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.