PEOPLE AND PLACES: Interview with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli

p1010049.jpg Our reservation for six was confirmed nine months in advance. What started as a fantastic idea between four friends became a foodies’ mission. The destination: El Bulli restaurant in Spain. Two days before the 2007 season closed, six South Africans arrived for dinner by taxi along a winding coastal road.

Billed as the “best” restaurant experience in the world, El Bulli opened for only six months of the year in an out-of-the-way location, so the waiting list was long. Our table included two Cape Town chefs, two journalists, a winemaker and a skilled hostess/cook. Our common ground: a commitment to adventurous eating and fun.

El Bulli’s 32 courses of nibbles, liquids and textures were unlike any recognisable set menu. They arrived as warm foam in martini glasses, as liquid bursting from edible clam enclosures, as pineapple and beetroot snacks on metal stands or as candyfloss-like Parmesan air inside Styrofoam boxes. Waiters’ prompts encouraged sniffing, touching and tasting in a specific number of bites. Visual attention was imperative. The meal was intellectually challenging and witty, yet tasty and light to digest. The Tasting Menu cost €185; the wine prices were incredibly good value for a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Q&A: Probing the remarkable mind of chef Ferran Adrià the next day – via a Spanish translator, but he understood most English questions – was inspiring. As with the food prepared, this wasn’t a chef who could easily be pigeon-holed.

Kim Maxwell: What is your opinion of the label molecular cuisine, as some describe your food?
Ferran: Molecular cuisine does not exist. It’s a lie! I’m asked this question in every interview. Whatever you ate yesterday, the concept was started in 1994 or 1995. So it’s not new or even recent. This label is harmful for me, because people who are anti my cuisine use this term to fight me. Nobody eating at El Bulli doesn’t know exactly how the food is cooked. What is important instead is the result. It doesn’t matter if the food is machine-made or hand-made; what matters is that it is there. People always think this type of food is very complicated, but sometimes it’s very simple. Take the oyster leaf I served with the hare jus and red jelly in your meal. People don’t know the leaf so they think it’s from a machine, but it’s only a new European plant tasting like an oyster.

Kim Maxwell: Your food is very labour-intensive. Are you saying it isn’t complicated?
Ferran: But it is complicated. People see this oyster leaf on their plate and think: what is it? For a chef to eat it, is very complicated, because he will think the chef preparing the dish has gone mad! A normal person could also complicate his life by just thinking about it. Cooking is a language in a way. I’m trying to send a message. Sometimes it’s a message people don’t understand. Then there are those who see more than the food is. It means whatever is in life. I want each diner to have their own experience.

Kim Maxwell: London’s Restaurant Magazine panel repeatedly voted El Bulli first of 50 global restaurants. Is it important to be ‘the best’?
Ferran: It’s not my objective to be the best. The best does not exist. What is measurable are the influences some chefs have over other chefs. Restaurant Magazine’s list shows these chefs are among those that influence cuisines around the world. It’s very difficult to be the best so I don’t pretend to be the best restaurant or most influential chef. I’ve never worried about being number one; it’s more a consequence of what I’m trying to do. The best recognition comes from people in the same profession, when you’re not included in a list.

p1010065.jpg Kim Maxwell: Doesn’t El Bulli have an unusual format for a restaurant?
Ferran: Yes. We are open for only six months, only for dinner. We have 50 cooks in the kitchen, way above the average. So nothing at El Bulli is the norm. We create 140 completely new dishes each year, and use 180 ingredients on our menu. Spanish journalists use me as model, as a temperature gauge.

They’ve asked other Spanish chefs the same questions, and realised that other restaurants can’t do it … all our new dishes, our format. Your menu for six was created for your table. They ask how we can structure a restaurant business model this way. The answer? El Bulli is not a restaurant in the usual sense because it’s not structured as a business. It is a place where a creative team looks for the limits in cuisine. We use a known format that fits into usual restaurant traditions, so there is connection and feedback to the world and to the team. But we would like to be more radical in future. This El Bulli format could be transformed into a restaurant table open only every 15 days. Why shouldn’t it be? You need to understand this or you don’t understand El Bulli.

Kim Maxwell: How does the menu creation process happen?
Ferran: Talent is not something you can structure. I have the best creative team in the world. I couldn’t do it alone. From 1994 to 1997 I was alone here. But now the El Bulli standard is so high. We close the restaurant at the end of September. On the following Monday my creative team and I pack our bags for London, Paris and perhaps Chicago, to search for creative ideas. The team of five includes my brother and me. We visit museums, markets, Chinatown, or spend time in bars, talking and brainstorming. We are looking for the meaning of happiness in our food.

Kim Maxwell: I noted Asian ingredients in my 2007 menu: imitation caviar made of miso, teriyaki mackerel belly, miso sesame sponge cake and shimeji mushrooms. Was the Asian focus intentional?
Ferran: I used 180 ingredients in your menu, of which only eight were Asian. Your razor clam dish with seaweeds had 10 ingredients alone. Maybe Asian ingredients are more noticeable because they are less usual. We use a lot of Spanish dishes and ingredients from the Roses area too — we used pistachios from Tarragona nearby.

Do you know what was missing on your menu? Bread! For a European diner, to have no bread during the meal is unimaginable. So I included black sesame bread crumbs in the mackerel dish.

Kim Maxwell: What inspires you to travel?
Ferran: I visit places for cooking promotions if I think I can learn something there. But if I travel with my wife, it’s very different to travelling with my team. What impressed me after visiting Japan is the greater respect Asians, and the Japanese in particular, have for a dish. Also, the way dining rooms are set out. El Bulli’s dining room isn’t very suitable as it’s too sociable for eating as an individual experience.

Kim Maxwell: What constitutes an ideal eating experience?
Ferran: I was involved with Dokumenta, a contemporary art festival, during 2007, where two mystery guests were sent for dinner at El Bulli over 100 days. These weren’t foodies, but art people.

One of them sent me the most wonderful sentence about her experience. “I went out of El Bulli with a sensation of not having eaten anything dead,” she said. Eating is a very individual experience, so this situation confirmed to me that two diners are the ideal number. In special cases, a group of four or six can work if people are concentrating as professionals. But an experience for two is preferred so as not to loose concentration, as people eat at different speeds at larger tables.

Concentration on a dish is based around the senses – it’s very important. People don’t use their senses enough when in a restaurant with friends. My ideal at El Bulli would be 20 minutes per dish, but with 32 courses it is not possible. The speed of dishes arriving is fast so the information is concentrated. If El Bulli’s creative team of five travels, we eat and study with concentration, and analyse. But this is not normal behaviour!

Kim Maxwell: It’s hard to fathom your intention with some dishes, the Parmesan air in Styrofoam, for instance. Is cooking a language everyone can speak?
Ferran: There could be 1000 different meanings, depending on the person opening that Styrofoam box. You could think about 15g of Parmesan air which is very light, but eating it provides the sensation of being heavy. It could be pop art if you were an artist, or similar to a box found in a supermarket. To speak my language of cooking, you have to go through all the steps to understand it. But others who know less can still enjoy it. You don’t always understand a poem, but you can enjoy it. It’s the same with eating.

Kim Maxwell: Could you create the El Bulli experience outside Roses, Spain?
Ferran: I could and I couldn’t. Whatever I can change, I change. What I can’t, I don’t. What’s more important is the format. If I take that format of operating a restaurant every 15 days, I could do this in Roses or in Barcelona. But doing it somewhere else, the food would be different.

EL BULLI, Cala Montjoi, Roses, Spain. The restaurant closed permanently in 2011.

PLACES: Escape to Tree Tops in Citrusdal

dsc_0041.jpg We wanted a different getaway, a place warm enough to ignore the spring chill, with a drive of sufficient distance to remind us that we had escaped urban life for three days and two nights. Tree Tops near Citrusdal ticked the boxes.

It wasn’t easy finding September weekend accommodation. Only two hours from Cape Town, this is citrus country popular for mountain bike races and company retreats. Spring probably increased the demand, as the wild flowers were out in force.

dsc_0022.jpg The Baths is an outdoor resort with hot springs that date to Victorian times. Their numerous affordable self-catering options were full – we were advised to book their weekend accommodation two months in advance.

Luckily we heard about treehouses overlooking the river at a farm, 9km along a gravel road from The Baths, and grabbed the last one. The location was tranquil and beautiful. Tree Tops is a decent glamping option – somewhere in between self-catering and luxury camping. It’s privately owned and well equipped, but you won’t know in advance to what extent. The owners’ email provided a map, firewood at R20 a bag, and vague instructions to bring towels and food.

In fact each treehouse has a double bed, basic linen, a bar fridge, kettle, plus glasses and mugs for two. A table and two chairs on the balcony, a small basin, and tiny electric fan were standard. One bigger treehouse had basic cooking facilities and a fireplace inside, so if you’re looking for solitude, it’s the one to request (we never saw the couple staying for one night).

Communal toilets had separate shower rooms. They were clean and linked to the treehouses via wooden bridges. Showers were hot, but came without soap or two-ply.

dsc_0011.jpg A stone kitchen on the lawns was equipped with a communal fridge, a couple of two-plate stoves, and cupboard for each treehouse – containing two sets of plates and cutlery, pots, wine glasses and a waiter’s friend. A drawback if all treehouses are occupied, you need to request extra bits and pieces for any extra children in advance. We’d called on arrival after finding only a bare mattress in our room as extra bedding for a five year old.

