Dining at the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine, Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Jackie Cameron School -- Tasty tidbits to whet one's appetite

Jackie Cameron School — Tasty tidbits to whet one’s appetite

Chef Jackie Cameron’s concept for her School of Food & Wine in the countryside about an hour northwest of Durban, South Africa, is to train small groups (up to 15 resident students) of future South Africa culinary leaders through lectures, demonstrations, hands-on in-class cooking and then internships at the dining room of the school (serving meals to the public) and external internships — over an eighteen month period per class.

Jackie Cameron School -- The former family home's dining room

Jackie Cameron School — The former family home’s dining room

As noted in an earlier blog, six of us from the ship were fortunate enough to attend Jackie’s inaugural demonstration class and luncheon.  Each of the dishes served in her future board room (formerly her family home’s dining room) had been explained and the cooking techniques demonstrated in the school’s demonstration kitchen during the morning.  Jackie’s cuisine is heavily drawn from the two predominant South African cultures — Afrikaans (derived from the Dutch colonists and settlers and later intermarriages) and Zulu (the large black native tribe of the province, KwaZulu-Natal).

The first dish was African Mielie Bread with Amaqheqhe and locally Smoked “Romesco” Olives, drawn from the Zulu cuisine.  It was much more moist than the typical American (Southern) cornbread, as it incorporates a can of creamstyle sweet corn.  While we were served “mini cakes”, the same recipe could be cooked in a loaf pan for a traditional bread shape, which could then be sliced.  Either way, with a little butter, delicious!

Jackie Cameron School -- African Mielie Bread with Amaqheqhe and locally Smoked "Romesco" Olives

Jackie Cameron School — African Mielie Bread with Amaqheqhe and locally Smoked “Romesco” Olives

With the bread and olives, we were also served a really fresh salad (the greens and sage were fresh from a local garden) — Green Salad with crispy Sage Leaves, Capers, Caesar Dressing and Parmesan Shavings.  In the demonstration Jackie gave us some great tips on frying the sage to have it come out crisp, but not overcooked.

Jackie Cameron School -- Green Salad with crispy Sage Leaves, Capers, Caesar Dressing and Parmesan Shavings

Jackie Cameron School — Green Salad with crispy Sage Leaves, Capers, Caesar Dressing and Parmesan Shavings

The main course took quite a while to (learn to) prepare — Cordon Bleu crispy Chicken Roll with Butter Bean Puree, ‘Gourmet Greek’ Yoghurt, Garlic Chips and Lavender Flowers.  Note that the pounded skinless, boneless chicken breasts were stuffed with a filling of minced chicken, Gorgonzola, cream and egg before being rolled and cooked sous vide and then fried (after being dipped in flour, egg and bread crumbs — see photos in our prior blog post).  And yes, it tasted even better than it looks in the photograph, below.

Jackie Cameron School -- Cordon Bleu crispy Chicken Roll with Butter Bean Puree, 'Gourmet Greek' Yoghurt, Garlic Chips and Lavendar Flowers

Jackie Cameron School — Cordon Bleu crispy Chicken Roll with Butter Bean Puree, ‘Gourmet Greek’ Yoghurt, Garlic Chips and Lavendar Flowers

Of course, a great meal need a great wine — the 2011 South African Robertson Winery Constitution Road Shiraz was scrumptious and a great accompaniment to the chicken.

Jackie Cameron School -- To accompany the luncheon, a delicious 2011 Robertson Shiraz (Syrah)

Jackie Cameron School — To accompany the luncheon, a delicious 2011 Robertson Shiraz (Syrah)

Dessert was from the Afrikaans cuisine (from the Dutch tradition) — Melk Terts (milk tarts).  We were surprised that the only baking is the sweet pastry shells.  Once the filling is made — a custard made from “full cream milk” (Americans call this “whole milk”), butter, flour, eggs, sugar and almond essence (extract) — it is poured into the baked shells and then topped with sprinkled cinnamon and sugar.  This is an Afrikaans cuisine desert — .

