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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 — .
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.”
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.