COMMUNAL
The communal braai area facing the river has a grid and a few seats, and makes a lovely sunset or breakfast spot. Two smaller braais are available if you don’t fancy being sociable.

Which is a consideration. We had the place to ourselves on Friday. On the second night we shared a fire and a chat with a young apple farmer and his girlfriend, before taking our bottle of wine to our treehouse balcony once our son needed to go to sleep.

dsc_0037.jpg If I returned I’d probably book out Tree Tops with two other families, and take over a few treehouses. Your kids need to be old enough to share a double bed with a sibling or friend in a separate treehouse. The treehouses are close enough for adjacent occupants to call to each other, but they’re suspended on stilts some distance from the kitchen and braai area – something to keep in mind, as some young urbanites struggle to sleep with noisy night crickets and chatty morning birds.

That is also part of the appeal. It’s quiet, you’re in nature, views are lovely, and two-man canoes are tied to the riverbank for use. We had fun tackling the beer-coloured Olifants River with paddles. We also spent a day at The Baths as day visitors, alternating between bathtub temperatures in the hot springs and the icy swimming pool.

TREE TOPS, Citrusdal. Adults R650 for two a night; children R120 per night.
Tel 022-921-2474 or 071-681-3871, Tree Tops

PEOPLE: Ashley Moss at The Greenhouse making his mark

the_greenhouse_24.jpg First appearances can be misleading. A pristine white tablecloth in a conservatory restaurant suggests a formal mood and stiff dinner service. Similarly, a head chef whose left arm is tattooed with stars, alien creatures and planets comes across as anti-establishment to some. Ashley Moss has probably raised eyebrows greeting mature guests in a short-sleeved chef’s jacket at The Greenhouse restaurant. We are talking the flagship eatery of Cellars-Hohenort hotel in well-to-do Constantia.

This kitchen team is shaking up The Greenhouse – during the eight-course menu, chefs serve a dish and chat with guests.

Moss is doing the same in the kitchen. But his is no rebellion, rather about stamping culinary identity gradually. ‘I have no problem with people wearing T-shirts if they’re there for the food. But there’s definitely a market for people dressing for dinner and after good linen,’ he says.

‘We’re seeing more younger diners though. Now we’re trying to break the mould with our table set up.’ It’s a small detail, but a knife and fork lie together at an angle in the top right near the wine glass, instead of on either side of the plate.

Moss seems older than 28, and his food reflects this maturity. Recently married, he joined The Greenhouse as head chef in July, after positions in serious UK restaurants. He proved his worth on a previous four-year previous stint at The Greenhouse, departing in 2011 as sous chef.

This nature-lover is a fit, early riser who cycles 30km before work. En route he fills plastic bags with foraged wild dune spinach on the False Bay coast. It’s used in a tempura dune spinach snack, dipped in Asian dashi with smoked snoek.

the_greenhouse_004.jpg ‘I did a bit of foraging in England but here it’s a practical thing,’ says Moss. ‘We’re hesitant of spending on micro-herbs or whatever else is “trending” at The Greenhouse – we’d rather use what we find. But our number one priority is deliciousness.’

The five-course spring menu (R550) features sashimi with farmed abalone, seaweed and kelp. ‘I waded into the Atlantic for the kelp, which we cook,’ says Moss. ‘The sea lettuce just had to be rinsed.’

NATURE’S SUPPLY
He’d be stupid to ignore the magnificent produce from the hotel’s vegetable gardens. The gardener consults the kitchen before planting. So a few courses into the spring menu, you’ll eat an earthy quail and wild leek dish that skids to a halt with sweetly acidic raw guava puree zing. the_greenhouse_013.jpg

It was Moss’s idea to combine guavas and macadamias, but he struggled with its pairing. ‘Then the wild leeks came out in our garden. It’s such a strong flavour we use it with milder regular leeks,’ he says.

If you’re splurging on the eight-course menu (R850), an African theme is introduced early on with tapas snacks. So local gemsbok on a slab of salt partners fermented waterblommetjies. A carved bowl holds indigenous madumbi potato ‘chips’ alongside the tastiest mushroom crème brulee you’ll eat.

‘I have a lot of work planned before the end of the year. I’ll go Japanese,’ says Moss. ‘I’ve had it on the cards for six years. It’s not something you jump into.’ This time he’s not discussing food but the next set of tattoos.

THE GREENHOUSE, The Cellars-Hohenort, 93 Brommersvlei Road, Constantia. Tel 021-794-2137, Collection Mcgrath

This appeared in The Times on 8 October 2014.

