Neil Perry, top Australian chef of flagship restaurant Rockpool in Sydney, visited chefs and restaurants in South Africa earlier this month, and has returned to his home country, encouraging Australians to experience our ‘Food Safaris’, reports Southern African Tourism Update. His trip was widely reported, and the Sydney Morning Herald sent journalist Anthony Dennis to accompany Chef Perry on his culinary tour, an unfortunate choice with his emphasis on our apartheid past in his article! Not only did the visit and resultant publicity reflect our country’s unique cuisine, but it also has tourism marketing benefits, the visit having been sponsored by SA Tourism.
Chef Perry’s journey started off at the elite and exclusive boutique hotel Ellerman House in Bantry Bay, where he did a braai of crayfish tails with his Asian touch, kingklip, and soy-marinated yellowtail. He was assisted by Ellerman House Head Chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert, who told the visiting chef that South Africa’s cuisine extends beyond game eaten next to a fire under a safari-style boma. ‘But in South Africa there’s a group of highly trained, skilled chefs who are creating a strong food culture and identity‘, she said.
Dennis praised our country’s ‘fine wine, great seafood and where the barbeque…is a favoured cooking appliance’. It is a shame then that he digs into our country’s past, writing that ‘apartheid can still cast a shadow, even over the dining table’, singling out MasterChef SA judge and Chef Benny Masekwameng as one of few ‘Black South African chefs’. Chef Benny told the journalist that the eating habits of the ‘majority of black South Africans who live below the poverty line, not much has changed at the dinner table‘, but that the ‘middle class’ in our cities are increasingly exposed to global food trends! The ‘shanty towns’ on the way to the Winelands receive a predicted mention from the journalist too, contrasting them with the modern airport built for the 2010 World Cup.
Chef Perry praised the wine industry: ‘South Africa has got amazing wine credentials. One of the real positives is that it has a lot of old vines in the ground and you’re getting some fantastic maturity there’. He praised Franschhoek’s fine white wines. Calling Franschhoek’s Grande Provence a ‘lodge’, Chef Perry and the journalist enjoyed the creative cuisine of Chef Darren Badenhorst, who prepared a typical South African braai lunch for them, with Karoo lamb chops, free-range Spring chicken, and boerewors, ‘a traditional and delicious type of sausage’. The visiting team stayed over at La Residence in Franschhoek.
Their next stop was Phinda Game Reserve, where they enjoyed the traditional Boma dinner (‘with a dirt floor, stone and reed walls’). They were treated to springbok, impala, and warthog, and entertained by the staff choir. Chef Perry was impressed with our game meats, saying ‘it was really quite intense’, not having any Australian game (other than ‘Wallaby‘ on their menus, according to blogger Bruce Palling). In Cape Town the Australian team had eaten springbok at The Twelve Apostle’s Azure for the first time, served as a ‘Cape fusion main course of springbok fillet with celeriac cream, roasted radish, orange tapioca and sultana-caper paste. The rare, perfectly cooked meat has the consistencey of beef but with a distinct saltiness and dark chocolate-like richness’.
In Durban the visitors ate traditional Indian food, including bunny chow at the House of Curries, described as ‘classic street food from the apartheid years and is a feature of the national diet across all groups’! One wonders who fed Dennis this nonsense information! In Johannesburg a Chef’s Table dinner at the San Restaurant at the Sandton Sun Hotel represents ‘the Rainbow Nation’s ethnic groups. Under apartheid, this congenial, multiracial gathering would have been deemed illegal‘. Chef Garth Schrier served the visiting chef more Bunny Chow, as an amuse bouche of a mini loaf of bread with a Cape Malay chicken prawn curry.
One wonders what SA Tourism’s understanding of our country’s cuisine is, and that of the Western Cape in particular. With 16 of the top 19 Eat Out Restaurant Finalists based in the Cape, it is a surprise that not one of these top chefs, most of the calibre of Chef Perry, were exposed to the visiting chef. At least up and coming Chef Darren Badenhorst at Grande Provence was included in the programme, even though he has not made the Top 19 list due to not having been in charge of the kitchen for a full year. This is even more evident from the SA Tourism website’s Top 10 Wine estates (gastronomic) list, of which the compiler is not identified:
2. Rust en Vrede
3. La Colombe
4. Pierneef à La Motte
6. Bread and Wine
8. The Goatshed
Odd inclusions on the list are Bread and Wine, Fyndraai, and Fairview’s The Goatshed, while surprise exclusions are Delaire Graff’s two restaurants, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, the Restaurant at Waterkloof, and Grande Provence. The ranking of Tokara in 10th’s position is an insult to the cuisine creativity of Chef Richard Carstens!
While all publicity for South Africa is fantastic, and in Australia’s leading newspaper even more so, it is a shame that a journalist should have turned a South Africa Food Safari story into an apartheid story, which is not the topic of his story at all. One wonders what gives an Australian the right to point fingers at our country’s past, given their own Aborigine history! It wouldn’t be a surprise if one were to find that Dennis has South African roots! At least Chef Perry enjoyed his trip: ‘My food philosophy is all about local, high quality produce and fresh ingredients so I was thrilled to meet with like-minded chefs in South Africa’. He encouraged travellers to our country to ‘add a South African food safari to their bucket list’, advising that they visit the Winelands, shebeens, experience a Braai, and enjoy a seafood buffet on the beach.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage