus I was curious about the owner of this intriguing venue.
Mariese van der Linde, the creative behind this versatile venue, also has a background in food and following many meanderings down in the Cape mainly, she remembered her childhood dream. She had always wanted to create a type of Babylonstoren, where people could disconnect from the outside world and focus on the good things in life, “to celebrate life in the moment,” she says.
The Landje estate presents her with the landscape and the venue and she is developing the concept organically – piece by piece. She has an endgame in mind, yet there’s no rush. At the moment she is working with the dreams of others and organising their ideal events when requested. She also does pizza evenings, music evenings (“I love the arts,” she explains) and then these monthly Sunday lunches, which I had just experienced.
This was the first time for the #OriginalDelicious group and Rachel is thrilled that this young fan who used to come to Cafe Delicious regularly has made contact.
They bumped into one another at one of Pretoria’s popular weekend markets, Busstop 7. Marliese spoke to her about collaborations, and that resulted in this marvellous lunch – with, fingers crossed ̶ many more to come.
Because I know and understand Rachel’s food philosophy, I was impressed to hear that this young entrepreneur understood when she hit gold. For the moment, it is the perfect combo and with each of them coming from such a different yet similar place, it could be explosive.
Rachel is thrilled to be dipping her toe into these familiar waters again ̶ without being overwhelmed!
It allows Rachel and Lulu de Beer, the #OriginalDelicious team to do what they do best, cook food with passion.
*The next Sunday lunch on September 4 in true Landje fashion is celebrating Spring with outdoor al fresco dining, a platter feast with delicious food by Rachel Botes from @original.delicious! Live music by the talented @bassonlaasmusic, the perfect way to enjoy good food and company!
Meals are R550 per person;
R200 for kids under 18. (Pizza, Ice Cream and a Soft Drink)
wine and soft drinks available
BOOKINGS ESSENTIAL Email: email@example.com Whatsapp: 083 250 4007 CASHLESS OR SNAPSCAN BAR AVAILABLE to buy WINE, SODAS and BARISTA Coffee (from their famous coffee truck)
Because Ambassador Norio Maruyama arrived in this country almost at the same time as Covid19, he has had to keep his wits about him when trying to fulfil his mandate. Sometimes there was nothing to do because lockdown prohibited all gatherings, but with the lifting of restrictions, he came up with the idea of hosting small dinner parties rather than large gatherings.
This, of course, especially for those of us not part of the diplomatic scene, was a perfect solution and one that worked brilliantly. Sometimes at the large ambassadorial events, the diplomatic corps gather for dinner talk and other guests are left dangling somewhat.
Yet with these small dinners, not only can the food be more splashy, but – especially, as in this instance, when your host is both a foodie and a wine lover (one with excellent knowledge of local wine, to our excitement) – the dinner can also turn into a huge learning as well as extravagant sensual experience.
From the first dinner (which I wrote, about in previous posting), we knew that not only did we discover new delights when presented with their amazing cuisine, but – especially we also lost our heart to the host and his chefs, Jun Suzuki and his wife Mutsumi.
Returning recently for a dinner, we both felt that because the chef was aware of our admiration for his food, he could relax and be more comfortable in what he presented us with. We are the kind of diners who like being surprised and discovering different levels of a cuisine we are getting to know. And with the excellent wine pairings, as well as detailed descriptions of each dish, it’s my favourite kind of meal. I’m getting nourishment of both the soul and senses – narrative and nurturing. What more could one possibly ask for?
And here some wine notes from wine connoisseur Hennie Fisher, who accompanied me on these dinners:
Often, people who love food also feverishly investigate and research beverages to enjoy along with their food. This includes wine, but also other drinks. In fact, the art of pairing food and wine seems to be an increasingly popular pastime. Ambassador Murayama, who loves wine, of course came to the right country to indulge his interest. One seldom visits someone’s house to be presented with wines from your own country that you know nothing about. You may not previously have drunk that exact wine, but at least, because you have close interaction with wine as an agri-product in South Africa, you generally know either the producer, farm, or estate where the wine originated. On different occasions, Ambassador Murayama brought out the big guns, local as well as international – one example is a sake from Ichinokura.
