Time to say goodbye to an exhilarating year to make way for the next. We are recording 2017 as groundbreaking, challenging yet always inspiring. So many lessons learnt, so many incredible experiences documented. One of the highlights of my work is reliving these experiences with you. A few memories immediately pop into mind – the exotic flavours of Mexico, Morocco and New York, the effervescence of Champagne, the beauty of Burgundy and the most relaxing space of all, Corsica, where the finesse of France gently flirts with the le dolce vita of Italy. Many local escapes too come to mind, where my memories are edible and delicious. I feel incredibly blessed to call Cape Town and South Africa my home.
The number one highlight of 2017 was plating 21 chefs at the launch of the 2018 JHP Gourmet Guide™, and then seeing the guides on sale countrywide in Woolworths, Exclusive Books, Wordsworth, online and some participating restaurants. Shortly thereafter I set off to Paris to witness the oldest, most prestigious chefs’ competition worldwide, le Taittinger Culinaire Prix with the aim of being able to help our eligible, plated chefs enter in 2018. Getting hot tips from my culinary hero Michel Roux Jnr is also a stand-out cameo in my mind! We forged some treasured partnerships at this event, and during this year too. Swiss International Air Lines, who will be flying our Culinary Innovation award winner, Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic, to Europe for a gastronomic experience, is one that we are grateful for. Mervyn Gers Ceramics who created beautiful plates to present to our three, two and one plated chefs, is another. Taittinger, a third.
This time of the year is often bittersweet. Back home this week a farewell lunch at my perennial favourite, Magica Roma, filled each taste pocket in my heart. Their Mediterranean grilled vegetables with calamari and a light touch of chilli always keeps me coming back for more. Chef and co-owner Ezio always complains that I do not deviate from my firm favourites. He and his team are closing for a well-deserved break, “Chilling at home and in the winelands, with a glass in hand.” Oh yes, me too.
Dinner at Sea Breeze in Bree Street last week got full marks, highly recommended by a few of our food-loving friends. On a beautiful day diners spill out onto the pavement, and between 12pm and 1pm and 5pm and 6pm tuck into oyster happy hour – 10 bucks a shuck. There are then two sittings for dinner, 7pm and 9pm. The menu changes daily according to what is fresh. We gathered there to celebrate a dear friend’s milestone birthday. Starters of the smoked snoek doughnut, local asparagus with a truffle hollandaise and crispy poached egg where as good as the angel fish taco. Mains of the hake and chips, seared tuna, kob on a bed of pea velouté flavoured with chorizo and the grilled swordfish were all excellent. We shared the very tart lemon tart and the decadent apple crumble cheesecake before leaving sated and happy. Service was animated, slick and friendly. Being personally allergic to two sittings and being rushed out to make way for more greedy diners, I was pleasantly surprised at how timeous service and a no-rush attitude prevailed. I shall be returning soon, perhaps again and again?
Today our offices close, officially until 15 January 2018, for a much-needed break. I’ll be donning my frosty gear for a sojourn in Amsterdam and Berlin, to soak up some museums, galleries and history – and to make more edible memories (but not before a few family feasts at Thali, Chefs Warehouse at Maison and The Restaurant at Waterfkloof). May this festive season be safe and happy for you and your loved ones, and may we reunite a few kilograms heavier, and happier, to get 2018 off to a good start in January.