Jackie Cameron School -- Dessert was an Afrikans tradition- Melk Terts (milk tarts)

Jackie Cameron School — Dessert was from the Afrikaans cuisine (from the Dutch tradition) — Melk Terts (milk tarts)

It should be obvious from our three blog posts on the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine that Jackie is a consummate professional chef.  She’s personable, approachable, a perfectionist, and an outstanding (and patient) teacher.  Jackie exudes enthusiasm for all things culinary: “I am on a culinary adventure… I’m happiest surrounded by food and anything food-related.  From creating new dishes and flavour combinations to teaching and training; from food talk with friends and guests to dining out and experiencing other chef’s interpretations of dishes; from writing recipes to food photography; from icing cakes and learning foodie terminology to experimenting with food and wine pairings; from working as a consultant with the aim of improving the industry to TV work; from visiting exotic destinations as an invited chef to judging competition — extending myself is my mission; confronting challenges head on is my philosophy.”

Jackie Cameron School -- Following the luncheon, time for an outdoor stroll in the beautiful countryside

Jackie Cameron School — Following the luncheon, time for an outdoor stroll in the beautiful countryside

As we left for the van ride back to the Port of Durban to re-board our ship, we counted ourselves lucky for having had the opportunity to spend a day learning from and enjoying the cooking of one of South Africa’s leading Master Chefs.  In our kitchens, we’ll be able to try not only the recipes from the class, but also a variety of dishes from Jackie’s recently published cookbook, Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home: Simple and delectable home cooking, featuring South African cuisines.

Cooking at the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine, Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Jackie Cameron School -- Pre-class morning "breakfast" berry muffins

Jackie Cameron School — Pre-class morning “breakfast” berry muffins

As noted in our prior blog, Chef Jackie Cameron served for 12 years as the head chef at the award-winning Hartford House, a five-star boutique hotel in rural Mooi River (located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa).  She left in 2014 in order to establish a unique cooking school in South Africa — a school to train the next generation of top chefs for the country.  We were among the six “students” who attended her inaugural cooking demonstration class at the school, about an hour’s drive northwest of Durban.

Jackie’s perspective on her cooking style: “I have, over the years, spent as much time as possible with KwaZulu-Natal’s crafters, drawing inspiration form the different cultures; always with the restaurant scene in mind.  It is remarkable to see traditional combinations being created with heart and soul once flavour profile is understood, in a new-age way.  Having decided on a local and cultural understanding, the third leg of the pot was memories — my childhood memories.  Serving only in-season fruit and vegetables, SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) green-listed seafood, and knowing your supplier form the foundation of culinary creativity.  They are the cornerstones of my cooking.  Questions I ask myself are:  ‘Is this dish going to inspire, teach and/or remind a person of something uniquely KZN?  If it doesn’t, then what’s the point?'”

Jackie Cameron School -- Pre-class morning "breakfast" biltong (similar to beef jerky)

Jackie Cameron School — Pre-class morning “breakfast” biltong (similar to beef jerky)

Among other local foods that we had for snacks, Jackie made biltong, a dried, cured meat that originated in South Africa and is similar to beef jerky.  A major difference between biltong and jerky is that biltong is sliced after the meat is cured and dried in contrast to jerky which is sliced before it is dried.  Also biltong is generally made from a variety of meats (typically raw fillets) ranging from beef and game to farmed ostrich.

Jackie Cameron School -- Cooking with fresh sage from her herb garden

Jackie Cameron School — Cooking with fresh sage from her herb garden

Jackie Cameron School --  sprinkling cinnamon sugar over melkterts (dessert)

Jackie Cameron School — sprinkling cinnamon sugar over melkterts (dessert)

During class the local manager of the Terbodore coffee roasting company served as barista and made incredible cappuccinos upon request.  It was easy to get spoiled at this school!

