Tuesday, March 27, 2012

GET TO KNOW: JEANNE HORAK-DRUIFF OF COOKSISTER

For my Cape Town Readers: Don't forget to enter to win a pair of tickets to Trenton and Free Radical's album launch party coming up this Thursday, March 29 2012. Details here


Top L-R: Beef brisket with braai (BBQ) sauce potjiekos; Braai sarmies;  Bottom L-R: Chicken, chorizo and Peppadew potjiekos; Roosterkoek (photos courtesy of Jeanne Horak)
Where to start with Jeanne! 
We have been going back and forth between us about this interview for a while and I am so glad it was able to come into fruition. Jeanne Horak-Druiff, who writes the popular Cooksister! site, might just be the go-to person when it comes to South African cuisine on these here internets! As well as her blog she also maintains the   South African Food and Wine Blog Directory which is  a highly useful resource. 
When browsing through her site, I fell upon these words that I fell in love with,
 "I love how food forms the backdrop to all the milestones in our lives – a wedding breakfast, a graduation dinner, a farewell cocktail party.  It ties us to our past and our family with cords that can’t be broken.  And even in a foreign land, you can recreate the favourite tastes of your childhood and take comfort from them.  To me, the story of what I eat is the story of my life."   
But most importantly, she is a pleasant personality to behold. Her energy flows through her writing both on her blog and as you will see in this interview. She is passionate about food and about South Africa. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did. Get to know-- Cooksister!




Introduce yourself! 
Hi!  I'm Jeanne Horak-Druiff - aged 42 but usually in some sort of denial about that ;) I am from Port Elizabeth in sunny South Africa and since 2002 I have lived in London. 

How did Cooksister come about? 
koeksister (source)
Cooksister grew out of a weekly newsletter I used to send home to friends and family when I moved to London.  People used to read my super-detailed account of life in London and comment that their favourite part was the food descriptions that were good enough to make them hungry.  When an old university friend introduced me to blogging, I naturally gravitated towards food blogging and here I am, nearly 8 years later! A “koeksister” (pronounced cooksister) is a plaited, deep-fried South African pastry that is dipped in syrup after being fried - so my blog title is a culinary pun!

How did your love for cooking begin? 
I used to watch and help my mom make dinner every night - she was my earliest inspiration to cook.  I lived at home until I was quite old (late 20s!) and never really cooked except on holiday - but when I finally moved out I discovered that all those years of helping my mom in the kitchen had paid off and I took to cooking like a duck to water. I haven't stopped. 

In one tweet (140 characters or less)- what is your culinary style?
Modern European with a South African twist (and always a high impact-to-effort ratio!)

For those who've never been, what is South Africa like? 
South Africa is the most gorgeous, expectation-confounding, energizing collection of contrasts and positivity you could imagine, with a huge dose of gorgeous scenery and fantastic fresh food thrown in. The people are friendly and generally tremendously positive; the cultural diversity is vast - from the Cape Malay community in Cape Town to the Indian and Zulu communities in Kwa-Zulu Natal, to the Dutch and English colonial heritage - it really is a rainbow nation.  And whatever natural beauty you are after, we have it - from spectacular beaches to towering mountain peaks; from African savannah with big game to tropical rain forests to desert.  It's a world in one country!  The one place I would recommend that everyone visit is Cape Town - it's a jaw-droppingly beautiful city and the culinary capital of South Africa.  

What are the native dishes in South Africa? What's the style of cooking there?
Native dishes include dishes common to all of southern Africa:  a maize meal porridge called “mealie pap”, wild greens, and meat stews. Then there are also the wonderful Cape Malay dishes that originated in the Cape in the 17th and 178th centuries:   bobotie (curried mince baked with a savoury egg topping), denningvleis (a slow-cooked lamb dish traditionally made with allspice and tamarind); or yellow rice with turmeric and sultanas.  And of course all manner of Indian curries that are popular mostly in Kwa-Zulu Natal which has a huge Indian population. But the single style of cooking that unites ALL South Africans is the braai - cooking meat on an open fire!
L-R: bobotie; chicken jalfrezi (photos courtesy of Jeanne Horak)
Do the neighboring countries has similar dishes?
Maize meal porridge, using wild greens in meat stews, and the popularity of pumpkins and squashes are common characteristics of a number of southern African countries' indigenous cuisines.  

