By Tarryn Gill
PLAY (Independent Newspapers) introduces the WonderWomen series, a much-needed celebration of amazing, inspirational South African women we encounter daily. These are women who glow with tenacity, spirit and energy and who achieve often against all odds and in tough male-dominated environments. The May issue feature's Hartford House Head Chef, Jackie Cameron :
The attractive 29-
year-old blonde with the bold voice and twinkly earrings is not what I am expecting. I'm immediately taken aback at her confidence, she's certain but not overwhelming. I like her and I can't stop thinking about what she's whipping up for lunch. She has been described as a gastronomical memory maker, winning countless awards and voted by SA Tourism as one of the Top 10 Young South African Chefs. I just know that whatever lunch is, it's going to be good.
I'd like to undo the damage done to the f-word and ask you straight up. Are you a feminist?
I am a woman in a male-dominated industry - kitchens have become a man's world. But in it, I wear my earrings, do my hair, I have even designed a new range of chef jackets. I work damn hard, I get it done. At the same time I enjoy looking good, that makes me feel good, and yes, that's me being a feminist.
What's a day in the life of Jackie Cameron like?
Dominated by food! I run the front and the back of Hartford House's five-star restaurant, I'm finishing off my new recipe book, I'm designing a new range of chef jackets, I handle all the media requests that come in, and of course, not a plate leaves my kitchen that isn't checked by me.
Like most women, it sounds like you're mastering the art of multi-tasking. How do you find the creative energy to stay ahead of the pack?
I have no free time, but I do make time to spend with my family and I do set aside hours where I can be creative. In my game, you have to. I travel globally, as much as I can, keep up my research and I am lucky enough to have great guides like Anna Trapido, Victor Strugo and Margot Janse who are all very supportive.
So you believe in mentorship?
Yes. One of the aspects I love most about my work is the training. No award can compare to the reward you get from witnessing the growth of another person. In my kitchen, compassion is important, it's an all-women kitchen and I don't want anyone to fail so I spend time training my team. As a woman chef... I have kitchen rules : Rule #1: No one comes into the kitchen angry or stressing about an issue. We speak upfront, get it out of the way, then we work. Rule#2 : If there are any errors during service, we tackle it after service, not during, and we tackle it constructively.
So you don't do a Gordon then?
No, I definitely do not do Gordon. There's no screaming, shouting or swearing in my kitchen. That's not the way I was brought up. Some of my team members are ex-farm workers, some can't speak English very well, and most of them are mothers. I can't do that to them. Their work is invaluable to me and to Hartford House.
The talent, the hard work, the flair, the chic. I like the whole package, the way you own your femininity and strength, all at the same time and in a difficult male-dominated field.
Thank you, my femininity is empowering.
What's the one thing you want to say to young aspiring women wanting to go this route?
Think long and hard. Don't do it for the wrong reasons, it's no quick walk to fame. Start by researching all the options: chef, food writer or photographer, even catering. Make the decision that's best suited to you and have passion.
What are you doing tonight?
Cooking for a charity initiative called Food for Thought that assists street kids in Durban.
How's your love life out there in the beautifully dreamy KZN Midlands?
What love life? I am very single at the moment and enjoying it very much, thank you.
If you want to sample Jackie's fabulous cuisine, go to www.hartford.co.za or sample her pizza creation at your nearest Col'Cacchio pizzeria, the Carpe Funghi which contains mozzarella, caramelised onion, oven-roasted mushrooms, roasted gadic and Italian Parmesan, topped with thinly sliced beef Carpaccio, truffle mayonnaise and fresh dill. R5 from every pizza sold goes to Children's Hospital Trust.
Extract from PLAY