"Hartford House is certainly cooking and the star in the kitchen is head chef Constantijn Hahndiek. He’s fresh from an Eat Out top 20 nomination this year – and the only KZN restaurant mentioned." - Frank Chemaly / The Mercury Good LifeRead More
Filtering by Tag: Anne Stevens
The Jackie Cameron story is universally told, and now we have Travis Finch, whom Jackie praised in her final appearance here as the young man she insisted we take on at all costs, because she didn't want him cooking for anyone else! High praise from the high priestess.Read More
Twelve years ago, a blue-eyed, blonde-haired 19-year-old stripling was handed the keys to the Hartford House kitchen, and told to run. Jackie Cameron had big shoes to fill. The man who interviewed her for his job, was being redeployed to our new venture, Lynton Hall. A legend already, Richard Carstens was on his way to new-found stardom as South Africa's Number One chef, and the hole he left behind at Hartford was going to take some filling.
Undaunted by the challenge of facing the doyens of the critical media in her first week at the office, our young lady greeted the formidable forms of Victor Strugo, Metchild York Mitchell, Anne Stevens and Jos Baker through a door once darkened by the former Prime Ministers Winston Churchill, Jan Smuts and Louis Botha. It wasn't long and she'd attracted the encouragement of Abigail Donnelly, Anna Trapido and Derek Taylor.
In the dozen ensuing years, she has made the Hartford restaurant her own. In between, she's enjoyed the acclaim of an adoring fan club, she's festooned the pages of the culinary weeklies and she's survived a couple of critical accidents. A regular feature in Eat Out's "Top Ten", Hartford is now "bucket list" for any self-respecting gastronome, not the least of whom, Bruce Palling, The Wall Street Journal’s senior European food writer: "I had imagined this was a charmingly backwatery sort of place that was suffering from being there too long. Big mistake. I would put Hartford House in the same league as Faviken in Sweden and the Royal Mail in Australia as one of the very best remote places to eat anywhere on the planet". Doesn't get much better than that, unless you're talking about Eat Out's Top 5.
Jackie Cameron intends opening her own exclusive cooking school in Hilton in the new year. As good as she is as a cook, she's as adept at teaching. Her legacy at Hartford includes the elevation of three young Zulu ladies of limited qualification, from the scullery to representing South Africa at cooking exhibitions in Zurich, Prague and Shanghai.
Her leaving is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is just the end of the beginning. Cheryl Goss, Hartford's originator and the hand that's blown the wind up Jackie's skirt, has twice helped chefs to the mountain top. Richard Carstens was Chef of the Year, Jackie Cameron is now the leading lady. Who's to say we can't do it again?
The greatest compliment we can pay to the past, is to preside over a seamless transition to the future, preserving the things of value and building on the base that's thrilled so many ever since the doors opened here. The tradition of good cooking is as old as Hartford itself, and our graduates have populated some of the best kitchens in the land. Aaron Maduna, once the Goss family's private cook, became head chef at Mala Mala before returning for Hartford's opening as a hotel. Salmon Nell became head chef and private housekeeper to Bridget Oppenheimer, while Floris Smit is the man behind Bushman's Kloof's reputation for fine food.
This time, we're handing the baton to one of Jackie's protégé’s, Travis Finch, whose pedigree includes an insatiable curiosity, boundless ambition and a sense of je ne sais quoi, a globe-trotting CV at several leading European eateries, and especially a stint under Peter Tempelhoff at one of Cape Town's "temples", The Greenhouse. Travis is joined by another Greenhouse graduate, Brendan Ryan, whose move from Singita to KwaZulu-Natal was spurred by the adventure of doing something extraordinary in a remote location, where you're not just one of several in the same street, and comes with the strongest commendation of the legend himself. That's what brought Carstens and Cameron here, and look where they ended up.
It's hard to believe, but it's verging on eighteen years since Cheryl and I vacated Hartford House to make way for the pleasures of what has become a devoted public. If that sounds like a sacrifice on my part, it was, not so much for the public benefit but for a frustrated wife who understandably wanted to do something to create her own legacy. You see, I was quite comfortable in a residence which had once served the families of the colony's last Prime Minister, and the converted stable block at the other end of the farm was an unlikely substitute for the opulence of the old manor house. I have to confess though, with the benefit of hindsight, the joys Hartford has brought to travellers from far and wide and the reciprocal satisfaction it has given us, has reminded us that we only live once, and if we do it right, once is enough.