Jackie Cameron School -- Outstanding cappuccinos made with local Terbodore coffeee

Jackie Cameron School — Outstanding cappuccinos made with local Terbodore coffeee

The entree of the meal we would eat after the cooking demonstration was “Cordon Bleu crispy Chicken Roll with Butter Bean Puree, ‘Gourmet Greek’ Yoghurt, Garlic Chips and Lavendar Flowers”.  The following photographs illustrate a few of the many steps this dish required.  Not your 10-minute chicken-in-a-skillet quick dinner…

Jackie Cameron School --  preparing to roll chicken breasts with gorgonzola cream

Jackie Cameron School — preparing to roll chicken breasts with Gorgonzola cream

Jackie Cameron School -- Cordon Bleu chicken roll ready for cooking sous-vide and frying

Jackie Cameron School — Cordon Bleu chicken roll ready for cooking sous-vide and frying

Jackie Cameron School -- chicken roll dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs before frying

Jackie Cameron School — chicken roll dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs before frying

Our next blog post will share the finished dishes as we enjoyed them in the dining room at the School.

Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine, Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine

Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine

We were incredibly lucky during our sojourn in Durban, South Africa, to be among the six “students” who attended the inaugural cooking demonstration class and ate the first meal there prepared by one of Africa’s leading young chefs, Jackie Cameron, at her eponymous School of Food & Wine in the picturesque town of Hilton, situated above the regional center city of Pietermaritzburg, about an hour’s drive northwest of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.  Having served for 12 years as the head chef at the award-winning Hartford House, a five-star boutique hotel in rural Mooi River (located in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), Jackie left in 2014 in order to establish a unique cooking school in South Africa — a school to train the next generation of top chefs for the country, and not like “so many other chef schools out there that are just about making money.”

Chef Jackie Cameron

Chef Jackie Cameron

She is investing heavily in the school and the cooking facilities, using the best equipment from Italy and France and sourcing as many local ingredients as possible.  We visited in March 2015 as the construction was in its last stages, with the school’s planned opening with 8 students in April 2015 (enrollment is expected to grow in the future to 15 students) in an 18-month course of instruction and internships.

Jackie Cameron School building -- formerly the Cameron family residence

Jackie Cameron School building — formerly the Cameron family residence

Eight of the students will be able to live in rooms at the school on the property.

Jackie Cameron School building -- thatched roof window detail

Jackie Cameron School building — thatched roof window detail

Jackie’s family home has been transformed and modernized into a state-of-the art facility while retaining its architectural and cultural heritage.

Jackie Cameron School building -- courtyard

Jackie Cameron School building — courtyard

Jackie chose ELBA appliances for the school as the company is “personified by its Italian style, design and build technology… The eye-catching ELBA cookers shape a particular kitchen with confidence that promises to inspire, enhancing culinary creativity.”  In order to procure top European professional kitchen equipment, Jackie works with Culinary Equipment Company, a local South African business that has been successfully grown into “South Africa’s ultimate kitchen shop” by its entrepreneurial founder, Wehrner Gutstadt. They were able to supply her with the Charvet cooking ranges (photographed below) that are designed with professional chefs in mind.

Jackie Cameron School -- new stove tops being installed

Jackie Cameron School — new stove tops being installed

Jackie Cameron School -- interior view of thatched roof

Jackie Cameron School — interior view of thatched roof

The School’s library is based upon Jackie’s recipe books from family members going back to her great-grand parents, along with a large assortment of “greatest hits” cookbooks from top chefs and writers.

Jackie Cameron School -- library selection

Jackie Cameron School — library selection

Ed Schroeder’s new-age photographs of local Nguni cattle show his deep appreciation for the animals.  Jackie chose his photographs for the school as his attention to detail — seen clearly in the eyes of his subjects — harmonises with the focus on perfection at the School.

Jackie Cameron School -- local Nguni cattle decorate the entry

Jackie Cameron School — local Nguni cattle decorate the entry

As we toured the grounds, we sere struck by a painted “poster” (slogan) on a wall exterior to the back of kitchen of the planned public restaurant serving meals prepared by the student chefs.

Jackie Cameron School --

Jackie Cameron School — “To teach someone…”

Our next blog post will highlight the preparation of the delicious South-African cuisine luncheon that we were fortunate to enjoy in the former dining room (being transformed into a formal “board” room).