PEOPLE: Q&A with Karen Dudley on The Dining Room

karen_dudley.jpg Why the Dining Room? The Kitchen (next door) is a busy, wonderful, small space, all about variety and sunshiny-ness. What it isn’t: a place to linger and have a conversation. The Dining Room is where you engage at a table. I’m making old-fashioned dining table glamorous again.

Describe the décor. I would call it tongue and cheek nostalgia.

What should diners expect? People at their tables, having a classic dining experience. Our food is delicious and they don’t have to think about what to have. They’ll be served a plate of meat, fish or vegetarian lunch of the day, with lovely salads and veggies.

Signature thing. We do an hors d’oeuvre trolley at our Thursday evening dinners. It’s a lot of fun.

dining_room.jpg Is it true you were “the other kitchen” First Lady Michelle Obama visited after “getting lost” en route to The Test Kitchen in 2011? No, we were ‘investigated’ a few weeks before her visit. Nothing the Americans do is unintentional. My girls said she’d never come to Woodstock, too much of a security nightmare. But she did. The main road was closed for 40 minutes; they arrived in three SUVs; there were sharpshooters on the opposite roof. We just played our music, made ‘love sandwiches’ for Michelle Obama’s two girls and served our lunchtime salads.

What don’t people know about you? If I wasn’t doing food I’d probably be arranging flowers, singing or doing radio documentaries.

One thing you are saving for. To renovate my poor, neglected kitchen at home. I really want a kick-ass home kitchen.

THE DINING ROOM. 117 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock. Tel 021-461-0463, The Dining Room.
Lunch at R90 per head on Tues to Fri. Longer Thurs dinners at R250 per head. Private parties.

This appeared in The Times on 8 October 2014.

PEOPLE: Top chef: putting balls on a plate

luke.jpg Woodstock is a peculiar location for South Africa’s most recognised restaurant.

Victoria and Albert Roads carve arteries through lurid shop signage advertising zips and fasteners, mingled with autoworks, furniture upholsterers and lawnmowers. Trucks hurtle past windows secured with unsightly metal grilles, pedestrians on pavements clutch tightly to belongings. Chef Luke Dale-Roberts selected this environment to open The Test Kitchen in November 2010.

The restaurant blueprint appealed to locals and visitors from the start. Four years in, a five-month year-round waiting list is real. Last-minute cancellations are the way to buck the system.

Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul was at a nearby table the night I dined. He was impressed, saying as much to 2.2 milllion Twitter followers. The restaurant boasts ‘best in Africa’ and position 48 in The World’s Fifty Best Restaurants, and Eat Out’s Restaurant of the Year title for the second time.

‘Within a 10-minute drive I can get anything I need: carpenters, metalworkers, concrete … That’s why I love Woodstock so much,’ says a grinning Dale-Roberts, showing off barbed wire he nickel-plated to look like jewellery, to hold candy floss for petit fours.

Seeing sheep’s wool snag on fences gave him the idea: ‘I took this down the road to be made and they all thought I was a bit mad when I said it was for candyfloss and marshmallows.’ Whether you buy into the barbed wire analogy or not – keeping sheep in and criminals out – Dale-Roberts is subtly pushing an African sentiment.

So kicking off his 11-course gourmand menu, you’ll find Franschhoek trout with amasi (fermented cow’s milk). Four courses later, seared springbok has pureed turnip milk ‘stencilled’ decoratively on a plate alongside red cabbage. The headline act is the lamb smiley, a cleaned up version of the township special. A sheep’s brain, tongue and cheek pair creatively with capers and anchovy, kale and a cauliflower smear.

Anybody who’s eaten at The Test Kitchen knows that while the food is innovative and skilled, diners enjoy themselves. ‘You’re selling fun. People want to leave feeling they’ve had a good night. It’s not just about the food but also the banter with the waiter,’ says Dale-Roberts. He enjoys a chat himself.

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The Dale-Roberts take on a Lamb Smiley: caper and anchovy emulsion, curly kale and cauliflower purée

It’s also the view of kitchen action as 15 chefs and interns chop, stir, sear or plate at their stations. ‘I put a helluva effort into training,’ says Dale-Roberts of his chefs. ‘I’ll give them everything if they give it back.’

The team is one chef short on the morning we chat, so Dale-Roberts fills in. ‘If I’m having a really shitty day I go on the grill. I find it really cathartic. You stop thinking about anything except getting it perfectly cooked.’

Dale-Roberts manages the pass four nights a week. Head chef Ivor Jones handles the rest. There’s bustle, activity and music in a creative warehouse-type space, while plates are swiftly sent out. Multiple waiters expertly explain dish complexities and the suggested wines or blended teas partnering them.

What of the creative process? ‘The menu has to evolve, offer new things. I keep a running list in my phone of what I want to try. I think people like working with me cause I always have some wacky idea,’ says Dale-Roberts.