Those early years were a bit hit-and-miss, as neither of us or our immediate family had known the hotel trade, though it's fair to say, there's probably a little farmer and a tiny hotelier in most of us. Hospitality is a hard business, particularly at the top end, where guests expect and are entitled to get the best bang for their buck. But if you think that's tough, you should try your hand at the culinary business, as long as you can stand the heat in the kitchen. Our cooks (you'd hesitate to call them "chefs" at that stage) were lucky in the early years to enjoy the encouragement of a legendary assembly of mentors, the Victor Strugos, Joss Bakers, Mechtild York-Mitchells, Anna Trapidos and Derek Taylors of the world, critical doyens of the culinary arts, who probably saw in us a lot of enthusiasm and determination, but not much in the way of finesse and style. Without their support and guidance, none of what you see in the 2014 version of Hartford House, would've been possible.
Just recently, we hosted one of our old favourites, the formidable former Food Editor of The Mercury, Anne Stevens, who's been as fundamental an inspiration to our team as any, even if that was driven in part by a fear of falling on the foul side of her columns! Anne tells it like it is, no matter who you are, and her unique mastery of the English language is an added advantage in expressing her likes and dislikes exactly as she intends them. Jackie Cameron remembers her first week in charge of the kitchen at Hartford, after she'd taken over the reins from another celebrity of the time, Richard Carstens. He had just taken on our other new venture, Lynton Hall, which he took to the top of the South African cooking pile after his stint here. The opening of Lynton literally threw Jackie to the wolves; first Joss Baker, then Victor Strugo and then Anne Stevens in a matter of seven days, for a 19 year old. The sense of enterprise that marks her cooking to this day was her saving grace in what to most of us, might've been the longest week of our lives.
Jackie was out in the picking garden, trying to work out what she was going to make for Mrs Stevens' dessert that evening, when Anne was greeted by the "welcome" gang at the carpark under the old oak tree. The penny dropped when an irresistible cluster of ripening gooseberries had already found its way into her basket; she fashioned in her head a miniature baklava replica of the same basket, laden with fresh gooseberries and an accompanying sauce. That Anne Stevens loves a bit of "tart" in her dessert, was the catalyst that exemplifies the mutual admiration the cook and the food critic share to this day. It's apparent though from Anne's most recent column, that the "cook" had obviously overlooked this vital piece of "intelligence" in formulating this year's menu with Frangelico Dom Pedro and Gooseberry Jam, Milk Biscuit, Brioche Rusk and Berry Sorbet for "pud"; the veteran's suggestion that "something light and citrussy" might've done the trick, tells us Anne still has "tart" imprinted on her mind, though Jackie's retort is that with the gooseberry jam, she was only trying to demonstrate how far she'd come by dishing up the gooseberries in a new form! Either way, it's a compliment to Anne's status as a writer, that a chef of Jackie's modern-day renown, should still recall what she made for dessert on a particular day those twelve years ago.
This is what she had to say: "It's not entirely flowery nonsense to say that Hartford House near Mooi River provides the ideal hothouse to nurture the talent of its award-winning chef. Jackie Cameron has, in the eleven years she has been there, been afforded every opportunity to grow her skills, and every chance (thanks to owners Mick and Cheryl Goss) to travel the world and sample some of its best food. The result is that she continues to rack up awards, largely being regarded as one of the country's top 10 chefs - a distinction she alone in KwaZulu-Natal has apparently merited.
Keeping a talent like hers alive in a country setting is not easy, and every year to 18 months I return to Hartford, waiting to hear that she has been lured to the big city for more money or glory, or to find that she has lost her edge. Not so. The chefs who resided before her at Hartford did so briefly, and often with no distinction. She has proved the exception. Whether she could still bloom in the strict confines of a commercial city restaurant is a matter for speculation, but her food is extraordinary.
Very little is done purely for effect. Every dish evokes some memory for her, and is layered with thought as to what the whole will become, what will make sense to the tastebuds. Sliced raw scallops marinated in Japanese miso sauce and served with a swirl of julienne cucumber, asparagus, spring onions, celery and leeks, blobs of avocado puree' and miso paste was a simply delicious combination, each little element adding to the whole. And on the side was clever semi-set globule, a mojito flavour. I'm very much over the whole molecular gastronomy thing, but Jackie used it here as just a side issue, something to wake up the palate.
And the palate already needed wakening, after a platter of breads on the table that included patha bread, made with madumbe leaves and chilli (bringing together two cultures as Jackie says), health bread, chillibites and mealie bred with a spinach dip on the side. It was too easy to dive into that with abandon.
