Journalism · The Curious Cook

My top foodie finds of the Winelands

Franschhoek and Stellenbosch may be the king and queen of dining destinations but the bustling town of Paarl and its quieter cousin Wellington have many culinary surprises hidden up their proverbial sleeves. Local food writer Anna-Karien Otto has put together her pick of favourite foodie items to be found only in these beautiful jewels of the Boland.

De Villiers chocolate ice cream

This is (deadly serious) the best ice cream I have ever tasted. The balance of the sweet and nutty notes of the deeply rich dark chocolate is just perfect, studded with chunks of fudgy chocolate brownie as an added surprise. It is even better (if at all possible) paired with a scoop of the mixed berry or mango sorbet.

Photo: De Villiers Chocolate

De Villiers chocolate is of course available from Woolworths countrywide but this delectable ice cream can ONLY be found at Spice Route just outside Paarl! And because it’s made from De Villiers chocolate, it’s fair trade, palm oil free and made from cacao sourced from a small group of farms in Uganda.

Spice Route is world renowned as a favourite destination known for a variety of foodie offerings – including authentic German delicacies, wine and pizza. But this gorgeous ice cream is seriously underrated.

Visit the ice cream café at the De Villiers Chocolate Tasting Room near La Grapperia restaurant and pizzeria. Contact 021 874 1060 for more info.

Almond frangipane fruit tartlets

Photo: Pierre Lombard Hurst Campus

These tartlets are sheer perfection: the perfect summery treat. Light as a feather, fragrant frangipane is encased in buttery pastry and topped with a fan of fresh paper thin plum or nectarine… you definitely won’t be able to stop at just one! They are the creation ofaccomplished pastry chef, Pierre Lombard, who trains the up-and-coming young chefs in the art of patisserie at the historic Hurst Chef school in Paarl. Everything Chef Lombard makes is outstanding with an astounding attention to detail: classic yet modern flavours with that added special flair.

Also try the delectable chocolate brownies flavoured with espresso al lá Escoffier or rose vanilla cake with cream cheese frosting. Lombard matriculated from Huguenot High School in Wellington and trained under the Swiss German pastry chef Axel Franck of the Southern Sun hotel group. “I absolutely love the fact that you can take a few basic ingredients and turn it into a beautiful edible creation and the ability to teach a young impressionable minds to do the same,” says Chef Pierre. “My favourite skill is to teach students is to do chocolate filigree work, it is a dying skill, but such a proud accomplishing and satisfying skill to achieve.” Locals are indeed lucky that the chef school also has a café – Meals on Main (MOM) –  located in the same beautiful heritage building as the chefs school. Here you can enjoy lunch made and served by the student chefs and a cup of Terbedore coffee accompanied by these marvellous cakes and pastries.

Find MOM Café at 132 Main Road, Paarl or phone 066 483 2530 to place an order. Visit thehurstcampus.co.za to enrol in one of the top chef schools in the country.

Red Angus free-range beef mince

There is just no mistaking quality. This beef mince is more than a cut above the rest, it’s packed full of flavour with just the right balance of fat and lean. Charles Back of Fairview fame is not only an award-winning cheese- and winemaker, he also manages a small herd of Red Angus cattle – a sturdy Scottish breed known for being docile, so much so that they never even grow horns. This top grade meat is 100% hormone free and Certified Free-Range by SAMIC (South African Meat Industry Company) and by the Angus Association. And the herd is only one of two Red Angus herds in the whole country to become certified (with nearby Boschendal being the second). And you sure can taste the difference: “All our cows are fed on spent grain and barley from our brewery and munch on Kikuyu green pastures under the sunshine,” says Mr Back. Order it in burger form topped with melting bacon and brie or grab your own to take home. Find it in fresh or frozen in the deli section of Back’s restaurant and deli, 191 Main Road, Paarl. Phone 021 872 0697.

Hexberg organic olive oil

I am sharing a really special secret with you. You can’t find this special olive oil in supermarkets or at any deli, the only place is at Hexberg Farm itself. This is how you get there… drive outside town on the Hexberg road outside Wellington. Turn left at the first farm, the windmill will point the way. Park outside the shed next to the house. A family of friendly blonde Boerboel dogs will bark at you but don’t be alarmed, they’re job is to let the farmer Mr Louw know that you’ve arrived. He will lead you into his cold room at the back of his shed and believe me it’s worth it – here you will find a cornucopia of dried fruit, almonds, honey, olives, pomegranate cordial and this amazing olive oil, all produced right there on the farm. All organic and completely seasonal so small batches only. My tip is that autumn is the best time to grab some bottles of this super special olive oil: so authentic and rustic that wine bottles are re-used as containers!

Green, fruity and full of flavour, I only use it in raw form so its magical properties remain intact. Hexberg is the only farm in South Africa that still dries the apricots themselves, halving and stoning by hand before spreading out to dry in the sun.  

Beautiful bejewelled sun dried apricots at Hexberg farm in Wellington. Photo: Justus Wagener

Phone Hexberg farm on 0836308247 for more information.