Take the visual aspects of the ‘TK concrete ball’, where two concrete flowerpots arrive steaming, containing kingklip grilled on hot charcoal. The finished plate pairs the fish alongside potato-skin puree and other elements. ‘If you’re being clever, you’ve got to deliver. There can’t be too many theatricals either. It’s got to taste good and work,’ he adds.

‘Before, I was obsessed with what people thought. I’d mull on it for days. Now I’m proud of what we’re doing, and don’t hang on to it,’ says Dale-Roberts. His wife of 14 years, Sandalene, is integral to his business and happiness. She designed the restaurant’s pink copper chairs.

Thanks to systems being in place, Dale-Roberts finds time to kick a ball with his seven year old, and sneaks off for long-board surf weekends with chef mates. But the pressure to stay on top is big. ‘I’m a control freak, yes,’ he smiles. ‘Complete.’

THE TEST KITCHEN, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town. Tel 021- 447-2337, The Test Kitchen

A version of this appeared in The Times on 1 October 2014.

PLACES: Winelands stayover at Angala

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After confirmation of an April Friday night stay at Angala in Simondium, my next step was to check travellers’ comments on TripAdvisor. I’d been asked to provide honest feedback about our complimentary overnight experience at this relatively new country boutique hotel, and it was encouraging to see both local and overseas guests were impressed by their stays.

A five-star establishment set on the Franschhoek-facing side of the Simonsberg mountain (you drive through Vrede en Lust wine farm to access it), Angala is small and personal hence very un-hotel. From deluxe rooms to the luxury suite we stayed in, the accommodation feels separate and fairly private, with greenery nearby, and views of mountain, valley or both. In short, peaceful without being too remote.

dsc_0029.jpg Before its refurbishment, this venue was the Cathbert Country Inn. The new owners clearly drew on their personal experiences of luxury travel, because the roomy spaces are filled with the sort of touches that cut out having to phone reception first – a microwave above the pod coffee machine in a custom-built oak cabinet in the deluxe bedroom, pool towels in the bathroom cupboard, a basket piled with firewood near the fireplace, a stocked mini-bar at no extra charge. There is underfloor heating and country chic décor that’s luxurious yet not ostentatious. An additional outdoor shower with its floor built around an existing tree trunk – but shielded from prying eyes – moves the spacious en suite bathroom from satisfactory to memorable.

dsc_0037.jpg Dinner was one of the biggest surprises at Angala. Guesthouses or small hotels aren’t known for high food standards, but consulting chef Matthew Gordon has worked some magic on the resident chef. Marlin Clayton is a local from nearby Pniel who started studying IT before switching to an apprenticeship in food. He’s spent time working at local cafes and winery restaurants, and his mastery of classic cooking techniques is evident. His cooking pitched well above expectations during a flavoursome dinner.

dsc_0008.jpg At R275 for three courses, highlights were warm, plump Roma tomatoes on a round, thin pastry tarte tatin disc. Another starter saw duck done three ways: liver parfait, expertly home-smoked breast and a tasty spring roll filled with duck confit, served with fruit chutneys, oils and micro-herbs. A grilled kingklip main dish sounded plain but was tasty and served with flair, alongside perfect beurre blanc sauce, baby vegetables and coriander-and-pistachio couscous. Clayton’s menu repertoire is limited and some desserts in particular, could benefit from subtle tweaks, but generally you can eat very elegantly here and the chef’s passion shows on plates that are layered with flavour.

dsc_0056.jpg What else? There’s an eco pool near the restaurant and deck for uninhibited summer guests. It’s a natural system whereby plants clean the liquid of any impurities, leaving clear water and a green algae layer lining the cement pool. A young Egyptian couple seemed happy spending their time visiting Paarl wine farms and Franschhoek restaurants. Popping down to neighbour Vrede en Lust winery’s new Lust Café for lunch is only a five minute drive (their sourdough loaves baked on the premises are a must-buy). The sort of person opting for a stay at Angala would probably be a well-off urbanite wanting time out to recharge their batteries close to nature. We hiked uphill past the neighbouring property’s vineyards and orchards before breakfast to admire the morning light and surroundings (you could also pack your mountain bike for a short ride). We weren’t disappointed.

