In Memoriam: Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)

From our latest newsletter:

It’s been a week since the tragic news of Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide sent much of the food world reeling, and a significant proportion of the non-food world too, notably Barack Obama, who that evening tweeted the following memory from his appearance on the Vietnam episode of Bourdain’s CNN series Parts Unknown:

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Story of a Dish: Maryland Crab Cake

In a slight departure from our usual Story of a Plate series, where we feature interesting and unusual dishes encountered at SA restaurants, we thought it would be fun to introduce you to a dish from Jean-Pierre’s recent travels to Maryland, D.C., where crab cakes are as ubiquitous on local menus as fish cakes are here at home.

While there are of course numerous variations on fish cakes (apparently the most ordered item on South African menus), like which fish is used, and which combination of spices and/or herbs, mashed potato is fairly standard across the board as a filler. In the US, the closest a potato will (or should) come to a crab cake is in the heap of French fries or crisps they are typically served with.

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Artificial Intelligence in the Kitchen

From our latest newsletter:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a divisive concept, as partly captured in the idea of whether we should welcome or fear the “robot overlords” (adapted from the 1977 film adaptation of HG Wells’ Empire of the Ants, in which Joan Collins reacts to the threat of giant ants out to take over the world with “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords”).

In the restaurant world, digital innovations designed to make the lives of both diners and staff easier have been around for years already, from being able to order off interactive table surfaces at eateries like Inamo in London, to restaurants in China replacing waitstaff (and noodle makers) with robots, not to mention IBM’s “chef” version of Watson – the “supercomputer” that famously beat human contestants on the TV quiz show Jeopardy in 2011 – which allows both chefs and home cooks to generate innovative recipes based on a database that houses thousands of possible combinations of ingredients that none of us would imagine work, but which are scientifically compatible according to their flavour profiles (Watson has even “authored” a cookbook).

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Pinch of Salt: Steak, Glorious Steak

By Pete Goffe-Wood.

Julia Child, the celebrated American food writer and TV chef, once quipped that “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook”.

Well, I couldn’t agree more, and now that the winter is finally upon us, it’s time for smouldering coals, smoky red wine and large cuts of steak slowly charring to perfection.

If you’re going to cook steak over the open fire you’ll achieve far better results if you go for larger cuts of meat: cooking a 1kg piece of meat will produce far more consistent and desirable results than five 200g steaks, and you’ll get a better char on the bigger cut without sacrificing those pink, inner juices (as long as you don’t overcook it!). There are few more glorious slabs of marbled and aged flesh on the fire than an enormous T-bone. Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: Steak, Glorious Steak”

The World’s “Best Female Chef”

From our May 4 2018 newsletter:

Earlier this week, chef Clare Smyth (who worked with Gordon Ramsay for over a decade) was named elit Vodka‘s (in partnership with The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) “World’s Best Female Chef“, which some critics lauded as a win for Britain (Smyth being the first British chef to be recognised as such, after already being the first British female chef “to hold and retain 3 Michelin stars“), while others lamented what they saw as the condescension of having an award specifically for females (Bourdain’s tweet below, from 2013, indicates that this has been a concern for some time already):

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Considering restaurants as the “third space”

From our April 2018 newsletter:

There was an interesting piece published recently which aimed to make the case for seeing restaurants as “third spaces” (Wikipedia defines a third space as a slightly complicated “postcolonial sociolinguistic theory of identity”, but we’ll go with the simpler definition given in the article about restaurants operating as “cultural hubs” that recognise the uniqueness of everyone who works at and visits them, rather than “just” formulaic watering and feeding holes). Continue reading “Considering restaurants as the “third space””

What does “avant-garde” mean in the dining world?

From our latest newsletter:

In the 1930s, Italian “Futurist” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti ) probably embodied that era’s version of “avant-garde” (defined as “an intelligentsia that develops new or experimental concepts” by Merriam-Webster) in the dining world, what with his controversial ideas about abolishing the tradition of eating pasta in Italy (as he’s pictured doing below). Amongst other things, he claimed that eating pasta both made people “heavy, brutish … skeptical, slow, pessimistic” and also harmed Italy’s rice industry by supporting the import of the foreign grain crucial to the production of the national staple.

Image courtesy of Estorick Collection

Almost a century later, René Redzepi of noma restaurant in Copenhagen – listed four times as top of the San Pellegrino “50 Best Restaurants in the World” list – might be Marinetti’s modern counterpart, credited with “re-inventing Nordic cuisine” and operating at the “cutting edge of gourmet cuisine, combining an unrelenting creativity and a remarkable level of craftsmanship with an inimitable and innate knowledge of the produce of his Nordic terroir”, thanks in no small part to his insistence on only using “locally sourced, seasonal produce” (no Italian olive oil on these Scandi tables!). Continue reading “What does “avant-garde” mean in the dining world?”

Pinch of Salt: The Emperor’s New Clothes

By Pete Goffe-Wood.

Or should I say, “The Emperor’s recently acquired hand-stitched, interlocking, sustainably, hydroponically and organically grown organic attire”?

Menu speak gone mad!

“48-hour cold smoked organically farmed, hand-reared, pole-caught Monrovian yellowfin tuna, compressed cucumber, sous-vide heirloom tomatoes, air-dried fennel, Kalamata espuma, lemon granita, green bean emulsion, confit of new season’s potatoes, and anchovy soil.”

Salad Niçoise by any other name, but not in today’s uber cool menu speak.

Chefs seem to have lost the plot entirely – whatever happened to simplicity? This kind of nonsense has replaced the old 80s style descriptions when ingredients were “nestled on a bed of …” or “floated in a pool of …”, but I don’t think that we are better off. Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: The Emperor’s New Clothes”

Story of a Plate: Sunflower Seed “Risotto” at Camphors

On the menu: Green sunflower, sunchoke, butternut, quince

One of the highlights of a recent visit was an intriguing play on risotto that used sunflower seeds instead of rice. How did you come up with that, and were you intending for it to be “risotto-like”?  

Chef Michael Cooke: Yes, we were, and it took roughly nine months of development to create this dish. To give a bit of background, we keep a diary of everything that’s available on the Vergelegen property; we document the season, the exact time of the year each ingredient is available, and the timeline that it’s available for. We do this to keep ahead of the seasons, and to be on track for when something becomes available, so when it is, we’re ready to use it immediately when it’s at its peak, and not waste any valuable time as the timeline of that ingredient slowly withers away. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Sunflower Seed “Risotto” at Camphors”

Remembering Paul Bocuse

From our January 2018 newsletter:

Legendary French chef Paul Bocuse passed away in January this year. He was known as one of the first chefs to move away from traditional French “cuisine classique” to the lighter, more modernised “nouvelle cuisine” (a term supposedly first used by a journalist to describe the meal Bocuse and others prepared for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969). He also founded the Bocuse d’Or (often described as the culinary version of the Olympics) in 1987, which remains the most prestigious gastronomic contest in the world. (His private life famously included one wife, two long-term mistresses, and a tattoo of a rooster on his left arm.)


 More than 1500 of the world’s top chefs attended Bocuse’s funeral in Lyon (image courtesy of The Telegraph)
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