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: Noma

Faviken... the new Noma

Magnus Nilsson of Faviken
(Photos : Faviken Restaurant)

"Call of the Wild"

Most of our readers will know of Bruce Palling's recent proclamation of Hartford House among the top three country restaurants on the planet. That's a helluva statement about any eatery, but it's all the more so coming from a journalist of his standing, considering he is the European critic for one of the world's most influential newspapers, the Wall Street Journal. We were obviously intrigued to know who our "clubmates" were, since he'd courted Sweden's Faviken and Australia's Royal Mail as the three making up the trifecta.

Our "horsey" followers might ask what, besides the word "trifecta", "this has to do with Summerhill and horses, and the answer resides not only in the fact that so many of our visitors to the stud have intimate memories of Hartford, but also, both these businesses have adopted excellence as their benchmark, and any celebration for Hartford is a celebration for Summerhill, and vice versa. And let's be honest, most of us live to eat, we don't eat to live.

Introducing his critique on the Hartford restaurant, Mr Palling opened with "I can't say I was looking forward to this journey, as it was more than a thousand miles round trip for what looked like a bit of a tourist trap in the middle of nowhere. I had imagined that this was a charming backwaterey sort of place that was suffering from being there for 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 isolated/remote places to eat anywhere on the planet".

While we haven't yet had the honour of visiting the Royal Mail, we have at least discovered its whereabouts. It's located in a tiny hamlet called Dunkeld, about 300 kilometres north west of Melbourne. Faviken is even more remote. On any journey there, unless you go by helicopter, you're obliged to hire a limo or a taxi; in either event, you're going to need a driver, and at some point on the journey, he's going to tap his brakes, cock his head over his shoulder, and ask "Have you got everything you need for tonight, like a toothbrush?" he asks "Because this is the last village. After here there is nothing". Forty minutes of empty road later, the car will pull up at its destination: a small crop of copper-coloured buildings on a seemingly-endless 18th century hunting estate, surrounded by a wilderness of forests, mountains and valleys. But, remote though it is, travellers from America to Estonia, France to Japan make this same trip every day, because in one of these buildings, a chef by the name of Magnus Nilsson runs a restaurant which seats just 16 patrons. And, like Hartford, because of its intimacy and location and for what it aspires to, it's the future of fine dining; in Faviken's case, it's aspiring to become one of the most influential dining establishments in the world.

Nilsson was born 170 miles away in the small town of Selanger. At 19, he signed up to work at Pascal Barbot's 3 Michelin-starred restaurant, L'Astrance, in France. On his return to Sweden, he joined Faviken's owners as an advisor on their wines, and in 2008 decided to overhaul the estate's restaurant, which at the time catered to skiers, specialising in moose fondue. It didn't do well. Five years on, the restaurant pulls as many people as the skiing slopes which used to fill the aircraft.

Here's the Faviken routine. Guests arrive around 5pm and are shown to their rooms, which have light wood walls and thickly blanketed beds. Next you spend an hour sipping cold beer in a hot sauna overlooking the hills. At 7pm, having shared a state of virtual nudity with your fellow diners, you converge for drinks and the first of 20 enterprising courses, from an amuse-bouche of wild trout's roe in a crust of dried pig's blood, to raw mussel and wild pea pie, served by the restaurant's four chefs. For the marrow-based course, Nilsson saws open the moose bone, right there in the middle of the dining room.

Tonight's menu is light on root vegetables; ninety-five percent of the ingredients are grown, foraged or reared on the estate (when Nilsson goes for a walk, he takes his gun in case he spies game). This year, the roots came up late, so diners eat whatever's ripe that day. Get the drift?

"That doesn't cut costs though, it's super-expensive to produce this food". The restaurant is necessarily site-specific: not ideal. It can't relocate or expand without ceasing to be Faviken, with so few covers. Like Hartford, you don't want to grow it; for fear of losing one of your greatest drawcards: intimacy. And since we're both operating with the finest ingredients, it will always, in a remote environment likes ours, be difficult to get the ingredients. "If you have a restaurant that needs 500 langoustines a week, you would struggle to get the quality we work with. I want it to be like this because one of the good aspects is that I like to do the cooking myself. I don't want to train a 100 people to do my stuff," says Nilsson. Those that know Jackie Cameron, will understand what he's saying.

If that sounds like artistic protectiveness, it's because it is. Both of us prioritise "hands-on" over perceived culinary wisdom. Cooking is not an act of science; it's silly to think that just because you know the temperature at which coagulation occurs in a piece of meat, by simply applying the temperature, it's going to be perfect every time. Every piece of meat is different. Similarly, Nilsson prefers beef from 5 to 10 year old dairy cows, rather than the 2-year-olds most butchers use. They have better marbling and more concentrated flavours, and patrons are not critical of ingredients. "They just believe what people say".

Along with Noma in Copenhagen, (according to San Pellegrino and Aqua Panna's power list, the best restaurant in the world, Faviken, has reasserted Scandinavia's presence on the gastronomic map. The question is, will it prove a flash in the pan?

"I think this huge interest in Scandanvian food will mellow down", he says. "What frustrates me today, you can go to a number of high profile British restaurants, and they've been fed the aesthetic language of Noma, which is awesome, but which doesn't belong there. They should focus on their own area. Such places would do better to imitate in spirit rather than the letter. The most important thing is that we are, I think, showing how things could be". Although historically, Sweden has had a decadent cuisine, much of the knowledge has been lost over the generations, with the move to what one might term "westernization". To reinvigorate the culinary's regional traditions, they need to showcase ingredients in their purest form, much as Cameron and her team at Hartford do. The result is that most of what comes out of Nilsson's kitchen, is raw.

Critics are billing Faviken as the new Noma. Unsurprisingly, that makes it harder to get a table, and now, there's the Faviken cookbook, equal parts local history, photo essay and instruction manual, designed to bring the world a taste of the little restaurant in the hills. In true Nilssonian fashion, it omits timings and measurements from the receipes. Is he concerned that it might render the book uncommercial? "Not at all. Who buys these books to cook from anyway? There are going to be a few who are willing to try the tough receipes, but the point is that they read the history, and get inspired by the way we work, and pick up things. Then they can do something nice themselves".

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High Praise from MasterChef

Deena Naidoo - MasterChef South Africa / Times Live (p)

Deena Naidoo - MasterChef South Africa / Times Live (p)

"Memories and Influences in my Career"
Extract from The Post

People often ask me which cooks and chefs influenced my career.

One of the chefs I most admire for sheer energy and talent is Jackie Cameron, head chef at Hartford House, a five-star boutique hotel in rural Mooi River.

Not yet 30 years old, this graduate from the Christina Martin School of Food and Wine is counted amongst the top 10 chefs in South Africa, has established her rest

aurant as a Top 10 dining destinations, and has represented the country in overseas competitions.

She counts eating at restaurants such as Nobu, Le Gravoche, Fat Duck, Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, River Cafe, Noma and ElBulli as experiences of a lifetime.

To top it all, she has now designed her own chef's clothing range!

Deena Naidoo
MasterChef South Africa

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Rene' Redzepi - Noma Restaurant / Rockpool TCH

Rene' Redzepi - Noma Restaurant / Rockpool TCH

"The signs of coronation are obvious."

Hartford's celebrity chef, Jackie Cameron, is a much travelled girl. In 2010 alone, she made five sorties to the outside world, and as rewarding as any, was a trip to Shanghai in the company of Zandile Mchunu, a home-grown prodigy of the Summerhill community, where they represented South Africa at an international cooking exhibition. The trip though, which really opened the young Maritzburg lady's eyes, was to Copenhagen in 2011, where Cameron enjoyed the counsel of the world's newest culinary sensation, Rene' Redzepi, whose Noma restaurant had been recently voted Number One in the world at that time.

Shortly before, she had ventured to Spain, where she and Cheryl Goss sampled the treasures of Ferran Adrià at El Bulli, before its closure in 2010, the unassailable leader among the top 50 restaurants of the world. Unsurprisingly, Redzepi is a disciple of Adriàs, though their styles are as individual as a zebra and a buffalo.

There've been influential chefs for as along as there've been restaurants, but the idea of a sole cook standing at the head of the culinary universe is a recent invention born of two not unconnected phenomena: the unprecedented influence of Senor Adrià whose culinary revolution freed many young chefs to follow their own visions, and the newfound power of the fifty best list, which dares to rank something so ineffable as dinner. When Adrià announced two years ago that he was closing El Bulli, and Noma succeeded to the top spot on the list, Redzepi found himself ascending to the role of literal Top Chef. The fact that this role had not existed prior to Adria, hardly mattered. The king is dead: long live the king.

The signs of coronation are obvious. It used to be that more than 2 million attempted bookings annually at El Bulli, while only 60,000 of these could be seated, and if you didn't apply a year in advance (and at the same time enjoy the credentials to make the invitation list) you had little chance of getting there. While he was with us at Hartford and Lynton Hall, one-time South African No.1 chef, Richard Carstens, attempted for years to crack the nod, but as far as we know, he remained in frustration, notwithstanding that he was the undisputed local king of his idol Adria's deconstruction processes. Noma is travelling in the same direction: their tables are fully booked three months in advance, and while this is not quite in the class of El Bulli yet, the signs are obvious. Copenhagen is not quite as central or convenient as the Cote d'Azur, but critics adore the restaurant, and it's only a matter of time before the faithful flock in that direction in similar numbers. "The explosion of flavours and textures that ensue were simultaneously so subtle and startling, that nothing in a lifetime of tasting prepared me for it," wrote a reviewer for the Financial Times.

