Jackie Cameron, Zandile Mchunu, Deli Nene, Zinthle Majola and the Hartford House Kitchen Team
(Photo : Cooked in Africa)
Jackie Cameron has racked up more accolades in the past few years than A.P. Arrow earned in the way of Voyager Miles as a racehorse, and they still keep pouring in. The latest came from one of the country's most revered critics, Anne Stevens, and it couldn't have been more complimentary. This time though, it wasn't only about food, but about Jackie's educational capabilities and her championing the cause of our disadvantaged community.
The kitchen at Hartford House near Mooi River is not all about five-star luxury. It's an inspirational setting that has transformed the lives of three women beyond their dreams.
And the person they have to thank the most is Jackie Cameron, the country house's executive chef and their mentor.
Zandile Mchunu, Deli Nene and Zinthle Majola have become valuable assets to a young woman who is widely regarded as one of the top in her field in South Africa, preparing innovative and exciting food that crosses boundaries.
Jackie, still in her late 20's, has risen to the top of her profession like, well, cream on milk.
Her credo is simple : "Be honest and true in everything you do, cook with love and your food will love you in return."
Hartford's kitchen team is made up of women, but, as Jackie says, this was purely by chance - other than that women are happier living in the country than male chefs who crave the bright lights.
Chef de partie Zandile: "My earliest memories are of making mieliepap with my mother. I loved those special occasions when she made curry and rice. I was always fascinated by how food can emphasise happy or sad moments in the life of a family."
She started work in the scullery at Hartford, but Jackie noticed how much she enjoyed cooking and she has risen through the ranks.
Last year Zandile attended the South African Food and Wine week at the World Expo in Shanghai with Jackie.
"Our cooking adventure started with a desperate cry: 'Chef, I have broken my arm.'" says Jackie. "We had been in Shanghai for exactly an hour and there was Zandile with a fractured wrist. But the one-armed chef did a remarkable job. Her perseverance was admirable and a lesson in commitment. Our traditional samp and beans, pap 'n vleis, bobotie and Durban bunny chow featured on the menu we had created. They went down well, and we were proudly South African."
Deli is a third-generation member of the Mooi River community, starting work in 1995 as a hand in the horse division at Summerhill Stud farm, which, like Hartford, is owned by the Goss family.
She then worked as a domestic for 10 years, but her love of food eventually took centre stage.
"I grew up cooking with my mom and I always enjoyed it. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a chef or cook, but didn't have the money to study. This was why I started working on the farm. As a domestic I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do a quick cooking course. This fuelled my wish to work in the Hartford kitchen. So I decided to see if I could get a temporary job in Jackie's kitchen on my weekends off. Bit by bit I worked my way in. This was my long-term plan. It took 10 years to finally get a permanent job at Hartford."
"Her culinary talent, leadership, ability, teaching skills and enthusiasm have been inspiring to watch. She knows no limits," say Jackie.
Deli was selected by Unilever as one of its Inspiring Chefs for 2010/2011.
Zinthle's mother, Helen, worked for Jackie in the scullery for six years.
"When Helen's mother fell ill she had to return home and look after the family," says Jackie. "I got no explanation as to what was going on, but one day a little Zulu woman appeared in my scullery - Helen's daughter, Zinthle. I remember one night saying, why are you here? Where is your mother? I found it very strange. But Zinthle got stuck in and very soon proved her worth. After having worked only 11 months in the scullery I promoted her to kitchen assistant. She now takes full control of the extensive breakfast menu at Hartford and controls all the daily baking. Very impressive, and such a joy and pleasure to work with."