The scallops were followed by a smoked mussel soup which had nothing to do with smoked mussels. Fresh mussels and little pieces of nori (seaweed) were given crunch with thin, crisp, fried potatoes and garlic chips bathed in a broth served separately and poured over. For a fellow diner it was the piece de resistance. Next came the sliced meat and "coq au vin" dumplings, with a light jus poured over. Once again, everything worked in perfect harmony. But nothing could have been as harmonious as my favourite dish of the night, which was rather unpromisingly labelled as samp and beans. That was just the base though, a sophisticated take on the staple starch, studded with nuggets of meltingly tender, slightly crisped chunks of tongue, cooked sous de vide for 35 hours (which is, not to put too fine a point on it, boil-in-the-bag cooking).
With crisp roast carrots, fresh horseradish and crunchy cabbage, it was a dish to savour. I found myself longing for a plate of just that the next day. After all that richness, the dessert was just not for me. Something light and citrussy might have done the trick, but a mix of something with Frangelico liquor, gooseberry jam, milk biscuit, brioche rusk and berry sorbet I could not do. Particularly with a chocolate topping.
And I could not even dip into the plate of home-made chocolates, Turkish Delight and other goodies passed around with coffee. It was a dinner to remember, a memory to savour for another year. And by then, maybe Hartford will have moved beyond the old choice of tableware. Dishes of such style are not improved by being served on tiles and half-bricks, or in the case of the dessert, in a petri (laboratory) dish. I was glad the sommelier had pointed out the latter to me: I might have spent some time trying to crack what seemed like a particularly recalcitrant sugar crust".
Hartford included in Anne Stevens' Eating Out Restaurant Guide
Whatever they may say about the troubles of the world, there are still pockets of excellence which continue to stand out despite the gloom. Hartford House is one of those, maintaining its position as one of the most decorated hospitality businesses in the land this year. We never take these things for granted, but we're always grateful for the recognition and the encouragement they bring to our team. Hartford is something of a miracle story, in a district short on skills and job opportunities. Few of our people know the look of a school leaver's certificate, yet they are born of a natural talent for making people feel at home, and they're among the few in the world who still regard service as a dignity.
It's great to be recognised by the country as a whole, and we thrive on the acclaim of those abroad, but it's as gratifying knowing that you're appreciated in your own neighbourhood. Anne Stevens, the most revered of KwaZulu-Natal's food critics is our senior journalist, who has eateries living in anxious anticipation of her approval at this time of the year. Last Friday her annual Eating Out guide appeared for the umpteenth time in decades, in The Mercury. Remarkably, for a city which ranks as the third largest in the country, Durban doesn't celebrate a restaurant in Anne's top echelons. There are some fine restaurants in South Africa's premier holiday playground, worthy of mention in any collection of the country's best, but if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, the leisurely drive in the Mooi River direction of the Drakensberg, is essential. Hartford was once again one of only two in the province to enjoy her coveted four-star acknowledgment; coming from Anne, that's some compliment. Like everything else on this property, from racehorses, horse feeds, equine insurance to hospitality, the motto is : "World class and beyond". "Auntie Anne's" endorsement that we've been faithful to our creed, is heartening.
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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."
HARTFORD HOUSE RESTAURANT
Anne Stevens has long ranked among the nation's top food critics. Certainly in KZN, she's the "Queen of Critics". She recently visited us :
The five-course dinners at Hartford House near Mooi River are R325 a head.
Is that expensive? Not at all, bearing in mind that one of the country's top chefs is in the kitchen, and getting better and better with each year of maturity.
Jackie Cameron is now so confident of her abilities that she allows herself little dashes of humour in her cooking, like a Maltabella ice cream at breakfast, a deconstructed peppermint crisp tart after an elaborate dinner and a lamb bunny chow made with mealie bread at lunchtime.
The highlight of a recent dinner was a deeply intense brown mushroom soup made with shiitake powder and truffle oil.
Its flavours lingered and it was perhaps wise to follow it with something fresh and light : Norwegian salmon tartare with cream cheese, smoky olives, microherbs (the new buzzword), lemon zest and croutons.
The play of textures and flavours was fascinating, and echoed in the next dish : seared springbok loin salad with pink peppercorns, beetroot, candied walnuts and little cubes of foie gras terrine.
With all that going before, and appetite pretty much sated, it was perhaps inevitable that the main was less memorable. But crispy Midlands duck breast with potato spaghetti, butternut puree, hazelnuts and cinnamon-infused red wine sauce would stand out on most restaurant menus.