ANGALA BOUTIQUE HOTEL & GUEST HOUSE, Simondium. Luxury suite from R3200 per night including breakfast. Tel 021-874-1366 or see Angala

PLACES: Cruising on Radisson Friday sundowners

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Looking for something different to do on a Friday summer evening in Cape Town? Tobabo’s Restaurant & Terrace at the Radisson Blue Hotel Waterfront has teamed up with Tangent Charters and they’re offering affordable sunset cruises. The boat sets off at 5pm on Friday evenings and the deal is that the Radisson Blu provides the snacks and drinks, while boat designers Tangent Charters take you out into the Atlantic in the direction of Clifton beach for a couple of hours.

dsc_0008.jpg Their 39-foot catamaran departs from a private mooring adjacent to the hotel’s terrace, where in good weather conditions are comfy enough to balance a glass of wine or two in moderate swell. I joined some jetsetters on a catamaran cruise this week, and once the engines were switched off and they’d hoisted the sail, a few of us spotted a few dolphins surfing nearby. A few poor victims were struck by seasickness, but I thought it was a pretty cool experience …

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If you have no dinner plans, stick around and enjoy three courses on the Tobago’s Restaurant sea-facing terrace afterwards. They cater for vegetarians and while the menu won’t rock your culinary world with innovation, it’s tasty fare offering fairly good value for a hotel restaurant when packaged with the cruise as a total night out.

RADISSON BLU HOTEL WATERFRONT, Beach Road, Granger Bay. Cruise from 5pm – 7.30pm.
R250pp for the sunset cruise, a glass of Champagne and salty bar snacks.
Or R495pp for a Tobago three-course dinner plus sunset cruise, glass of Champagne and salty bar snacks.

Tel 021 441 3000, contact capetown.reservations@radissonblu.com or see tangent charters

PLACES: Elgin overnight at Old Mac Daddy

exterior_2.jpg What joy to wake to a view of apple orchards cloaked in mist in the beautiful Elgin Valley. We were invited for an overnight stay in a vintage trailer free of our little guy, which meant the rare chance to sleep in. My man was excited because it was his birthday. And I’d waited 403 days for the luxury of having an entire night off – thanks for babysitting granny!

We were camping. Kindof. A year ago the Daddy Group cleared some pines on a hillside and set up a stylish trailer park. At Old Mac Daddy – think ‘had a farm, hee hi hee hi ho’ - vintage Airstream trailers were adapted to each hilly site, with a permanent wooden bathroom, lounge and deck attached. It’s peaceful in that country way where the wind whistles through the trees, birds tweet and tractors whine in the distance. This is a luxury trailor park with respect for country values, hence rooms have no iPods or TVs and phones only work in the barn designed to emulate an apple shed where meals are served. The apple shed picks up Wi-fi and guests are given a complimentary 20MB daily – how I posted this blog… 188-.jpg

Like the original Grand Daddy hotel in Long Street with trailers on the roof, each Elgin trailor interior was decorated by a local artist. Our neighbouring trailor had yellow-and-black bumblebees, while a couple we chatted to at dinner stayed in a pink-and-mirrored Mills & Boons romance novel theme. Our caravan was deep green with exotic foliage and flowers painstakingly painted on to the walls, ceiling and even light fittings.

French Post-Impressionist Henri Rousseau’s ‘The Dream’ inspired the design, and it seemed to suit the woodsy theme when you looked out the rectangular windows. My man thought it was pretty cool to wake up to find a naked woman lying on the couch – even if it was a stuffed pillow! 193-.jpg

Each trailor unit sleeps 2 adults inside, and the bedroom is comfy in a squashed camping sort of way. Towels, biodegradable soaps and shampoos, coffee facilities and a retro fifties Smeg bar fridge with a mini-bar are provided. Clever contemporary furniture and surfaces are used – the shower wall is coated corrugated iron, for instance. And a custom-made L-shaped couch becomes two single beds, if two children come along. On that note, campcots can be supplied for babies and breakfast is included. The apple shed offers a casual restaurant with a pizza oven for mealtimes. We’ll definitely be back for a return visit.

R675 per two-adult trailor suite per weeknight, R975 per two-adult suite on Fri or Sat. R175 per child over two. From 10 December R750 per two-adult trailor suite per weeknight, R1200 per two-adult suite on Fri or Sat.

OLD MAC DADDY, Valley Road, Elgin. Old Mac Daddy

PEOPLE: Healthy kickstart with Justine Drake

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Justine Drake has the solution to healthier eating after the festive excesses. Simply Good Food is her fifth cookbook.

This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in January 2011. justine-011.jpg

How does your love of food translate into earning a living? I’ve been cooking since I was old enough to wield a wooden spoon. I currently edit the Fresh Living consumer food magazine. I’ve hosted Just in Africa, a culinary travelogue TV series, and I coordinate the restaurant line-up as director of the Taste of Cape Town and Taste of Joburg food shows annually.

Describe yourself. Outspoken, loyal, honest, fun-loving, food-mad.

Healthy eater or prone to gourmet binges? Hmm, I suppose for the most part I’m a pretty healthy eater – low fat, low salt, no preservatives. But I do love Sauvignon Blanc and my job is prone to gourmet binging. Enough said.

