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.

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Jackie Cameron goes Biblical

Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home

JACKIE CAMERON COOKS AT HOME

Mick Goss Summerhill Group CEO

Mick Goss Summerhill Group CEO

Listen, I'm no gourmet critic, but I know good food and good wine. I earned my stripes in the viticulture world as a first year at Stellenbosch, and like horses and books, it's occupied my curiosity ever since.

I've always said you want to steer clear of creative women if you don't have deep pockets, because they're always looking for new things to do. But in my wife Cheryl, I think I got lucky. Firstly, I always ranked her in the "Top Ten" in the land, and while like me she's getting on now, I'd still rate her in the top ten in Mooi River! Besides, those who know her and know Summerhill and Hartford, will tell you she's extraordinarily gifted. In the creative sense, I mean.

Eleven years ago, she recreated Lynton Hall, and within a year of its opening, it made Conde Nast's Top 50 "Hot Hotels" of the world. Within three years, the man she sent from Hartford to head up the Lynton kitchen, Richard Carstens, had earned Eat Out's title as South Africa's leading chef.

The girl (literally) she recruited into Richard's place at Hartford House, was a nineteen-year-old stripling from St John's DSG in Pietermaritzburg. In ten years, Jackie Cameron has rocketed up the culinary ranks, taking just about every trophy there is to be taken. At 25, she became the youngest chef ever to make the Eat Out national "Top Ten", and these days, she's the pin-up girl in most worthwhile gourmet magazines.

It helps, of course, to be glamorous - she's the kind of blue-eyed blonde we all used to swoon over as youngsters, but glamour isn't part of the Cameron beat. Her feet are well and truly riveted to the soil that yields her vegetables, and she's about the best adjusted thirty-year old I know. What she is though, is obsessed, not only about cooking, but about work. If you're not of a matching passion as an aspiring chef, the Hartford kitchen's not for you.

That she's now one of cooking's most recognisable faces is a tribute to these things, and naturally, to an inborn talent of abiding proportions, nurtured by a doting grandmother from the time she first sat on a potty. Jackie Cameron has come an awful long way, to the point that Penguin Books finally managed to persuade her to put pen to paper in her first about-to-be-published "Jackie Cameron Cooks At Home".

This is the girl we know, the jeans-and-takkies type, sharing the secrets of her upbringing with a worshipping public who've been following her newspaper articles and the columns of this website, for years. I don't pretend to know how she ranks among the most-visited scribes on the internet, but I'm willing to bet the Alexa ratings will have her in the top five.

Besides being one of the continent's best chefs, she's as good a teacher. And she's doing what all good South Africans should be doing. Ten years ago, she recruited a handful of young "casuals" out of the Summerhill stables, and she taught them to wash dishes. And then to wash "veggies", to bake bread, and finally, to cook. Four years ago, one of these Zulu ladies, with just a Grade 7 education, represented South Africa at an international cooking expo in Zurich. Another followed a year later in Prague, while yet another cooked for the country in Shanghai last August; while a third generation member of the farm staff, made the January page of Unilever's "Twelve Inspiring Chefs". Inspiring, isn't it? It gets you up in the mornings.

"Jackie Cameron Cooks At Home" is not about the recipes that've made her famous, nor the cooking that has "foodies" from around the globe making the Hartford pilgrimage. It's about the path she's walked thus far; the tastes, the scents and the scenery that've shaped her life, and the people that've made her the woman she's become. For the home-cooker or the desperate housewife, it's the "must have" Bible of the modern culinary era.

Visit www.jackiecameron.co.za for more information.

THE UNIVERSE : SHIFTING THE CENTRE

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.