Whilst I’m a firm believer in the fact that there’s nothing more spiritually fulfilling in this world than a perfectly cooked, impeccably flavoured meal, I don’t consider myself in any way capable of actually generating such a thing. My approach to cooking has generally been that if food is underflavoured/overcooked/generally inedible, I’d simply drown it in an ocean of cheese and power through it. I also make a mean roast, which I tend to whip out when I need to impress, but I don’t exactly have enough friends for this to have any sort of sustained novelty value.
As a result, I set off in pursuit of greener culinary pastures, and one of Cape Town’s very best was kind enough to allow me to join her in the kitchen to try to mould my limited skill set into something slightly more socially acceptable. Heloise Smit, head chef at Dutch Manor Hotel, is a gourmet goddess – her food is imaginative and exciting, and she doesn’t believe in skimping on the good stuff – cream/butter/cheese/bacon etc. Consequently I felt our food philosophies were rather well-aligned, the only difference being that she actually knows how to make this shit, whilst I really only know how to eat it.
After getting suitably liquored up (I felt it was only fair that the burden of my culinary education shouldn’t be a task undertaken 100% sober), we set to work on a menu. My brief was fairly simple – I wanted to learn to make something cheap, easy and deceptively impressive – a meal that created the illusion of intense labour and thoughtfulness.
Starter – Chilli Poppers
“Treat food like a lover,” Heloise tells me, after spotting me manhandling a jalapeno pepper like a street thug, “it needs a more gentle touch.” Whilst I don’t believe this can be universally applied to lovemaking, I’m happy to accept its validity in the context of food – Heloise’s hands are like a piano player’s, deftly handling ingredients with equal parts purpose and poise. It’s really quite awesome to behold. My clunky paws are somewhat less graceful, but, reined in under her expert guidance, work effectively to produce a rather awe-inspiring, and fiery result.
Under her tutelage, I was able to take a smattering of ingredients (5 in total), and transform them into a heavenly, cheesy platter of yumminess, complete with a requisite chilli bite. (May I just say, for the record, that we used Mediterranean Delicacies’ Jalapeno chillis, and I found there to be nothing delicate, or indeed Mediterranean about them whatsoever. I just thought that needed to be pointed out – don’t believe labels!). Turns out they were, in fact, too hot for my sous-chef – a winning result as it meant more for me – I think this is going to be a GREAT relationship!
Main Course – Gourmet Wraps
Now I know that wraps aren’t traditionally viewed as exceptionally impressive – they’re like upmarket hot dogs and generally sneered upon by the higher echelons of society. But wait til you see what we did with these bad boys! The first step in our gourmet wrap extravaganza was to create a delicate cheese accompaniment (the cheese will obviously need to be French, as cheddar and Tussers don’t really scream class). We chose a beautiful camembert, selected based on very specific criteria (price), and set about dressing it up to the nines. Off came the top, and in went Willow Creek’s amazing extra virgin olive oil, and a smattering of rosemary. Into the oven for 20 minutes and onto the next step.
Heloise worked her magical skill into some of my other favourite food groups – bacon, chicken and avocado – until we were left with a spread fit for a king! We shoved all the ingredients (delicately of course) into a beautifully toasted wrap, along with some assorted greens (a touch I didn’t feel was entirely necessary, but had to concede that it added aesthetic appeal) and drizzled the now melted, heavenly camembert concoction here, there and everywhere. The result was utterly splendid, and I defy any of my future guests to heap scorn upon this delight of a meal.
I’m incredibly grateful to Heloise for giving up her time to teach a philistine like me the tricks of the trade, and look forward to picking her brain and eating her overly spicy leftovers in the very near future.
To sample Heloise’s ample skill set, make a booking at Dutch Manor Antique Hotel’s newly opened private dining venue, and prepare to be amazed. www.dutchmanor.co.za
6 x Jalapeno Chillies (stay away from Mediterranean Delicacies if you don’t want to have your head blown off and your sinuses spring cleaned)
250g Danish (or other soft) Feta Cheese
1 x Egg
200g Bread Crumbs
Slice the chillies vertically, being careful to remove all seeds (we may not have done this entirely correctly). Fill the resulting crevices with liberal helpings of soft feta – not too much that you can’t close them up mind you. Dip the chillies first in flour, then in raw egg, before burying them in the breadcrumbs. Toss the chilli between your palms to get rid of excess crumbage. Then repeat the crumbing process – this is KEY to your success.
Once your chillies are nicely coated, drop them in a pot of boiling oil (any old cooking oil will do) for about 30 seconds or so (you just want to give them some colour). Then transfer them to a baking tray, and bake for about 8 minutes on 180 degree heat.
Serve with sweet chilli sauce. Enjoy!
4 x Rashers Bacon (streaky works best)
300g chicken breast fillets
1 x Avocado
1 x Camembert wheel
Handful of Rosemary
Extra virgin olive oil
Assorted salad stuffs (not my area, so you pick – what difference does it really make?!)
First cut the top off the cheese wheel, and drizzle some olive oil across the exposed top. Then add a sprinkling of fresh rosemary. Place the cheese on a foiled baking tray, and bake for 20 minutes.
Place bacon rashers on a foil sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and fold the foil over the bacon. Make sure this is placed flat on a baking tray, not allowing any of the juices to escape. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until crisp.
Brown sliced chicken fillets (thinly sliced works best) in a pan until they are nicely coloured. Make sure to add olive oil and spices to the chicken prior to frying, so as to seal in flavour. Then bake for a further 10 minutes or so until cooked.
Slice the avocado by spooning it out and cutting into fine slices.
Once all the ingredients are ready, toast your wraps lightly in a dry pan, and you’re ready to go. Add ingredients to the wrap as you see fit, and then spoon the melted camembert mixture across the top.