Suggestions for over-indulgence sufferers? Lots of water and milk thistle. Mind you, a good spicy Bloody Mary and a bacon sandwich go a long way too!

Always in your grocery bag? Lemons, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, assorted fresh herbs, free-range chicken, Sauvignon Blanc. And a recent discovery, Primitiv Vodka produced locally from spelt grown in the Cederberg.

A “good” eating day at home? I presume you mean healthy and well behaved. On a regular weekday it’s homemade Bircher muesli, an office lunch of Ryvita, chunky cottage cheese, tomato and Danish herring. Dinner of chicken breasts stuffed with anchovy, lemon and herbs, with baby potatoes and salad. Or spaghetti Bolognaise, or maybe grilled fish with a curry rub, raita and basmati rice.

Favourite Cape Town restaurants? We mostly eat in our neighbourhood – so Il Leone for great, modern Italian, Manos for heavenly Prego rolls, Posticino for good, affordable pizza. I love Bizerca Bistro for friendly “posh” food, and Carne for meat in another league.

Is Simply Good Food for dieters? Yes and no – it’s for healthy eaters and anyone who wants or needs to eat better. It caters for weight loss, diabetics or those with high cholesterol, and provides salt-free recipes for high blood pressure. Sometimes people need to change their cooking and aren’t sure how to go about it. Eating bland, unexciting food often means they binge because it didn’t satisfy. Simply Good Food aims to change that.

What sorts of cooking suggestions are provided? Desserts using xylitol or Sugar-lite – I dare you not to find the low-fat crème caramel utterly delicious! Stabilising yoghurt so it doesn’t curdle, then using it instead of cream. And the age-old trick: adding lots of herbs and spices to make up for the lack of salt and fat.

Which ingredients were vetoed by dieticians in the book? Salt – almost entirely - and sugar. They are bigger killers than fat and far more frequently used. You know when you’re eating saturated fat – and feel appropriately guilty – but you don’t feel the same when tossing loads of soy sauce on a platter of sushi. I used to use a lot of stock powder, but I took to making my own salt-free chicken stock. It was the only way to get around the fierce dieticians – bless them!

Simply Good Food is produced by Lannice Snyman Publishers and retails at R162.50. ISBN Number: 9780620474016.

PEOPLE: Gift wrapped: Antonia Labia

Antonia Labia of Casa Labia café explains why visual appeal is important in her family’s exquisite heritage building turned cultural centre in Muizenberg.
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This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in Dec 2010

History of Casa Labia on Muizenberg’s beachfront? My grandfather, Count Natale Labia, was the first Italian ambassador to South Africa. He built Casa Labia in 1929, modelling it on Palazzo Labia in Venice. All the art, gilt ceilings, silk wall panels, chandeliers and marble fireplaces were shipped by designer Angelo Zaniole. Eighty-one years later I’ve restored that original splendour.

What is inside the Casa Labia house? We’ve created the café in the original living room, with reception rooms leading off so the public can wander and admire the interiors. We have a boutique and a contemporary art gallery. We call it a cultural centre. It’s a beautiful space where we host events such as poetry readings, music concerts and workshops.

The café menu? Few can do food simply like Judy Badenhorst. She’s an experienced chef, combining Italian classics with proudly South African ingredients in her unique way. The food is tasty and visually appealing. You might eat roasted tomato and pepper soup, aubergine and orange salad, and spinach and ricotta pancakes. Her rich, moist Italian-style cake is delicious. dsc_0010.jpg

How did you create the luxe café feel? Flock Design created our contemporary café with old-time elegance. We use damask linen and roses on tables; Princess chairs with original brass chandeliers and marble fireplaces. Although Italy is in our hearts, South Africa is in our soul. Our mostly-local customers are a mix of ages. Due to its seaside location, the café is a destination. It feels special without being pretentious. The food is good enough to bring people back.

Describe yourself? Somebody aesthetically-minded. I worked in public relations and later studied interior design. Food, wine, art and travel are passions. Italian food is my favourite – I love the pastas, fruit and vegetables. And on the French side I love Champagne – I’ll find any excuse to drink it.

Casa Labia Tel 021 788 6062.

PEOPLE: French flair a la Cape: Marlene van der Westhuizen

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Chic South African Marlene van der Westhuizen is inspired by French flavours and classic techniques. When in Cape Town this industrious woman whips up gourmet meals, while in France she hosts tasty tours.
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This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in Nov 2010

What keeps you busy in food? I’m a classically trained chef and I’ve produced a few cookbooks. I own a space I call the Food Studio in Green Point. Three times a year I host cooking holidays for foodies in Charroux, Auvergne in France.

