I had heard of and spoken to Sonia Cabano almost a year ago, but we had never met, until last week, and we have done so twice in a week!   Sonia has a refreshing view on many things in life, and I was interested to speak to her about her love for food, and the cookbooks that she had written to date.  She is proudly South African in her love for local foods, and sees that the food preparation of generations past will become that of the future.

Sonia (de Waal) became a well-known advertising model for Lancome, Mary Quant and Yves St Laurent after leaving Brandfort, living in Milan, Paris and London for twelve years.  She grew up in a food-loving family, with her mother being an amazing baker and cook, says Sonia, and her family ate in the way Sonia proposes we should all go back to – they had a vegetable garden at home, and meat came from a smallholding her dad owned.  They ate organically then, not giving it a name, but by its principles. Sonia was always in her mom’s kitchen, and helped her mom, and now her children do the same when she prepares food.

It was in London that she was asked to cook for clients, word having spread about her wonderful dinner parties.  She loved the supply of fur and feathered game in the city, and London’s specialist shops, something she would love to see more of in Cape Town.  Her love for shopping at food markets stems from this.   Her dream to study cooking at the Ritz Escoffier School in Paris did not materialise, but her second best option was to go to London’s top restaurants and ask for an apprenticeship, and it was Bistrot 190 and Kensington Place that gave her places in their kitchens.   When many left the country in 1994, it was the year that Sonia returned to South Africa, and to Cape Town specifically.  She started a catering company, but closed it down after five years when she had her children.

She received a call out of the blue to audition for SABC 3’s “Pampoen tot Perlemoen” food programme, was hired, and made four series with them. She added food writing to her activities, for VISI, TASTE, Sarie, Insig, and House & Garden.  To this she added writing cookbooks, and two have been published to date:

*   ‘Kombuis’ – was written in Afrikaans for Afrikaans foodlovers.  She said she found it harder to express herself in Afrikaans, as cooking terms have not evolved in this language.  The book contains traditional ‘boerekos’ recipes interpreted by Sonia, and she included a chapter on how to larder.

*   ‘Easy, Simple and Delicious’, which she says is the easy way to make fresh staples in the lazy and fast way!

Her newest book, to be called ‘Relish’, will be published in September.  It will focus on sauces, seasonings, and condiments to make at home.  It includes making preserves, as well as cheeses, such as ricotta and mascarpone.

Sonia wants to share her passion for local food, and wants to keep her readers out of supermarkets for basics, which she would like them to make, like pasta sauce, instead of buying them out of a tin, and/or containing preservatives and colourants.  She includes chef’s tips in her books too. In addition to writing, she does cooking demonstrations, and is a recipe development consultant.   She wanted to set up a Slow Food shop, but could not find the right venue for it.

She espouses the principles of Slow Food, and it ties in with her food philosophy of “Tradition is Modern”!   She feels it important that small food and wine producers be encouraged and supported, and that a small food collective be organically nurtured to become a valuable resource.   Sounding similar in her food philosophy to Neil Stemmet, Sonia talks about “Kontreikos”, which is eating seasonal food from one’s region and which the farmer has been fairly remunerated for.  Sonia is very anti-supermarket, and proudly told me that she has not stepped into a Woolworths in six months. She sees supermarkets as ‘dehumanising’, pushing their wares down consumers’ throats, and Woolworths in particular does not practice its environmentally-friendly claim it proudly advertises inside its stores.   She supports ethical production of foods, and wants us “to live in harmony with nature”.  She would love us to go back, and she wants to document, to how the ‘old country ladies’ made foods like butter, and beverages in the past.  She would love Capetonians to get out of their homes again, and to connect in the neighbourhood, not just with their neighbours but also with the local shops in these areas.  She thinks that the recession is fantastic in making us all return to basics, to discover what is essential, and to no longer be shopping-driven.

Having rejected it initially, due to the disparagement she had seen on it, Sonia has now taken to Twitter, and finds it a fantastic tool for networking, for sourcing information, for the immediacy of response, and to communicate and share one’s thoughts and feelings about anything and everything!

POSTSCRIPT 23/5:  The comment by Maria has upset Sonia, and she has been contacted by 12 persons, she says, who all claim that we wrote the comment as “Maria”. Michael Olivier of Crush! made this claim to Hetzner last year, when he tried to get our blog closed down!  Sonia sent an sms today that she felt that she ‘was being set up’ by me in having interviewed her, writing the blogpost, and then writing the ‘Maria’ comment – it is an absolutely ludicrous allegation, as we have the blog in which we can write what we like, and we do not have to resort to writing comments on our own blog, nor on anyone else’s. I would not have spent the money and time in inviting Sonia for lunch, had I not been interested in her as a person, and her writing about food.  It is sad that such nastiness goes around in Social Media, and that people talk about others without having met them.  Sonia has decided to block us on Twitter as a result, from having been in praise of us getting her starting on Twitter only three weeks ago, and being happy with our blogpost about her when it was posted on Thursday.

Sonia Cabano. Tel 071 674 0222. www.soniacabano.co.za Twitter: @SoniaCabano1

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage