Situated on one of South Africa's best-known stud farms, in a spectacular garden, Hartford House is a country hotel with a history.Read More
Filtering by Tag: Jan Smuts
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.
"South Africa's leading independent drinks commentator"
Winston Churchill, greatest Englishman of the last millennium (even if mum was American) has been in the news a lot this month in the run-up to and aftermath of, the pomp and circumstance funeral of another UK PM Margaret Thatcher. Winnie has popped up looking mightily pissed off on the new £5 note (and judging by the state of the UK economy, he has reason to be glum) while his eponymous Port is served at London's trendiest restaurant called Dabbous, whose eponymous chef Olivier also looks distinctly Churchillian circa his capture by Field Cornet Rooi Sarel Oosthuizen in 1899 in Phil Fisk's pic in the Observer Food Monthly, above.
The hipness of Port was confirmed last Saturday at Anysbos in Bot River at the Bears and Barrels festivities when I bumped into clean-shaven Alvaro, winemaker at Quinta do Tedo. Alvaro has made a white Port for Sebastian Beaumont from Chenin Blanc grapes. Far drier (35g residual sugar) and far lighter (17% alcohol) than you'd expect from the Douro, it will also likely be far cheaper although Alvaro was not totally happy with the quality of the grape spirit used to fortify the wine. Served over crushed ice with a sprig of marijuana, is this the aperitif for the coming summer? If Churchill's white Port is a popular aperitif for Londoners in Dabbous, what is to stop it becoming a hit in Bot River?
Of course the most auspicious place for Johnny Graham to list his Graham's Ports is at Hartford House in the Natal Midlands. Food goddess Jackie Cameron puts country cooking onto the next level and down the road is the site of the capture of Winnie during the Anglo-Boer War when the crafty Boers derailed his armoured train. It's been downhill for SA railways ever since. Mahatma Ghandi was a stretcher bearer at the nearby battle of Spioenkop where that Field Marshall of the British Empire, Jan Smuts, was batting for the other side. It's been downhill for SA hospitals ever since.
Come on Johnny: Winnie, Jannie and Gandhi at the same place at the same time, was there ever such a black hole of imperial gravitas? Only Mrs. Brown herself could have trumped it and she was on holiday on the Isle of Wight. Hartford House and Churchill's Port will bring the Dabbous experience to the Midlands of KwaZulu Natal.
Winston Churchill looks pleased with himself - dressed in civvies astride a horse. And, he probably has every right to be, after making a daring escape from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques, now Maputo, at the height of the Boer War.
(Photo : Sunday Times)
"A unique photograph of Churchill after he had escaped from Boer captivity, surfaced in the Sunday Times"
Farm tours at Summerhill Stud and Hartford House are popular items. Students of history, fans of racing and those who are mesmerized by the Midlands and the mystique of our sport, travel from as far afield as Johannesburg for the day, take in the tour and a bit of lunch at the nation's Number One restaurant, before they are back on the N3 northbound.
Others prefer to do it the leisurely way, and they check in for a couple of nights at Hartford. While we'd recommend the latter for its relaxation, we'd not want to deny you the pleasure, either way.
If you've done the tour, you'd know that in the summer of 1899, a young Winston Churchill was a visitor to the Moors of Hartford. We all know too, of his capture up the road from us, and his presence at the mother of all battles, Spioenkop. Remarkably, on Spioenkop that day (just 45 minutes from us,) and drawn together by dint of the peculiar attractions of our region, were five of the most influential people of the 20th century. Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of South Africa, (who together with Hartford'sSir Frederick Moor and his brother, John (the former a colonial Prime Minister, and the latter a senator in the first South African government, attended a class of just 10 students at Hermansburg Junior School;) Denys Reitz, former Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa and later a Field Marshall in the British army, he was there; our man, Jan Smuts, the man the world chose to write the charters for the League of Nations and the United Nations after the respective World Wars, and the man Churchill appointed as his successor in the war cabinet should anything have become of him, he was there. In the pantheon of great South Africans, you'd have Smuts up there with Nelson Mandela, who ironically was captured just to the south of us seventy two years later; Winston Churchill himself, later to become Prime Minster of England and arguably the greatest Englishman of all-time, he was on Spioenkop that day; and amazingly, the man who liberated India in 1947, Mahatma Ghandi, was there as a stretcher bearer.
Just recently, a unique photograph of Churchill after he had escaped from Boer captivity, surfaced in the Sunday Times. It's apparently coming up for auction in England shortly, and there's been a bit of a story about it. It turns out the picture was taken in our immediate vicinity, after Churchill's escape from Boer custody.
From 1896 to 1897 Churchill served as a soldier and journalist in India. In September 1898 he fought at the battle of Omdurman in Sudan, taking part in what is often described as one of the last true cavalry charges. In 1899, he resigned his commission, and was assigned to cover the Boer War for the London Morning Post.
In October that year he accompanied a scouting expedition in an armoured train near Ladysmith, in what was then Natal, but was captured by the Boers. Although he was a war correspondent, he was armed with a pistol when captured, so was treated as a prisoner of war and held in what had been the Staats Model Skool in central Pretoria.
Churchill managed to escape, and the Boers put a £25 price on his head. Travelling by foot and train - where he hid under coal sacks - he eventually reached safety, 480km away, in Portuguese-controlled Lourenço Marques. The escape made him a celebrity back in Britain and he was elected to parliament in 1900.