The restaurant industry is definitely lively in S.A. Can you tell us a little about that?
South Africa has a very lively restaurant scene.  The  great thing about eating out in South Africa is that you don;t have to spend a lot of money to eat well, and often mid-priced bistro restaurants will specialise in steak, seafood and pizza - and do a pretty good job of all three, using great fresh ingredients.  Almost every town will have Chinese, Italian and Greek restaurants, reflecting major immigrant groups. There is a growing coffee culture in the country with lots of quirky coffee shops springing up in cities and towns.  And at the top end of the luxury dining spectrum, there is some world-class dining to be had, especially in and around Cape Town, with restaurants such as The Tasting Room at La Quartier Francais in Franschoek regularly appearing on the San Pellegrino list of Top 100 restaurants in the world.  By European standards, fine dining is relatively inexpensive in South Africa.  I also can't wait to visit Reuben Riffel's restaurant in Franschoek, South Africa when I visit next month!

What is it about African food that is so special?
African food creates tasty dishes out of simple and frugal ingredients; and as a continent Africa has been great at adopting and adapting colonial cooking traditions and Africanising them.  The quality of the raw ingredients available in Africa is also great - just think how much fruit and veg on the shelves in Europe is grown in Africa!

Why do you think the world is not as interested in African cuisines as they are of foods from other places in the world?
It's not just cuisines - the world is quick to forget about humanitarian crises and murderous dictators in Africa too! I think one problem is that a lot of traditional African cuisine relies on quite specific local ingredients.  These may be hard to obtain outside the specific African country, meaning that the dishes are harder to recreate abroad and therefore making them less appealing to people?  Also, if you are cooking to impress, much of Africa's cuisine is quite homely - it doesn't lend itself to tians, gelees and espumas!

Which African countries would you love to learn more about their cuisine?
 Morrocco - the place has always fascinated me. 

What is your favorite part about cooking?
I love when a dish is almost done and I taste it for the first time and realise that it's good.  I also love the look on guests' faces as they take their first mouthful! 

Your least favorite part?
Washing up.  It's for the birds!  When will they invent the self-cleaning pot?  (and stove!!) 

Who gets to enjoy your cooking most?
My husband - every night! 

What is your never fail dish?
When I didn't have much cash, it was pasta in a creamy sauce consisting of tinned chopped tomatoes added to a white sauce.  These days it's slow-roast leg of lamb with aromatic spices!

spicy slow roast lamb (photos courtesy of Jeanne Horak)
How much work goes into writing the blog?
More than you'd think!!  :)  I try to post one recipe, one photo post and one other food-related post per week.  Each post takes me on average an hour to 90 minutes of continuous work to write and the photos take another hour or so (sometimes much longer for picture-heavy travel posts).  And then you have not yet counted the time it takes to prepare and photograph the food. My advice to would-be bloggers?  Don't get into it unless you have a lot of spare time, or are willing to give up a leisure activity, like watching TV, or sleep!

What's the best part about food blogging?
Without a doubt the people I've met and continue to meet, some of whom I have met in person and now count to be among my best friends.  Lately, another great perk has also been press trips (last year I visited Dubai, Ireland and Sweden) and invitations to interesting events here in London.

Who are the other African food bloggers (if any) you have connected with?
I have connected with huge numbers of South African food bloggers - there is a thriving community of us, both at home and in the diaspora.  I maintain the South African Food and Wine Blog Directory which provides a fairly comprehensive list of these blogs.  I have also connected with Taste of Tanzania  which is a great collection of recipes and resources from the lovely Mirian Rose Kinunda

 Finish the blank: South African food is a reflection of all the cultures and colonists that have ever lived in this country.  You can seriously read the history of the country through its food:  Indigenous African dishes, Dutch dishes, English dishes, Cape Malay dishes (created my slaves brought from Indonesia by the Dutch in the 1600s), and Indian dishes (Indian labourers brought to work on the sugar plantations of Kwa-Zulu Natal in the 1800s).  It's like the country's history on a plate!

What are the future goals of your site?
At the moment my short term goal is to finish the tedious migration of 8 years of content to Wordpress from Typepad, and a bit of a site redesign.  The long-term goal is for my blog to be my portfolio to showcase the services that I offer - recipe development; photography; speaking and teaching; food and travel writing; and restaurant reviews.  If you need help in any of these departments, please do get in touch!

"GET TO KNOW" is a Chef AfriK feature that introduces you to the the few  food blogs that focus specifically on African food. The goal is to showcase the amazing men and women who are out there trying to teach and spread their love of African food. Check out previous African food bloggers I've featured: 

2 comments:

Jeanne said...

Thanks so much for the feature! It's an honour to be included in your lovely site :)

Adhis said...

It's a pleasure Jeanne! I noted a lot of the things you mentioned for my own trip to South Africa in the future. Thank you for sharing!

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