Edible memories of a whirlwind year

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?

Breakfasts of the month were at Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room and The Nuy Valley and Café Dubois in Knysna.

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.

Another tasty bite

MEXICO AND NEW YORK

I am currently compiling my copious handwritten notes from a trip to Mexico and New York into some semblance of order so that I can perfect my articles for Sawubona magazine. For me much of the joy of travelling lies in reliving the experiences, and sharing them with others. In this post I am sharing some of my personal holiday snaps, other than those in my bikini!

Seamless flights from Cape Town to Johannesburg and New York on SAA followed by a four-hour wait, a five-hour flight to Cancun, an hour’s drive to Tulum and we were ready for our edible adventure. A week in the character-filled coastal town of Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Mexico gave us ample opportunity to explore one of the seven wonders of the world, to attend a cookery course, test ourselves with cave-diving, rapling (abseiling in a cave) and zip-lining, rather than merely lying on a lounger to admire the beautiful Caribbean Sea. For the whole enchilada, I will alert you when to fly SAA to read the right issue of Sawubona!

 

Our regular Flavours of the Cape classes will be starting in March, ideal for anyone visiting the Mother City who wants to know more about her bounty.
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A whistle-stop two-nighter in New York home-bound, the day of the Trump inauguration, is another story in itself. The security on the streets was extreme, especially in front of Trump Towers, and the anxiety of locals palpable. Let me meanwhile share the highlight. Lunch at the world-renowned Le Bernardin, rated for five years consecutively as the top restaurant in the Big Apple by the New York Times, deservedly. Le Bernardin is one of only six restaurants in New York awarded three Michelin stars, and is the restaurant which has held four stars from The New York Times for the longest period of time, having earned the ranking in early 1986. Their first Michelin star awarded in 1976 and two more in 1980. After my (smartly dressed by my standards) husband had been given a jacket (Ted Baker of course) to wear, we were seated and treated to champagne whilst we perused the menu. Chef Eric Ripert, warm and gregarious in addition to being hugely talented, did a sweep of the room to greet regulars and then whipped back into the kitchen to mastermind one of the most exceptional culinary journeys I have been privileged to savour. Wow. The a la carte menu is divided into Almost Raw, Barely Touched and Lightly Cooked, but we chose the tasting menu –  eight sublime courses starting with caviar tartare, then lobster (paired with Krug, langoustine and barely-cooked salmon). Let me stop here. The barely cooked organic salmon with fennel mousseline and spiced citrus-sambal sauce would stop anyone in their tracks. We went onto the halibut, a white tuna-Japanese Wagyu (their interpretation of a surf and turf!), which blew our socks off. Time to move onto sweet – the light pre-dessert grapefruit sorbet was followed by the grande finale, the Black Forest of brandied cherries, whipped vanilla cream and smoked chocolate cremeux. Every wine was expertly introduced by the charming Austrian sommelier, and each dish presented with aplomb and knowledge. After our lunch we were led to Chef’s library where he and his team glean inspiration from more than 1000 books. An animated and interesting interview with a humble, talented man who deserves every accolade, that will be etched in my memory forever.
Back home in Cape Town I attended the launch of Witlof, the Belgian endive or chicory leaf at Den Anker restaurant. A beautiful setting on a glorious summer day, the sighting of Table Mountain made me happy to call this place home. This vegetable is produced by the Van der Merwe family in Ceres. Fanie van der Merwe introduced the vegetable as one would a child – giving us a comprehensive account of how they are growing it hydroponically so that we can get it (at Woolies, Food Lovers and Checkers) all year round. The two stages of production start with growing the chicory root in the earth (sadly only eaten by cattle), and the second stage in the dark to prevent the development of chlorophyll, thus the white appearance. Doekle Vlietman, chef at Den Anker and his team produced three tasty courses from Witlof. I went home and produced just one of my own – a tasty salad of the leaves with softened blue cheese, crispy walnuts and topped with a herb-infused olive oil. Yum. Chef Doekle kindly agreed to share some of his recipes.

