Today I feel nostalgic. And instead of reminiscing about my mom’s cooking or my grandmother’s favourite recipe here, which every other food blogger does, I thought I will tell you about my journey into food. Yip, and I shall highlight those people and places who had a profound influence on my journey into food. The people who had and still have an influence on me is easy, but to start, I will have to begin my journey in Koffiefontein where I was born and grew up, as I strongly belief that your environment plays a large role in how one appreciate food.
I grew up in a very small mining town called Koffiefontein in the Free State province of South Africa. Situated in a geographical area called the Falsche Karoo. I remember it for the most amazing lamb and mutton meat, the distinctive Karoo vegetation of that area gave a very thyme like flavour to the meat and it was most enjoyable. Apart from the café on the corner that would sell the necessities like bread and milk and more important for me as a four-year old at that time, chips, cool drinks and sweets, there were no other shops. Each family had to be fairly self-sufficient in terms of vegetables, fruit, milk, eggs and meat. Fortunately there were many amazing farmers around the town who were more than willing to supply the town with excellent produce. Our family was one of the very self-sufficient ones, we had a large vegetable patch, a number of fruit trees, a grape-vine, chickens, ducks and geese and got lamb and pork on a regular basis from farmers in the region. Twice a week we would get our milk in a steel cannister from a farmer and I remember my mom removing the thick yellow cream from the top to be used either for butter or dessert on Sunday.
This is where I grew up and apart from all of this we had a large property with this lovely red clay ground, which according to my mom I used to bake the most elaborate and amazing mud cakes. I can’t remember much of this (I was 4 or 5 years old, 1974 – 1975) and trust my mom’s information on this time of my life and as cameras were a rare luxury in those days, unfortunately there are no photos to show as well. Anyway, apparently according to mom, I used to bake these mud cakes and would decorate them with fresh flowers and ribbons and would then invite her for tea later in the afternoon. My mom is until today totally dumbfounded by my creativity with these cakes, because as she explained, we had very limited access to magazines and books from the library, she doesn’t bake, so where did I got my ideas from for these cakes had her totally puzzled. This was my earliest food experience and as my mom recently commented she always thought that I would be good in a food career, it was there since a young age. And I am slowly get over my fear of sweet pastry now, perhaps I was a pastry chef or baker in a previous life!
The most important aspect of this time is that I saw where my food came from. I witnessed how my father would slit the throat of a lamb, quickly and efficiently, without any suffering to the animal. Collecting eggs in the morning for breakfast, still warm from being laid a few minutes ago and that same hen would become Sunday lunch a few weeks later when she was knocked unconscious and unceremoniously her head was chopped off with a sharp axe. And no, I have no psychological issues and scars due to this “violence” I witnessed as a child, in fact I think I was very lucky to know where my food come from and how it reached my table.
When I turned 13 my maternal grandmother died and my grandfather came to live with us in 1983. He had green fingers beyond belief. My grandfather could cultivate the most amazing vegetables and fruit and it was part of my household duties to assist my grandfather in the garden everyday for an hour in the afternoon after school. From him I learned to appreciate what the season gave us and that it was good for us. When other children didn’t know what eggplant or fennel bulb was, we ate it on a regular basis. I learned from my grandfather the difference is between a shop-bought tomato and one that has really ripened on the vine! And most important, I learned from him that there is always enough for everybody, both man and nature and that organic cultivation makes sense from that point of view. He died in 1987 and with it any further journey until 2002.
I went to the army and then onto university and worked for a short while before I started my own graphic design business in 1997. During this time I met two persons who had a profound influence on my food re-awakening and subsequent food journey.
In 2002 I was invited by a good friend, Darren for dinner at a new restaurant in Pretoria called Zest Bistro. Chef and owner Sidney Cousins soon became one of my food heroes and inspirations! From him I learned that there are wonderful stuff such as a velouté, a jus, a puree and that food and dining can be a refined experience. Strange combinations can be exciting and they open a new taste sensation and this was all under one roof. Credit must go to Sidney for inspiring me to educate myself as much as possible in food and eventually studying further in the culinary arts. After every dining experience at Zest, I would go home and read and practice whatever I had experience in his restaurant. This is still my favourite restaurant and I still enjoy the food and the experience there very much!
2006 marks the next major development in my final decision to change from graphic designer to food, when I met Regina Calitz who came to me as a client. She started a new restaurant called “f” and needed a logo and marketing material. From Regina I learned that food is drama and that drama can be on a plate as well. What a dramatic pleasure it was when she came out of the kitchen with your plate of hot chicken curry singing an aria from Carmen! Just plain good food, no frills, no pretense, it was a pity when she had to close her doors about a year ago! But I will always remember her as the one person that finally helped me to make the transition.
By 2009 I knew I have to change my career and 2010 was the year to do so! Since then, I haven’t looked back. I recently secured the necessary funding for a little deli/eatery and I am looking for a suitable space to open Taste Café – the next leg of my journey!