Gastronomic Magic At Hartford House
I always jump at the opportunity to head out of smoggy Joburg and into the countryside, so an impromptu invitation from general manager Duncan Bruce to visit the 130-year-old Hartford House, nestled among the rolling hills of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, came as a welcome surprise. The farmstead and the nearby Summerhill Stud horse farm are owned by Mick and Cheryl Goss, who have established it as a centre of excellence for both horse breeding and hospitality, but I am here to meet the young talent that has been handed the apron in the kitchen.
Head chef Constantijn Hahndiek took over from the renowned Jackie Cameron and has been in residence at Hartford House for four months. Bruce and Cheryl Goss visited him at La Petite Dauphine Guest House in Franschhoek, where he was cooking up a storm in the Café Bon Bon kitchen. Just a few tastes of his gastronomic magic was all it took to convince them that they had to have him, and the rest is history.
Hahndiek (or "Tijn", as he's known by staff around Hartford) took me on a tour of his new kitchen garden on a chilly Saturday afternoon. He proudly pointed out his beds of Chinese radishes and miniature beetroot while lamenting the recent black frost that all but eradicated his parsley and peas. He smiled when I asked him how he got started cooking. "I wish I could say that I always wanted to be a chef, that it's what I dreamt of doing. I had very little experience of food when I was young. I remember tasting basil pesto for the first time and my mouth just absolutely exploding. I asked my friend what was in it, and she told me herbs, olive oil and nuts." Hahndiek remembers being astounded that something so simple and tasty could be made by anyone. "That was it. From that moment I was hooked."
There is a very simple food ethos at Hartford House. Fresh ingredients are sourced from local producers in the immediate vicinity of the farmstead, all of whom he has a close relationship with. "My food orders on a Monday take half the day. I have someone for pork, someone for chicken, someone for duck, someone else for cheese and organic stoneground flour."
Meals are held on the wide, terracotta-tiled stoep that overlooks Hartford House's gracious country garden. Dinner can run up to five courses, with a chef's surprise sometimes thrown in and an optional wine pairing with each dish. He and Bruce interact with guests throughout the evening to explain the processes and tastes behind each dish and why certain wines work best with each course. Hahndiek's cooking style lends itself to the theatrical, but it's obvious that he takes his work very seriously and is passionate about creating chemistry on each plate that comes out of his kitchen. dinner on the final night ended with a dessert of a fresh tulip filled with citrus cream, deep frozen in liquid nitrogen and served at table.
From the moment you arrive, drive up the winding road, passing the thoroughbreds lazily chomping hay in the fields, until you pack your bags to leave, you feel like an honoured guest. I'm so glad such a talented culinary artist has decided to make one of the most beautiful spots in our country home.
Extract from Wanted