Yet the man who runs the best restaurant in the world, cannot afford his own home. Where many leading chefs seek to build empires, Redzepi wants only to dig deeper into his immediate surroundings. This helps explain why he stands in his restaurant kitchen, not offering a sceptical patron some truffle-covered delicacy from France or a pricey bit of sea urchin from Japan, but a plate of scuttling Danish ants. "They're delicious", he says, "and they're Danish". Does that ring a bell for visitors to Hartford? How many of you have heard Jackie Cameron talk about foraging in the neighbourhood, and the fact that 99% of what she dishes up here, answers her credo "local is lekker?".

How often do you find young Cameron, even on her days off, following her nose through the neighbourhood on foraging trips, inspired by the senses and the tastes of the wild plants of the region, and the bounty of its remarkable soils.

Jackie Cameron's been at Hartford House for almost ten years now, and when she came here, we didn't really have a "local" cuisine. "We're protestants in this neighbourhood, so food was just about sustenance, not really about pleasure. You'd eat your meat and potatoes in silence, and go back to work". But now she's led a revolution in the district which has elevated food to the same level as fashion, and it's affected our whole identity. She and her team are telling a new story about what it means to be local. She set out to learn how to integrate these ingredients so that she was cooking a part of our culture. She wanted us to taste the soil.

Cameron's habit of constant innovation comes from her apprenticeships at these and other great restaurants, and she maintains a friendly relationship with her former mentors. There is a parallel here in Redzepi's case, where all the world loves an oedible story, and many in the food media have tried to cast his tale as the nature-loving, terroir-based son overthrowing the hydrocolloid-obsessed, mad-scientist father. Without taking the similarities any further, and without putting our girl in the same league yet, the one thing besides the obsession with food which they share in common, is the fact that they both have their feet squarely on the ground, and they have always put the product first, and the money second. In the end, the one takes care of the other.


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.

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Chef Jackie Cameron in the Hartford House kitchen / Cooked in Africa (p)

Chef Jackie Cameron in the Hartford House kitchen / Cooked in Africa (p)

"Flavours and Memories"

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

Food triggers memories. Be they good, or not so, there is no stopping a recollection. It is automatic, unique and usually emotional.

I never realised the intense focus we at Hartford House place on memories as we create new dishes until I ate at Heston Blumenthal's restaurant, FAT DUCK in Bray, London, in 2002. My eyes were opened to the power of this concept causing me to reflect, in great depth, on the combinations I introduce. I realised I lean towards re-vitalising dishes, with roots set deep in heritage, with new-age flavours. Think modern-day crepe suzette and beef wellington. Guests identify with what is expected and then the surprise element kicks in. This results in much table banter! The perfect example is a dessert on our menu called peanut butter and syrup on toast. It's a firm favourite - even for those who normally don’t enjoy this combination. The fun and surprise elements work hand-in-hand taking the diner's eating experience to another level. A serving of homemade bubble-gum or magic/crackle pop candy can be served as a palate cleanser. This conjures fond, fun-filled childhood memories. All our dishes relate to past experiences. This is the reason I stress the importance of menu presentations before dinner. Guests like to know the stories behind each dish. Every ingredient has a reason for being plated; this added knowledge enhances the experience

I have recently returned from a trip to Copenhagen in Denmark. There I enjoyed a remarkable tasting menu with Chef Rene Redzepi from NOMA restaurant - voted the World's Best Restaurant by S.Pellegrino. One of the 24 courses involved frying our own egg in hay oil for two minutes. To this we added foraged herbs and bright green herb sauce. The forest/garden-fresh aromas which filled the dining room were an unusually creative experience, conjuring many memories for us all. Unfortunately, a full-house English breakfast with sunny side up fried eggs will never do it for me again!

When seeing an ingredient or dish we automatically sum up the flavour - sweet, salty, sour, acidic and/or savoury playing their part; with colour, aroma and presentation impacting on expectation. By the time we place a morsel into our mouths we have a fair idea of what to expect. I remember being presented two jellies at FAT DUCK. I was told one was beetroot and the other was orange. This was confusing, to say the least. It played with my emotions and flavour database.

Happy memories come rushing in when I smell or think of my mother's crispy roasted chicken - with pork-sausage and chicken-liver stuffing - roasted butternut and crispy potatoes. Long lazy Sunday lunches with family and friends spring to mind. Another is seeing the rolling, scooping and the filling of a honey cone with rich, creamy chocolate ice cream. Here I reminisce clear, sunny, summer days at the coast. The list can go on forever...

We all have foodie memories so the saying, 'I do not eat to stay alive, I stay alive to eat', is true for me as I traverse my culinary adventure.

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