The ambassador was especially proud of a white wine made here in South Africa, by Stark Conde ‘Round Mountain’ Sauvignon Blanc, because the Japanese symbol for round mountain is the same as his surname, Maruyama. On another visit, we were served a barrel-selected Roussanne 2013 from Ken Forrester, which was probably one of the most exciting wines I ever had the pleasure to drink. A Storm Pinot Noir 2018 was also sublime. On yet another occasion we had a
Testalonga El Bandito Cortez, an orange wine by Elementis, followed by a Taaibosch 2018 Crescendo, and we ended the meal with some serious Japanese whiskies such as Hibiki Suntory, a 21-year-old whisky. We will miss the ambassador’s fine palate when he moves on to his next posting.
As on a previous occasion, we again started off with One Bite of Happiness, a title I love, and it’s exactly what you get. As pretty as a picture, the deep-fried tofu with yuzu was exquisite. This was followed by a Tataki of tuna which simply means the method (pounding in this instance) of preparation served on a dashi foam. You can’t fault the Japanese on fish – and that’s no exaggeration. Next was their delightfully inventive gooseberry salad, taking the place of the more traditional palate cleanser.
Duck yakatori style was the main and this was presented with great flair, to the guests’ absolute joy. And this being our first duck experience à la Japanese, it was quite splendid – and it had to be, not to disappoint after such a theatrical entrance.
Sweets started with an Amarula ice cream with the citrussy mikan and finally a work of art in the form of three sweet things: walnut, mochi (rice cake) and yokan (red bean paste).
Our appreciation was complete and we loved the way they paid homage to the host country with ingredients like the gooseberries and the Amarula.
For the second time in almost a month, we attended a Taste of Japan held annually at Wood and Fire in Brooklyn, as the guests of Ambassador Maruyama. This time Jun and Mutsumi stepped into the kitchen of the restaurant and with the help of yet another of my favourite chefs, Zane Figueiredo, produced an extraordinary tasting menu which was the perfect infusion of Japanese cuisine to satisfy both the novice and those of us who feel we have been introduced to their food by those who know and love it best.
The welcome snack of edamame beans with schichimi togarashi (a red pepper spice) is a staple on Japanese tables, familiar here but less frequently served. It’s a pity because it has that moreish quality which makes it difficult to stop and it’s healthy!
Okonomiyaki, another Japanese favourite and quite yummy, is a savoury pancake (almost pizza-like) and this was flavoured with green cabbage, beansprouts, kewpie (mayo), ginger, nori and otafuku sauce (close to our Wocestershire).
Noodles was next on the list with prawn served with a shiitake broth, assorted veggies and shiso (a mint herb) followed by a delicate arrangement of sashimi, including salmon, sea bass, and with a nod to the South Africans, Springbok carpaccio all with a dash of different Japanese condiments which just take it to another level.
Yakitori (either chicken or green beans with spring onion) was the last appetiser before the mains consisting of Katsu Curry, which included a choice of pork, chicken or aubergine with fukujinzuke (Japanese pickles) and short grain rice.
Most of the servings were small and with healthy food inherently part of Japanese cuisine, it was again a broad introduction to many Japanese ingredients and flavours in a meal that was delicately balanced and, as always, finished with a flourish of mochi and ice cream!
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:
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.
4 cups cooked couscous (I use the bigger sized couscous, but that’s a preferance)
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
20 g flat-leaf parsley
20 g coriander leaves
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Add to that the Lourens bespoke cakes and De Beer’s allergy and food-intolerance products and this trio cover the spectrum.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with enquiries for pick-ups or deliveries.
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.
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.’
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.
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 boekvan 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) 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
Origin:South Africa, 2017
60 g butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (50g) castor sugar
1 cup (140g) cake flour
1 tsp (5ml) baking powder
A pinch of salt
Pre-heat the oven to 180° Celsius. Grease a 23 cm tart tin.
Cream the butter and castor sugar together.
Add the egg and stir to combine.
Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix into a stiff dough.
Press the dough onto the base and sides of the tart tin.
Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork.
Blind bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy.
2 ¼ cups (565ml) milk
1 cinnamon stick
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
In a saucepan set over moderate heat, add the milk and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Remove the cinnamon stick.
Whisk together the egg, sugar, flour, corn flour, and vanilla essence
While whisking continuously, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture.
Return the mixture to the saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk until the mixture has thickened.