Zulu art

Zulu art -- black and white motifs

Zulu art — black and white motifs

We were fortunate to visit the African Art Centre on Florida Road in the heart of central Durban during our visit.  The Centre is the major retail gallery for local Zulu artisans.  Their description of the organization:  “The Durban African Art Centre Association provides thousands of unemployed artists and craftspeople with opportunities of self-employment and economic upliftment and the ability to earn a sustainable living. We reach out to some of the poorest communities in KwaZulu Natal; the youth, rural women, the disabled, the unemployed and persons affected by HIV and AIDS. We have built a reputation for supplying specialized, high quality products hand crafted products. Every purchase made from the African Art Centre provides a sustainable income for more than 1,000 crafters supported by the Centre.”

Zulu art -- three tribal character dolls

Zulu art — three tribal character dolls

According to Wikipidia, “The Zulu are a Bantu ethnic group of Southern Africa and the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with an estimated 10–11 million people living mainly in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.  Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.  Their language, Zulu, is a Bantu language; more specifically, part of the Nguni subgroup.”  We also had the opportunity to travel inland to visit Zulu towns and watch a traditional Zulu dance troupe; stay tuned for an upcoming blog post…

Zulu art -- colorful starburst platter

Zulu art — colorful starburst basket

The Center explains the colorful basketry:  “Telephone wire basketry is an indigenous South African art form which has grown from the basket weaving skills of the Zulu people of KwaZulu Natal. The craft is said to have originated in the 1950’s when night watchmen working in the cities would weave telephone wire around their wooden walking sticks whilst working at night. Originally the wire was sourced from leftovers lying around, however when telephone wire started being ripped off and stolen off telephone poles, a supplier came on board and started producing the plastic casing specifically for the telephone wire producers.
“The majority of our weavers are from the Greytown and New Hanover areas in Central KwaZulu Natal.  This group of almost 60 male and female basket weavers consistently create baskets in various shapes and sizes, including bowls, vases and other functional items. In addition to functional items, wire weavers supported by The African Art Centre produce vibrant, colourful telephone wire earrings, brooches, bracelets and bangles.”

Zulu art -- colorful fabric

Zulu art — colorful textile panel

The embroidery pictured above is a relatively new craft for the Zulus.  The Centre notes:  “In view of the high levels of unemployment, the production of craft has become a significant source of income particularly within rural and low-income communities in KwaZulu Natal. For more than 50 years, The African Art Centre has committed itself to facilitating and implementing relevant, strategic programmes and projects aimed at addressing the concern of unemployment.  One such project was an embroidery project initiated by the African Art Centre in 2004 for a group of 7 young unemployed single mothers living in KwaZulu Natal.  The group named themselves the Ntokozo Group. The word Ntokozo loosely translated means “happy” and the embroidered panels of bold images and exuberant colour speak of personal stories, the environment and the hopes and aspirations of the crafters. The group which has grown in number continues to produce a range of embroidered products, including embroidered panels, aprons, dishtowels, placemats and stuffed animals.”

Zulu art -- tribal character doll and platter

Zulu art — tribal character doll and basket

BIg Sur, Beverly Hills and Miami Beach all meet up — that’s the Umhlanga suburb of Durban, South Africa

Umhlanga Beach -- this could be Big Sur, CA

Umhlanga Beach — this could be Big Sur, CA

A very upscale suburb of Durban, on the Indian Ocean just 10 miles north of the central city, the township of Umhlanga is a major tourist destination.  “Umhlanga” means “place of reeds” in the Zulu language.  Visitors from around the world year-round enjoy the beach, surf, luxury hotels, holiday apartments, condominiums and shopping and dining.  The sandy beaches stretch 120 miles to the north.  Just inland are acres of sugar cane fields.  Further inland lies the Inanda Valley, full of local history and spectacular landscapes, including the Valley of 1000 Hills and the massive Inanda Dam.

Umhlanga Beach approach -- is this southeast Florida?

Umhlanga Beach approach — is this southeast Florida?

The local tourism guide notes that there are a wide variety of beach activities available at Umhlanga Beach, including surfing, deep-sea fishing, whale watching and dolphin viewing, scuba diving, kite boarding and microlight flips.

