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.

Filtering by Tag: Chefs

Are people working as hard as they used to?

Is there a general lack of enthusiasm for hard work? / Ry Young (p)

Is there a general lack of enthusiasm for hard work? / Ry Young (p)

"They seek instant gratification in stardom, a quick-fix to get one's name out there."
Extract from Chef! Issue 31

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

I truly feel all chefs should advise students entering the industry as to know how hard it can be, but at the same time how unbelievably rewarding it is. Is there a general lack of enthusiasm for hard work? I am continuously encountering young chefs who aren't even managing to last a few years in the industry. I look back to yesteryear and see chefs and/or restaurateurs that have been slogging at it for years and are still as insanely pedantic - the industry is within their blood. I wonder if this has something to do with the misconception about what it means to be a chef these days - the glam and splendour, à la MasterChef!

When I started training to become a chef there were only the 'Two Fat Ladies' and 'Floyd' on the telly and Jamie Oliver had only just hit the TV screens. There was no hoo-ha around chefs and celebrity chefs. People went into the industry because they had the passion for the ingredient or because there were few alternative options; they accepted this, put their heads down and grafted.

Today I find the demands of the hard work needed to get to the top are deterring young chefs. They seek instant gratification in stardom, a quick-fix to get one's name out there. When the hard work materialises and young chefs see family functions or social events bypassing them, they quickly resort to a different career path. A bad experience can alter their path for life. I find this career shift disheartening and have seen some true gems leaving the profession for the greener pastures of relaxation, normal working hours and family time. I have always wondered how we keep these highly trained individuals within our industry to uplift the general standard. Perhaps Generation Y has a point in seeking a balance between work and play, but in my opinion nobody ever got to the top of any profession for long without dedication and extraordinary hours of work.

Ask youngsters if they understand the hours of the industry and if they are serious about putting their heads down, focusing and reaping the rewards in years to come. It worries me that students leaving school are entering the industry for the wrong reasons and effectively squandering their parent's hard earned cash. The consolation I suppose is that something learnt is something gained and hopefully their acquired skills will enhance their day-today eating at home and filter down to an appreciation of the general expectations of a South African restaurant. I know that abandoning cooking may be the norm these days, more than staying the course is, but my concern is that we may have few quality chefs around in a few years on account of a lack of work ethic and a cushier lifestyle. We're not alone as an industry of course; hard work is having the same impact in many areas of endeavour. A local chef said to me the other evening that this industry is either for you or it isn't. We have all heard this time and again, but it was a light bulb moment for me - chefs leave the work place because they weren't meant for the industry. Like any business it comes down to one's personality and it is either for you or it isn't. Chefs can either take each challenge with open arms no matter the task, or they can hang up their hat: "If the kitchen's too hot, get out of it."

So after one conversation my thinking has been altered, though I still feel that media exposure and TV chefs are distorting the real issues: there's a grind behind this job, and it's not without its pressures. Then there are the mundane and un-sexy sides to being a chef - costings, ordering, maintaining hygiene and the long hours. They're not usually spoken of but they occupy a huge role in a chef's work life. However I do find comfort in the fact that even though there may be many graduates not staying in the industry, there's a good chance we will always have magnificent chefs around tantalising our tastebuds because if it is in your blood you are here to stay.

How I Stay Sane!

Stress-busting Secrets
Fairlady, October 2012

13 Successful, busy women, including Hartford House award-winning chef Jackie Cameron, let us in on their stress- busting secrets.

When your to-do list is about to strangle you, and you're so swamped that 'me-time' might as well be a distant planet in outer space, it's no wonder you feel over-whelmed. So how is it that some women seem to have it all figured out? We asked 13 women (who know a thing or two about dealing with life's pressures) to give us the benefit of their wisdom.

MAKING THE UNUSUAL USUAL

It's a case of opening one's mind to such flavour sensations / Alexandru Armin Rosu (p)

It's a case of opening one's mind to such flavour sensations / Alexandru Armin Rosu (p)

"Is the chef becoming more conservative for fear of turning diners away?"
Extract from Chef! Issue 30

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

One would assume that with all the foodie programmes on TV, and the continuous flow of training and education on the topic, people's palates would become more adventurous, creative and daring. This, however, isn't the case and we as chefs should be encouraging guests and our kitchen team to push boundaries and try the unusual, the unfamiliar and the uncommon.

There isn't a greater compliment than a guest saying that they had never tried such a dish before. Something as simple as the humble cauliflower comes to mind - it goes down well with a nicely-seasoned cheese sauce, yet so few orders come through for cauliflower combinations. It baffles my chef brain that people consider duck an unusual dish and it's intriguing how many comments I've heard about guests' bad experiences with it in the past. I make all my duck dishes a little more savoury than sweet and it is fascinating to hear the positive responses.

