I ran the kitchen in SA’s reality cooking programme Kokkedoor, I’ve ‘travel-cooked’ (5 000 km in total), I’ve festivaled (KKNK), I’ve done a big 400 shy dinner, I’ve shot a book, I’ve done pop up dinners and lunches, I’ve bottled, I’ve cured. And now I’m breathing just a bit, before the next rush of culturing, curing, bottling and baking starts.
While taking the breath, my thoughts go to what I’ve experienced. The experiences revolve around the food I made, food I ate and the beauty of our country. Above all the people related to those plates served and plates enjoyed. There were moments of fine dining, of simple eating and of pure bliss around a fire. And no surprise that all these moments included food. Whether it’s something as simple and tasty as ‘stywe pap’ (a porridge made from maize meel) with a saucy meety mince, or a quick beer chicken with vegetables. All seemingly simple, but tasty and shared with friends old and new.
The moment you start a conversation with someone about food, it becomes personal. Food leads to sharing memories with someone. Whether it’s from their childhood or home or even travels. You get invited into their life, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. You can visually see it and understand it. And all of these stories are accompanied by emotion. You can never take the emotion away from food.
On all these occasions, some other dish or person inspired me to add something new to my food journey. Sometimes it was a recipe, sometimes an ingredient and other times words of wisdom on food. Others I was privileged enough to help create with other chefs and even more blessed to see people enjoy it. I guess that’s the thing that led me to food in the first place. Seeing other people enjoying food you created, perhaps making you a part of their food journey.
In Pretoria, my favourite was the flavoured board created for a beautiful beef fillet that was served with a meat feast. The day’s menu included: Smoked chicken fillet bite on ciabatta, with rocket and mango achar. A beautiful long roasted spicy short rib with a yoghurt salad, followed by the beef fillet on the flavoured plate. This was served with a roasted butternut and sweet potato salad. The menu was finished off with deep-fried chocolate bars with vanilla ice cream.
The principle of the flavoured board is that you add flavour to a wooden board, on which you serve the steak. It can be anything that you feel like –a combination of herbs, spices olive oil etc. The fillet or steak is simply grilled with salt and pepper. Then you place the fillet on the plate and eat it with the flavouring on the board.
Beef fillet on flavoured board
1 fillet, silver trimmed off
Olive oil to rub
45 ml (3 T) salt flakes (or to taste)
Flavouring for the board
30 ml (2 T) basil pesto
30 ml (2 T) sundried tomato pesto
60 ml (¼ cup) parsley, finely chopped
45 ml (3 T) olive oil
Mix all the flavouring elements together. If it looks too dry for you, add some more olive oil. The moisture will vary according to the moisture in the pesto.
Rub the trimmed fillet with some olive oil and then with the salt and cook as you prefer.
You can simply sear it in a very hot pan, then place in the oven and cook till done to your liking. Approximately 15 minutes for medium.
Spread the flavouring on a wooden board and let the fillet rest on this board with flavouring.
When the fillet’s rested for 10-15 minutes, simply slice thinly and let it lie on the flavouring.
Present it like this to your guests.
You can also make individual flavoured wooden boards for each guest.
Simply placing slices of the cut fillet on each board.
From Pretoria to Hoedspruit
One of the most surprising places for me was Hoedspruit (approximately 5 hours from Pretoria – the previous stop). The menu for the troops (staff from the air force and defence force), was a good old mixed grill – steak, egg, boerewors and chips with a beer. On the road there, I already got reminded of how amazing the country is. We tend to think you have to travel somewhere else, to another countr,y to see amazing things. On the road the Hoedspruit, I was reminded that this couldn’t be further from the truth. The whole trip was a reminder that there are so much to share in this country. The majesty and grandeur of nature was just phenomenal. Seeing places like Three Rondavels and God’s Window, silences you for a while.
And getting to the base where our host stays, animals cross the streets and greet you in their backyard. The local people are so use to it and you realise how blessed to live in such an environment.
Bloemfontein for Valentines day
Valentines day and I’m still on the road, cooking. And best way to celebrate Valentines….why not cook? Couples sat down to a beautiful Valentines picnic at Liedjiesbos guest house. It was truly like a bit of a Kokkedoor reunion. Season 1’s Toitnette du Toit and Magda Johnstone cooked here, and we had the surprise to meet up with Chloe Pieterse from the second series.
The menu: tomato, vodka and smoked salt bite, trio of soups with parmesan and thyme biscuit, stack of homemade ricotta with fig and biltong, bread course with spreads and cheeses, roasted watermelon and smoked fish salad, roasted leg of lamb with butternut salad, bobotie style fillet with rice balls, filled chicken pancakes. The sweets included ‘koeksisters’ with chocolate and a mini lemon trifle.