 

 

Witlof au Gratin (Witlof wrapped in Parma ham, veloute, gouda and mash)

serves 4

1 pack Witlof
160 g Parma ham
250 g potatoes
150 g butter
150 g flour
100 ml cream
200 g gouda grated
salt and pepper to taste
nutmeg

Boil 1 pack witlof in water with a pinch of salt drain well but retain the cooking liquor to make the veloute.
Boil the potatoes and mash.
To make the veloute melt butter and whisk in the flour folding in the Witlof cooking liquor until you reach a custard consistency. Add the cream and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Wrap the blanched witlof in cooked ham and place in a casserole dish, place the mash next to it.
Top the ham with veloute and top that with grated Dutch Gouda.
Bake at 180 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbling.

Pair with La Chouffe beer.

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Off to Jozi to get my monthly burst of adrenalin, some exciting meetings and to travel on my taste buds from gourmet food trucks to fine dining. Read about this fabulous food truck which has been inspired by the Cape but taking shape in Gauteng. But before i go just one more margarita?

Remember November?

November passed in a blur, now we are in December – can you even remember November? It was full of culinary inspiration and I made many notes for return visits to a few new favourites.

FABULOUS FABER

Faber is fabulous and first class, but no surprise as chef Eric Bulpitt was the recipient of many an accolade for his culinary talents when at Newton Johnson. Now he has moved to Paarl where, on the Avondale Estate, we will no doubt see his name in lights again. Book a table and watch closely as he and his team work wonders in their brand-new open kitchen.

Discover all about their revolutionary biodynamic farming, preferably from animated and passionate proprietor Johnathan Grieves. I had the pleasure of writing a story on their farm for Food & Home Entertaining a few years ago, and I remain impressed with their dedication and commitment to authenticity. Here the wine and indigenous food from the rich terroir are truly harmonious. The food garden has been broadened to meet Eric’s demands of fresher than fresh, farm-grown produce and free-range chickens produce eggs daily. See if you can spot the egg-mobile. General Manager Celeste Bulpitt ensures that the service is professional and knowledgeable.  The decor is understated yet elegant, uncontrived and in keeping with the feel of the farm. Table tops, bar counters and the wooden planter boxes, filled with herbs, were created from felled stone pines that were superfluous on the estate after a fire.  Local art and sweeping views of Table Mountain in the distance do not detract from the spectacular food.

The Black Angus pastrami with a celeriac veloute, mustard Chantilly and fried celery leaf was memorable. So memorable that I know what I will order on my return visit.

Two courses cost R325, three R395 and eight R785.

FOXCROFT

Third time lucky – and my last two visits were superb too. Having given up my gym membership a year ago when I moved from one side of the mountain to the other, I decided not to give up on the friendships that were secured whilst sweating all the eating off. I had spent so many hours discussing restaurants, dissecting menus and sharing kitchen tips and tricks with fellow food-lovers Maureen and Patti before step classes, that we now meet quarterly for quick catch-up on steroids! I have dubbed us Matti, Patti and Fatti, as my absence from gym is starting to show…

Foxcroft was the perfect place to natter over superb plates of food. After a glass of bubbly we worked our way through a few starters. Each was declared sublime, and much of our conversation centred on how visible their quality of ingredients is. A quick duck into the deli and we left with fennel and citrus flavoured salt and some chocolate blocks to have with our coffee.

BISTRO SIXTEEN82

That night it was off to Steenberg to meet our friends, former owners of La Petite Tarte, for tapas at Sixteen82. More good food and oodles of it, enjoyed with superlative wine and lively conversation that focused on our sojourn in Spain together in June, now a distant memory. Len and Johan are launching their own range of quality bakes, pickles and preserves at the Lourensford Market this week, under the label EllenJay. Sure to be a winner if the samples that I have been treated to are any indication of what is coming. Johan’s lemon preserve is stunning and his aubergine pickle a must.

PESCE AZZURRO BISTRO 

Roodebloem Road in Woodstock was where we headed for a casual, relaxed Saturday evening with friends. It offers good value and is popular because of that. I had a twinge of regret when my very average fried calamari arrived at the table, as my friend’s silver fish with an authentic tomato sauce was served. So severe was my order envy that I shall return for it, next time in an Uber as I was stopped at a roadblock on the way home. Stay safe this festive season, drink and ride rather than drink and drive.