I remember Topsi Venter on the weekend of the launch of her recipe book 'Fooding about with Topsi'at Hartford House and Lynton Hall. She gave me the challenge to work on a Brussel Sprout dish. That was many years ago but I still feel inspired by the uniqueness of this underrated vegetable. In my opinion it's a chef's responsibility to make an ingredient shine. Preparing five courses every evening at Hartford House allows me to put rare items on the menu in small quantities, thereby gradually opening guests' palates to unexpected combinations.

A flavour close to my childhood memories is a 'susu' (cho-cho or chayote) also called a pear squash or vegetable pear. We had them growing profusely in our herb and vegetable garden at home. My mother would serve them steamed with an English-mustard béchamel. They can also be curried, stuffed or served raw in a salad. I have already planned to have this unusual, almostforgotten vegetable on my menus soon. It's so uncommon that even Google battled to find it!

Is a dish considered unusual because little is known about it, or because the name causes confusion? Take the Jerusalem artichoke; so many people don't know it only shares a name with the globe artichoke and isn't related in any way at all. It is a tuber and looks very similar to a knotted, knobbly ginger bulb. It is also known as sun choke. Many guests are enchanted with its unusual, delicate flavour, probably because they are comparing it with the herb-and-garlic marinated globe-artichoke hearts which they buy from their local grocer.

In my experience offal and veal are dishes guests are reluctant to try. Oh, for the innocence and naïve confidence I had eight years ago: after meeting Valerie, my French veal supplier, I did a head-to-hoof menu using her milk-fed calves. It was important that I visited the farm to see the process and I ended up participating. I deboned the entire animal and then, with a cleaver, I cracked open the skull, saw the brain, and was shown how to remove it. Plop! And it was in my hand. This was not something for the fainthearted. For lunch we prepared seared brains served traditionally with red wine vinegar and capers. The creaminess, the texture and the richness were irresistible. It's a case of opening one's mind to such flavour sensations.

I've since lost the courage to place brains, tongue, sweetbreads, livers, kidneys and tripe onto one menu and serve them as a tasting. All those years back it didn't enter my mind that guests might turn their noses up - and I had a full dining room. The question then is... is the chef becoming more conservative for fear of turning diners away or the diner really unwilling to try unusual dishes?

It is imperative that we as chefs take our guests on a culinary journey, bearing in mind that there will be some that are more creative and adventurous than others. To do this we too have to become more creative and adventurous, courageous and confident. Forever-changing, creative palates make this an exciting industry and I cannot overemphasise the need for training - not only for staff but also for guests.

TOP OF THE TABLE

Jackie Cameron, Zandile Mchunu, Deli Nene, Zinthle Majola and the Hartford House Kitchen Team / Cooked in Africa (p)

Jackie Cameron, Zandile Mchunu, Deli Nene, Zinthle Majola and the Hartford House Kitchen Team / Cooked in Africa (p)

"At Hartford, the kitchen team has already created their own history."

The spirit of cuisine doesn't emerge out of nowhere. It is formed and defined with time and especially by the people who pass through its kitchen. At Hartford House, it is the life's work so far of a Pietermaritzburg girl, Jackie Cameron, who is at the foundation of its legacy. She has taken the spirit of Hartford's cuisine, combined it with her appro

ach to life, personalised it and created a character of its own. What makes up that spirit? Ethics, passion, creativity, freedom, and the willingness to take risks.

At Hartford, the kitchen team has already created their own history. They've placed the environs of Mooi River and the broader church of Zululand on the international map of gastronomy. Today they are at the apex of the local culinary world. "Foodies" often talk about the best chef in the world, when in reality, cuisine, unlike other activities, cannot be measured, quantified or calculated. There is no such thing as the best chef. But there's something of greater importance: the chef, and the team, which is the most influential, the one which establishes a new dynamic for the future. The Hartford kitchen already occupies one of these summits. They're already influencing chefs around the country, not just with their cooking, but with their philosophy. That is why Hartford's influence will endure.

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For more information please visit :
www.hartford.co.za

NOMA : THE WORLD'S BEST RESTAURANT

Chef! Magazine

Hartford House head chef, Jackie Cameron, has recently returned from Denmark and here she shares her experience of dining on Nordic cuisine at Noma, the world's best restaurant. Please click above to view her article published in Chef! magazine.

hartford house logo

For more information please visit :
www.hartford.co.za