Mynhardt’s Fruit Cake


Chef Mynhardt truly is a force of nature. As the 2013 winner of wildly popular Kokkedoor on kykNET, he is also a food stylist and photographer, cookbook author and creator of the show Makietie. In his colourfully artistic studio apartment located at 24 Station Street in Paarl, he sets up a long table groaning under the weight of his generosity where guests gather to eat in a convivial, homely atmosphere. Another venue he uses for these long table dinners is the cathedral cellar at KWV, for whom he is a brand ambassador. Mynhardt and his team start baking these gorgeous cakes in September every year to keep up with the demand, posting them all over South Africa. Packed with fruit, nuts and dates and made with real butter, tasting just a slice of this cake will change your Christmas tradition forevermore. To top it all, the cakes are baked in aid of the local NGO Monte Christo Miqlat (MCM), an NGO which helps empower impoverished families, at-risk teens and the homeless through nutrition, sports programmes and care centres. Chef Mynhardt partners up with proudly South African brands such as Moir’s and Sasko flour and Président Butter in creating his beloved fruitcakes.

“Baking these cakes every year is a highlight for me,” shares Mynhardt. “For weeks my kitchen at Stasie Street in Paarl smells of spice and is a hive of activity as we line cake tins, chop nuts and dried fruit, mix and bake. It has become synonymous with reflection on the past year, and only my best wishes for the New Year accompanies each cake!”

Email chef@mynhardt.co.za or phone 076 033 1839.

(First published in Bolander October 2020)

Personal Essays · The Curious Cook

A movable feast

 

In January this year we went on a road trip, crossing the Western Cape through the Karoo to the hinterland of the Eastern Cape. After fulfilling the usual family obligations, we headed for our favourite destination – Graaff-Reinet.

It is here that we feel most at home, relishing in the absolute peace of the Karoo. The weather always seems to be perfect at any time of the year, with the loveliest long, drawn-out magical evenings. The sun takes its time to set, dipping below the mountain, painting the clouds gold or pink before giving way to a long deep cobalt blue twilight that seems to last forever. And in Spring the swallows and swifts arrive, gliding and dipping above the spires of the glorious cypress trees in the gathering dusk.

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Journalism · The Curious Cook

Tapping into the tastes of Africa

 

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Imagine an ice cream that represents the many and varied flavours of Africa. Made with no preservatives or additives, only home grown ingredients. This is what Tapi Tapi desserts are all about, but the concept behind it is not only ground breaking, it could very well become a way to shift our cultural and social perceptions.

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The Curious Cook

The perfection of the pumpkin family

What is the dish that you associat with your earliest food memory? I love to think of what children long for, drinking cocoa by the fire after school like in an Enid Blyton story. In the classic Robert Louis Stevenson poem Young Night Thought a boy dreams of a procession of exotic characters marching past his mind’s eye as he falls asleep. My procession of nursery favourites would include dhal with spinach paneer from India, plum jam dumplings for the Austrian/Swiss Germans, pasta with pancetta and peas for those Italian bambini, vetkoek with mince or mieliepap with tomato onion sauce for us South Africans and roast chicken for almost everybody.

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In my battered 1960s copy of “A Child’s Garden of Verses” beautifully illustrated by Hilda Boswell, all kinds of dreamy things happen such as this vision above and a girl falling asleep in a boat that rocks her to sleep. Photo: Anna-Karien Otto

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The Curious Cook

An ode to the clove

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A twist on the usual garlic bread- sourdough toast with baked garlic. Photo: Anna-Karien Otto

This year has been the coldest winter in the Cape in the six years I have been living here. I live in the Southern hemisphere and therefore don’t really have anything to complain about, yet every year the onset of winter takes me by surprise. I am amazed at how the cold changes my personality –  I immediately become much more introverted, slow-moving and unexpectedly grumpy, like a desperate little animal preparing for hibernation, seeking only the warmth of its burrow. The only consolation I can think of is to seek out dishes that not only bring warmth and comfort, but galvanise me to not become too disheartened by the slow turn of the solstice.

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The Curious Cook

An omelette and a glass of wine

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Julia Child was famous for making a rather messy but absolutely delicious omelette.

Making a good omelette is a simple joy that has been eluding me for many years. I never seem to have enough patience to leave well enough alone and usually end up with an overcooked jumble of scrambled eggs. Eventually, it became so dire that I thought that only the most experienced chefs must know the secret and almost gave up altogether.

But then, while watching one of my favourite foodie films, Big Night (1996) I discovered a clue. This comic drama unfolds as two Italian brothers prepare the most wonderful multi-course meal for, among others, the beautiful Isabella Rossellini (who eats it all) and Louis Prima who of course never arrives.

The highlights of this meal-of-a lifetime is a groaning platter of risotto in contrasting colours and a giant pie filled with layers of pork sausage, tomato sauce, pasta and hard boiled eggs. This marvel is called timpani (the Italian for ‘drum’) because of its generous shape. And in this way, a legendary dish entered the public realm, beguiling food-lovers ever since. So much so that co-director and writer Stanley Tucci named his production company after it. 

 

 

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The Curious Cook

Summertime means strawberry time

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Photo: redberryfarm.co.za

When I was a child, one of my favourite holiday treats was to stop at Mooiberge farm stall in Stellenbosch to buy a box brimful of freshly picked strawberries. Bright red and nectar sweet, I would devour them right there and then in the back seat of our old beat-up Mazda. We used to combine them with the most perfect accompaniment, a punnet of thick Jersey cream, into which we would dip the tip of each berry. This was back in the late 80s and 90s, when this now iconic farm stall was much smaller with only a handful of scarecrows to point the way.

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