Umhlanga Beach pier

Umhlanga Beach pier

The pier, just north of the Umhlanga Rocks lighthouse, provides great views of the promenade and the rocks and lighthouse (see next photo).

Umhlanga Beach lighthouse and (??) Beverly Hills

Umhlanga Beach lighthouse and (??) Beverly Hills

There are several luxury hotels and apartments on or overlooking the beach near the Unhlanga Rocks, including the “Beverly Hills”, pictured above, and the condominium complex, below.  A favorite dining destination is the Oyster Box Hotel, expanded into a hotel in the 1930s from the original beach cottage of 1869, constructed years before the village’s founding in 1895 by a British colonist.

Umhlanga Beach condominiums

Umhlanga Beach condominiums

Durban, South Africa

Durban Central viewed from the north coast

Durban Central viewed from the north coast

After several rough days at sea in the Indian Ocean, we sailed into Durban’s downtown Victoria Embankment harbour and docked at the Passenger Terminal which provided easy access to Durban Central (downtown).  Sailing south along the South African coast from Mozambique, we first viewed Durban from the north coast, with a vantage similar to that shown above (captured on the beach at Umhlanga, a northern suburb).  Durban has the busiest port in both South Africa and the entire African continent.

Durban Greyville Racecourse and Central office buildings

Durban Greyville Racecourse and Central office buildings

Durban (called “eThekwini” in the Zulu dialect, meaning lagoon) is the capital of the State of KwaZulu-Natal, a region with a colorful history and home of South Africa’s Zulu tribe.  The city has the country’s third largest economy, behind Johannesburg and Cape Town, with a population of 3.5 million (predominantly Zulu, but a melting pot with Indians, Asians, British and Europeans).

Durban -- the real cityscape

Durban — the real cityscape

Unfortunately, crime remains a major problem in the city.  Many private homes have not only walls enclosing the property, but the walls are topped with barbed wire or a combination of barbed wire with razor wire on top.  Private security patrol services (they are legally permitted to be armed) are a booming part of the local economy.  We toured the city over the course of a couple of days and never felt threatened.  However, there are sections of downtown that tourists avoid at night…

Durban South Beach promenade

Durban South Beach promenade

The Durban beachfront along the Indian Ocean is a relatively new area of development, aptly called the Golden Mile (although it is three miles long).  With a mild climate, the beach area is very popular during the day and at night.  Durban is a relatively young city (in terms of colonial settlers) — the first British party of 25 arrived from the Cape Town area in 1824.  The Victorian British had first developed the waterfront along harbor, aptly named the Victoria Embankment.

Durban -- Moses Mabhida Stadium

Durban — Moses Mabhida Stadium

The newest (and most prominent) city landmark is the Moses Mabhida Stadium, built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, hosted by South Africa in Durban and Cape Town (with its own new soccer stadium for the 2010 games).  Built at a cost of hundreds of millions of US dollars, the stadium is regarded by locals as a white elephant, as only seven games, including one semi-final, were played in it during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  The partial roof, hung by cables from the arch, is built of Teflon-coated glass-fiber membranes and covers 88% of the 54,000 (and up to 80,000) seats.

Durban Moses Mabhida Stadium central arch

Durban Moses Mabhida Stadium central arch

The uniquely designed central arch represents the formerly divided country coming together, modeled on the “Y” design of South Africa’s colorful flag.  Visitors can walk up the 550-steps to the top of the arch, or ride up a funicular.  There is also a swing from the fourth ladder rung (see photo, above) that allows visitors to jump off and swing in a 720-foot arc over the field.

Durban -- typical old private mansion by wealthy British businessman

Durban — typical old private mansion by wealthy British businessman

During the height of the British rule in the 19th Century, sugar cane was a major crop in the area.  The brick mansion, pictured above, was built by the British magnate who ran the local sugar business.  Notwithstanding the abolition of Apartheid 20+ years ago, Durban’s old wealthy neighborhoods have retained their old splendor and isolation from the melting pot.