WILLOUGHBY’S

I am trying hard to find a better place for superlative sushi, and find myself heading back, not exactly kicking and screaming, to Willoughby’s in the V&A Waterfront where the quality is top, the setting not, (I hate shopping malls) and the service slick. Delicious every time.

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BO-KAAP KOMBUIS AND ABIGAIL

I feel privileged to be supporting the collaboration between Mexico and South Africa through cuisine. When writing a story for Food & Home Entertaining about Jorge Vallejo cooking with Luke Dale-Roberts, I had the pleasure of meeting the Ambassador of Mexico, who mentioned that the ‘mother’ of Mexican cooking would be visiting SA in November. My ears pricked up. Hit fast forward and I was interviewing the charming Abigail Mendoza early one Friday morning in a suite of the Cullinan Hotel, with the ambassador and a translator. I devoured grasshoppers with garlic and lemon, and with chilli, for breakfast. I was invited by the ambassador to lunch them and the ‘mother’ of Cape Malay cuisine, my long-term friend and mentor Cass Abrahams. She and I travelled from the Mother City around the country to conduct many a cookery demo together in my youth. How inspiring to see these two phenomenal women connect and compare their cultures over a traditional Cape Malay lunch at the Bo-Kaap Kombuis with a panaromic view of a wind-swept Table Mountain. Cass proceeded to enlighten us about the history of Cape Malay cuisine and tell us about the dishes that were served. The denningsvleis stood out, and of course, everyone wanted to taste bobotie and malva pudding.

I’m excited about my forthcoming trip to Mexico in January, when I will discover more about their punchy cuisine and fascinating culture.

BELMOND MOUNT NELSON

For friends over 50, instead of buying (more useless) clutter, I treat them to a meal somewhere special. It has to be beautiful, as that is, after all, the packaging of the present. Where more of a treat than in the conservatory of the Belmond Mount Nelson? Us working gals decided on a light and healthy lunch overlooking the gardens, which are in full glory at this time of the year. Rudi’s Caesar dressing is by far the best in town, so Kirsten chose the Caesar salad, and I had the calamari salad. Both were absolutely delicious and quite filling. Starting with bubbles and ending with coffee, and it was back to reality in a flash after solace that reminded us that we need more of this, or a proper holiday.

DIAS TAVERN 

Taking my son and his digs mates (sisters, he calls them) out for a casual dinner on a Monday, and giving them the choice, it was to Dias Tavern that we headed for peri-peri prawns and chicken. A real dive, but they certainly know how to get these dishes right. Visit on a weekend and you will dance your socks off!

SHORTMARKET CLUB

Unremarkable and discreet from the outside, as a club should be, Luke and Sandalene Dale-Robert’s Shortmarket Club hides just off Cape Town’s culinary Bree Street. Trot up a few stairs and fall in love with the painting of a protea, which reminds you that you are not in the centre of New York, before you succumb to the allure of the decor, ambience, service and food.

Stained glass sliding doors from Argentina plus the beautiful framed butterflies ensure that your first sense of sight is stimulated before you even see the menu. Unreserved tables as you walk in get bird’s eye view of the open kitchen. Elegant booths around the perimeter of the main dining area are separated by back-to-back small tables in the centre. Waiters in white jackets add a level of formality and contribute, with the leather and wood, to the clubby feel.  White linen tablecloths are juxtaposed with concrete floors.

The menu is small and select, the combination of ingredients interesting. Knowing that chef Wesley Randles sources fresh produce from my favourite Oranjezicht market, I was curious to see what he was doing with the same stuff that I put into my basket. Oh so much more. My well-travelled friend ordered the beef carpaccio with a miso-cured egg, and I the asparagus with miso and hazelnut hollandaise. We both had the crispy octopus with sesame tamarind dressing, which had more than a hint of hotness. So yum.

Having mentioned that we were celebrating a birthday, we were greeted with a glass of bubbles. The service was warm and attentive, and although we only wanted a light ladies’ lunch, we were made to feel special. I plan to book (in advance) for a family breakfast which will include oysters, champagne and Bloody Marys. Oh no doubt dinner too, as I know that my men will love absolutely everything about this latest addition to the LDR family.

PRODUCT AND BOOK OF THE MONTH

Next month? From Stanford to Tea at the Sea, plus some effortless festive cooking.