JACKIE CAMERON COOKS AT HOME
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.