One of my all-time favourites here will always be the roasted watermelon salad. There is so much you can do with it. Go ahead and add your own salty combination or salad dressing to this one. The key being though that you have to roast the watermelon. For this recipe I will even tell you how to smoke your own fish. As it’s so simple, you don’t have to go and pay an exorbitant amount of money to buy smoked fish from someone else. See how simple it is.
This is my version, of their salad
Roasted watermelon and smoked fish salad
Serves 4 – as a small course or starter
500 g hake fillets (fresh)
Handful of oak chips
60 ml butter
Salt to taste
12 pieces of watermelon
4 handfulls of rocket
45 ml (3 T) extra virgin olive oil
15 ml (1 T) balsamic vinegar
5 ml (1 t) Dijon mustard
2.5 ml (½ t) castor sugar
5 ml (1 t) black pepper
2.5 ml (½ t) salt
Smoking the fish (on stove top)
Keep the fillets of the fish whole.
Line a roasting tin with some foil.
Sprinkle the oak shavings on the foil.
Place a trivet or cooling rack that fits, inside the roasting tin.
Place the fish on the trivet or cooling rack.
Over a medium to low heat, start heating the roasting tin, you’ll see the smoke starting.
Seal the roasting tin with two layers of foil.
Let the fish smoke for approximately 20 minutes.
Remove the roasting tin from the stove top and carefully remove the foil. You can check how much the fish has smoked and even taste some of it. If you want a heavier smoke, return to the stove top, closing it again with the foil.
Remove when it’s done.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C. Place the fish onto a baking tray and dot butter over it and some salt.
Put this in the oven en let it bake for 10 minutes, just to cook the fish through.
Remove and let it cool down.
Put all the ingredients together (place in a bottle with a tight fitting lid) and shake it together. Taste and make sure the balance of sour and oil is correct.
Heat a griddle pan to very hot. When it’s hot, fry the watermelon pieces in the pan till it’s got the nice brown griddle stripe on both sides. Set aside and let it cool down.
Assembling the salad
Place the rocket on each plate, followed by the watermelon and then a chunk of fish.
Dress everything with the salad dressing.
Another quiet jewel – Nieu Bethesda
As you travel for these type of jobs you always have to make sure that you enjoy a bit of the road. Don’t just jump in the car and race to the next place. Such a decision took me along a bit of a detour to the charming place Nieu Bethesda. What an experience arriving in this town. A quietness prevails, it’s almost eerie. And once you’ve been through The Owl house (the Helen Martins museum), this feeling is enhanced. And yet again, I met with a kindred spirit in the town, someone loving food as much and a beautiful guest house. Ibis Lounge was the best find ever. The food was absolutely superb. Dinner was specially served outside next to the swimming pool. It started off with a bread course, with homemade dips and spreads. And the bread, yes homemade.
There was a beautiful pumpkin bread with a honey butter that was absolutely melting in your mouth. Then I had the most amazing oxtail ever. The flavours were subtle, yet enchanting. She had the perfect balance in her flavours and sauce consistency. This one evening was the best relaxation, as the quiet and beauty of the place and the wonderful food added to it. It simply made you feel like you were spending a whole weekend there. And trust me, the plan is to go back for that weekend. And considering I now live in a quiet town, this is what I crave the moment I’ve been away from home in the city for more than two days. And this was on week 3, absolutely too long away from home.
The next day it was off to the last stop…Prince Albert. But I will leave it at that for now. Prince Albert will feature in the next story, as there is simply too much that goes with this town and the food to include here.
But I do guess that after this extensive trip, what I want to say is: Look up, breathe, switch off your mind for a while. And just look around you…… You will find so much from truly taking in everything. Stop living in what tomorrow and what about yesterday. Grab the day and moment you’re in and truly take everything in. Whether it’s the beauty of nature; or it’s a conversation with someone. Take it all in, as this is where we get pointed to the right path and shown what we should look out for. These things cross your path for a reason, we’re simply not ‘tuned-in’ enough to notice what the universe is teaching us with everything that we see and experience. Go ahead and tune in, you never know what you might find when you drive over that next hill.
(The story of the dachshunds. When moving to the country, there was the big debate about these, my children and where they should be staying. I had to make the very, very hard decision to rather leave them with their grandparents – my parents. I travel so much, that they will have to stay alone at home. Not the way they’ve been raised. And above all, they became such an important part to the house. But, I see them regularly when I travel to Cape Town. I guess everything great that happens, always includes some form of sacrifice?)