Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

SUNDAY TIMES FOOD AWARDS 2010

vanilla bean panna cotta

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
(Photo : Hartford House)

"When a chef labels a dish panna cotta... it must be so..."

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

My job morphs into many different forms depending on the day and what is required of me.

A few weeks ago I was invited to help judge the Sunday Times Food Awards 2010, hosted in association with Foodcorp. Our task was to look for the hottest talent in our South African kitchens. Written entries were reviewed and a short-list of six contestants competed at the South African Chef's Association kitchen in Joburg. A first-class experience!

The requirement was that all meals were to express an African feel. A lack of imagination was evident – and we were completely Amarula"ed" out by the end of pre-judging with Amarula Crème Brule, Amarula Parfaits, Amarula Chocolate Mousse and Amarula Crème Anglaise. We were grateful Amurula did not feature as one of the compulsory ingredients in the final cook-off! The contestants were required to make interesting dishes from ingredients such as guavas, rhubarb, white peaches, fennel, strawberries, pigeon, springbok loin and lamb kidneys.

Terminology and an understanding of foodie words excite me so chef/judge table discussions around topical flavours and recipes were stimulating. Call me a purist – and I'll agree! When a chef labels a dish panna cotta it must be so - cooked in the traditional way in accordance to its name or custom. Panna cotta is the Italian word for boiled cream hence the method should reflect this.

A satisfactory sign for the competitors must have been witnessing the amount of food we judges ate over the two-day period. It was enlightening being in close proximity to the competitors and judging the unusual combinations they created in the tight conditions. Their standard of work was highly impressive. Entrants in all the categories (Sunday Times Chef of the Year, Sunday Times Young Chef of the Year, Sunday Times School Challenge and a new category: Sunday Times Stalwart of the Kitchen) had worked extremely hard to get to the final and each was as nervous and enthusiastic as the other. As a mark of respect I took my role as a judge very seriously. Their's was not an easy task and I take my hat (apron!) off to them.

I came home motivated to work with the ingredients used in the competition and to create my own methods. I'd like to share the following ideas :

Silky-smooth Amarula crème brule. Refreshing guava sorbet which, when served with a creamy gorgonzola and honey, makes for an interesting cheese course. Quick-and-easy vanilla-bean panna cotta, with "sexy hips" - not toO firm or too soft. A skilfully-textured Frangelico and pecan nut parfait, when served with a simple berry sorbet can be magical. Classical orange and Cointreau Belgium chocolate mousse – a favourite standby.

Straightforward strawberry crème anglaise served with fresh fruit is a perfect summer dessert. Rhubarb and strawberry compote is so versatile and can be served sweet, in a tart, or savoury, with a seared duck breast. Bring on your sweet tooth this month!

Take these recipes and try them.

amarula