Then the peppermint crisp tart, broken into individual pockets of chocolate, mint, cream and crunch.
There is a new lunch menu, served on the deep veranda in good weather, featuring the likes of local trout with almond potato cream, smoked salmon salad with nori seaweed terrine, and asparagus with exotic mushrooms in a Caesar dressing.
A duo of rabbit - hot terrine and loin wrapped in parma ham - sounds inviting, as do gorgonzola capelletti with olives, green beans, apple, toasted walnuts and walnut oil.
But then just about everything at Hartford is appealing.
It features one of my favourite breakfasts of all time : poached haddock sitting on a tuna fishcake, dressed with caviar, rocket and a subtle black sesame seed sauce.
Just add a corn fritter from the full English breakfast, and you have a winning way to start the day.
It's going to be interesting to watch what direction Jackie takes in the years to come.
Booking is also essential here : 033 263 2713
Extract from The Mercury Good Life
LAND OF LEGENDS
Just a few weeks back, we told the world of our joy at Hartford being voted South Africa’s best restaurant in the House and Leisure / Visa Best Of SAcompetition. The results are now in the public domain following the publication of the November issue of House and Leisure, and we applaud our fellow KwaZulu Natal and Land Of Legends pals, The Homestead at Phinda Game Reserve and Fordoun Spa, for topping their categories alongside Hartford.
To quote House and Leisure editor, Naomi Larkin, “each of the winning destinations has a unique touch and global appeal, and deserves to be named the best in South Africa”.
And then back to renowned food critic, Anne Stevens, who wrote this past week in The Mercury : "But that’s not all, as they say in the ads. Hartford and the Beverley Hills in Umhlanga have earned Diamond Wine List awards as well”.
“The celebration was twice as sweet for both; the “Bev” was also awarded an American Express Platinum Award for its signature restaurant, The Sugar Club, and Hartford took its fifth consecutive American Express Fine Dining Award in Johannesburg”.
"Form is temporary : CLASS IS PERMANENT"
There’s an old saying in the racing world that you might fluke the odd big performance, but it’s the ability to consistently achieve at the top level that’s the real mark of quality. The magnitude of Hartford House’s Top Ten Restaurant Award last Sunday evening, is only just beginning to sink in, and the extent of it is quietly coming home to us.
The reality is that none of these achievements are overnight occurrences, and they’re no different to winning Breeders’ Championships. We know what it took to put a team together capable of landing the spoils in the horse business, and the sustained record of four consecutive championships has been the product of almost 30 years of blood, sweat and tears.
In Hartford’s case, the journey started almost eight years ago, with the recruitment of a man by the name of Richard Carstens, who came to us with the option of working at Hartford or at our new venture at the time, Lynton Hall. As it turned out, despite Hartford’s own requirements, we felt that Lynton’s need was the greater because it was in its infancy, and after eight months at Hartford, Richard relocated to the coastal resort, where he took Lynton to a top ten finish in the national awards, and in the end, was elected the nation’s top chef.
As Richard was departing for Lynton Hall, we discovered a waif-like Thespian, who had already spent a year at the Mount Grace Country House & Spa, in the form of Pietermaritzburg born and raised Jackie Cameron, and she proceeded to beaver away as industriously as anyone we’ve ever come across in an already industrious team. Though wet behind the ears, Jackie quickly revealed an underlying potential that’s rare not only in people of her age, but uncommonly so in older people too. It wasn’t long before local critics nabbed onto her coattails, and began to invest in her growth. People like Mechthild Yorke-Mitchell, then restaurant critic for Wine Magazine, Anne Stevens of The Mercury, Derek Taylor of the Sunday Tribune, and latterly and very significantly, Victor Strugo of The Saturday Star, who has been a powerful personal mentor to Jackie. All of them caught onto the fire that was raging at Hartford.
Of course, there's been many other accolades, and last year the Hartford restaurant made the Dine Top 10: Deluxe 2008 voted by Diners club international & Wine magazine, but the Prudential Eat-Out Restaurant Awards are the summit of them all, and to have achieved this is the ultimate for any young chef or restaurant anywhere.
The point of this is that under Cheryl’s tutelage, in the relatively short space of 12 years, we’ve seen the emergence of two national celebrities in the culinary game, and it’s all a result of a sustained obsession that goes beyond perfection.
There’s no team in the world that can appreciate the significance of Hartford better than that at Summerhill. We know what it takes, and we understand what it is that keeps you there. Class, class and more class, and nothing less than class.