PEOPLE: Hemelhuijs and heritage: chef Jacques Erasmus

Food artist Jacques Erasmus takes on the roll of consulting chef, food stylist and conceptual designer of kitchenware at his new cafe. He says he contextualises old-style food as it suits modern lifestyles.

This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in Oct 2010

Why call yourself a food artist? I qualified as a chef at the Institute of Culinary Arts, but I don’t like putting people or things in boxes. I like doing so many things, from cooking to food styling for magazines to decorating interiors. I designed the cookery school interiors at African Relish in Prince Albert, for instance. I’m designing my new Hemelhuijs homeware range too.

As consulting chef at Cuvée at Simonsig Estate, you recently introduced an old-style menu in the mould of our great-grannies. Explain? We’ve returned to the old Cape with wholesome goodness and honest food, steering clear of bite-size plated art. The essence is how older generations cooked, given a contemporary twist. It’s fine food but not fine dining. A place to relax and unwind in the Winelands.

At Cuvée you can order half or full portions, paired with farm wines by the glass. Suggestions? It’s heritage food such as roasted shoulder of saltbush mutton on puff pastry with preserved Cape green figs – our great-grannies would’ve served it with a fine sauce. Lighter options include bobotie samoosas with Malmesbury yoghurt and Antoinette Malan’s Muscat jam. Or tasty white fish in orange leaves enriched with artichokes and a dill butter sauce.

What else is on the cards? A Cape Town concept café called Hemelhuijs opening in mid October. It’s serving breakfast to tea in the business district. If they like, people can have scrambled egg for lunch from the all-day menu. It’s simple food using organic and smaller suppliers. I’ll have a range of artisan jams.

What’s different about Hemelhuijs? People eat off the homeware range I’ve designed and manufactured locally. They can buy to take home too. It’s very dark and sexy charcoal crockery, incorporating a new way of drinking hot beverages from tea bowls.

Any trends for late 2010? Simple farmstyle food is still in the spotlight. Instead of tipping the entire salad draw into a dish, we’re taking the lead from farm ingredients but rethinking their positioning. For example, sourcing goat’s cheese from one farm and a row of carrots from another farm. You don’t want to spoil such quality with many sauces or garnishes. We’re also in an era where readymade meals are so bland. People want lucid food: vibrant flavours and colours; sustainably farmed or caught produce.

Your idea of a simple lunch? A wonderful bruschetta with marinated artichokes, fresh tomatoes, real mozzarella, good olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.

Cuvée, Simonsig Wine Estate, outside Stellenbosch. Tel 021 888 4932. Hemelhuijs, 71 De Waterkant Street, Cape Town. Tel 082 412 5194.

Pic of Jacques Erasmus by Micky Hoyle