Please explain the concept of the Food Studio. It’s a venue where we strive to cook excellent food at affordable prices. We offer lunches or dinners for 10 to 22 guests – I pair my dishes with wines on request - or host small groups of friends or colleagues for stress-free cooking classes.

How did you transform the Food Studio space? We renovated a semi-detached Victorian building in 2007. Upstairs my open-plan kitchen leads to a terrace and a dining area, plus guest bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s decorated with a few serious antique shop pieces plus some easygoing, fun items. I love the antique Murano chandelier I found in an Italian shop in St Germain in Paris.

We’ve heard tasty rumours about dinners on offer. Yes, I have capitulated under pressure from clients. We opened the Food Studio for individual dinners every Friday at eight. We’ve been running these since 19th October, charging R280pp for three courses. It’s a set menu and people can bring their own wine. Booking is essential.

What could I eat at the Food Studio? Comfortable “brasserie luxe” food. Onion soup, coq au vin, osso buco, oxtail, tarte tatin, orange pudding… Served with bread on the table while I cook with a glass in hand! All recipes are from my cookbooks: Delectable, Sumptuous, Lazy Lunches, Decadent Dinners, Kuierkos vir die Middag and Kuierkos vir die Aand. dsc_0001.jpg

You recently went to France to lead your gourmet tour. What happens? Guests stay with me at Bagatelle, our home in the medieval village of Charroux. We shop at local food markets, cook, walk and cycle. During a weeklong experience, we might browse for antiques at the Sunday brocante, eat at a local haunt, cook some more and taste wines.

Ingredients always in your fridge or pantry? Fresh eggs, full cream milk, tomatoes and ripe Brie. Collectively these make a perfect meal.

Your treasured foodie collectables? I love napkins… large antique ones. I have more than is strictly proper. And I have heaps of silver and bone cutlery.

Catering, Friday dinners and Charroux gourmet tour details at Good Food Tel 021 433 2259.

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.
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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

PEOPLE: Burgundian delight: Waterkloof’s Gregory Czarnecki

A Burgundian chef talks about a taste for travel that landed him in the Cape.

waterkloof_chef_gregory_czarnecki_low_res_3.jpg People say Waterkloof is like dining in a glass box 300m above the Atlantic Ocean. Other special features? Waterkloof is about transparency: there is an open kitchen with nothing to hide. What you see on the menu is pretty much what you get, no crazy explanations. Something elegant but not stiff. A good bottle of wine, a good meal, an amazing view in an amazing building.

Something people won’t know about the restaurant? Water is on the house - we filter farm water and add bubbles or serve it still. We don’t believe we should charge and it’s also good for carbon footprint. Owner Paul Boutinot says he’s in the wine business, not the water business.

Something they won’t know about you? I love heavy metal bands such as Slipknot; been listening since the age of 16. I do strange stuff - I’m cycling the Argus tour without any training. My wife and her father have done it about six times. I’ve cycled downhill from Waterkloof and up the 300m hill twice; I like a challenge! I’ve done a lot of sporty holidays: cycling tours, paragliding off a mountain, canyoning and rafting. I never prepare for these things. If somebody says I won’t manage, I take up the challenge.

Profession if not a chef? I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I love the job. I’ve been here seven days a week for the last 16 weeks. Otherwise I might be an interior architect – I love creating new things. I re-upholstered an antique sofa myself. It took me six months.

I met my wife… 11 years ago in Saldanha. My father was working there as an engineer in a factory.

Before I started cooking… I travelled the world for 18 years. I’m from Burgundy but I didn’t really grow up in France. I’ve lived in Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Hong Kong and China. So many places have something different to offer. It was easy to pack a big suitcase for South Africa. This is my third time living here. I’d like to see more of the country but I’ve made a start - I camped for two weeks in the Cederberg. As an adult I worked in Burgundy and Paris mostly. In Paris employed by a three-Michelin star restaurant, I visited their venues in Belgium, Tunisia, Geneva and Lyon.

waterkloof_balcony_table_setting_view_lr.jpg Casual or fine dining? To South African tastes Waterkloof is fine but not pretentious dining. I love a dish we created today: glazed pork belly with quartered boiled beetroot, Granny Smith poached in Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc and fresh black figs. It’s simple, earthy and the flavours match. In international fine dining restaurants you often see lobster, foie gras, turbot… I’m bored with that. I love the forgotten vegetables: beetroot, cabbage, fennel and butternut.

Quick meal out on a day off? I’ve learned a good Afrikaans word gatvol - I’m gatvol of cooking on my day off. I usually go for sushi on Sundays with my wife.

WATERKLOOF, Sir Lowry’s Village Road, Somerset West. Tel 021 858 1491, waterkloof
Open daily for lunch, for dinner Mon to Sat. Three courses at R250 to R300 per head.