CHEF PROFILE - CONSTANTIJN HAHNDIEK
A son of Cape Town, born and bred like his stallion counterpart Capetown Noir in the neighbouring Summerhill sires’ barn, you might’ve thought “Tijn” Hahndiek was like a fish out of water on this side of the Drakensberg: extraordinary as it might sound to our good friends beyond the Hottentots-Holland, Kwa Zulu Natal is fast becoming “bucket list”territory for Capetonians, and both our incumbents, man and stallion, are as happy as the proverbial “pigs in a bog” here. While “Capetown”, the stallion, arrived here courtesy of an illustrious career on the turf, “Tijn”, the son of Cape Town, will tell you that his induction into cooking’s “Hall Of Fame”, the nation’s top twenty, came through the humble road less-travelled. “I wish I could say that being a chef was always my ambition, but the truth is my only early encounters with cooking were through my mother, whose talent was at the same time inspiring as well as intimidating. It wasn’t till a female friend disclosed a recipe for her basil pesto as a combination of herbs, olive oil and nuts that the simple alchemy of good cooking first dawned on me”. That was it.
As so many young South Africans have discovered, cooking is a universal passport to the international world, and Tijn’s adventures started at a seaside hotel in Devon, England,where his first romance with his profession blossomed. “I love the camaraderie of the kitchen, which suited my young lifestyle at the time.” Enchanted by their endless possibilities, the adventures of the world of food then introduced him to many faraway places and close friends, with working stints in Spain, France and New Zealand. Equipped with a healthy coupling of the formalities and traditions of English cuisine, the refreshing authenticity of the Mediterranean and the cutting-edge “fusion” of Asia, his travels eventually took him back through the fast-paced chaos of London to the sedate environs of rural France. “I guess my deep attachment to the Midlands of KZN these days was spawned by the French respect for local produce, which was a fundamental feature of what made their cooking so famous. Hartford resides in the heart of Africa’s most fertile neighbourhood, and most of what we use in our kitchen is produced either here on the farm or within half an hour of our work”..
While assuming the head chef’s role at Hartford was something of a return to his life in the French countryside for its remoteness as well as the proximity to its bounty, it was also something of a step into the “big blue sea”: he had some “boots” to fill. As far from the beaten track as it is, Hartford has an enviable history in the “making” of outstanding masters(and mistresses) of the craft; Richard Carstens was voted “No.1” chef in South Africa during his tenure under its banner, while Jackie Cameron’s 12 year occupation of the role included a regular place for Hartford in the “top ten”, as well as the exalted status of leading female chef of the year. That the man at the helm right now has so rapidly attracted the acclaim of the country’s critics as one of the brightest stars in the culinary firmament is tribute enough,yet Tijn is quick to deflect the praise to a team of adventurers that never repeats a menu,and the courage to keep testing the boundaries.
“Besides the distance we’ve traveled as a destination, the thing that gets me up in the mornings is the potential we still have to explore the region’s offerings as well as the natural gifts of our people, not only at Hartford but across the province”.