Wednesday, 05 August 2015 10:55

The creme de la creme

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Celebrated Australian pastry and dessert chef Adriano Zumbo was part of a stellar lineup Celebrated Australian pastry and dessert chef Adriano Zumbo was part of a stellar lineup Pictures provided by the Good Food & Wine Show

"Did you meet Brent?" and "Was Adriano Zumbo there" are some of the comments made to me after this year's Good Food & Wine Show, Johannesburg. Obviously some of our own food-loving aunties are huge fans of MasterChef Australia!

There is a stellar line-up this year, with a big Australian contingent, including popular MasterChef Australia winner Brent Owens and the stylish pastry and dessert chef Adriano Zumbo, as well as popular UK MasterChef judge John Torode, who celebrates his 50th birthday during the show.

Someone who loves Australia and its food - and hopefully South African food as well by now - is Britain's Tom Parker-Bowles who is part of the Celebrity Chefs Theatre line-up (he is introduced to us somewhat hilariously as "Tom Parker-Bowels"!).

Tom is wonderful to interview as he is so chatty and has such a wealth of knowledge of food, food writers and restaurants around the world. When he gets going he is like the Zambezi in full spate in the rainy season, so it is hard to keep up with him!

Tom has published five books on food, all with eclectic tastes and titles -"culinary venting", he calls them.

The first book was a series of essays (E Is For Eating – An Alphabet of Greed), the second a travel book (The Year of Eating Dangerously: A Global Adventure in Search of Culinary Extremes), the third a history of English food (Full English: A Journey Through the British and Their Food) and the fourth and fifth actual cookbooks, Let's Eat: Recipes From My Kitchen Notebook and Let's Eat Meat.

Food is a subject that is a universal experience, influenced by history, culture and economics and anthropology, he says, and different culinary footprints are constantly evolving.

As the food editor of Esquire UK and a contributor to the Mail on Sunday, he collects cookbooks endlessly at charity bookshops, finding the anecdotal cookbook to be the real gems. "The language is richer and more fruitful in great food writing."

Tom makes it plain that while he cooks endlessly he is not a chef. His target is the amateur cook. "While I appreciate good chefs and great technique, I prefer to eat in the street and I go looking for good places wherever I travel. The expensive restaurants have what I call a clatter, that sound of cutlery, when no one is talking and everyone is intimidated."

He is obsessed with chillis and fortunately he is in the right place at the right time, as the Good Food & Wine Show is positively bulging with red ones, green ones, hot ones, mild ones, peri peri and the powdered and dried varieties. His two favourite cuisines are southern Italian and Thai and he waxes lyrical on his trips to Naples and Bangkok. "You find out more about a culture by eating."

What is the most outlandish or bizarre thing he has ever eaten in his many travels?

'I have eaten udder in Rome and baby veal in a caul. I also did this thing for Gordon Ramsay when I ate a whole pig - from snout to arse.

"I also ate maggot cheese - it is illegal in the UK though.

"I am in love with Australia and the food culture in Melbourne and Sydney, they have proper Thai food."

So what is proper British food nowadays?

"English food has always had a bad reputation but it can be good food simply done, like potted shrimps sealed in spiced butter and packed with flavour. With today's multi-culturalism typical British food can range from Chikken Tikka Marsala or the traditional pies, roasts and puddings through to the British Indian curryhouse. Very simple food like devilled kidneys on toast is having a renaissance. Modern British food is always going to have a French influence, although I prefer provincial French cooking to rich old school Frog food."

Fish and chips are considered the quintessentially English meal but, according to Tom, even this is a fusion dish of Jewish and French cuisines using British ingredients!

Like any foodie worthy of the name, he has a natural curiosity and eagerness to try new things and was keen to try a bona fide Durban bunny chow, instead of the bastardised bunnies which hitherto had been his experience (you know, those ones which emulate an English breakfast, with toast ears). A proper bunny is a form of curry inside hollowed-out bread, which acts as both plate and cutlery. He liked his bunnies so much that he had three during the two days he was out here, as well as some vetkoek and an enormous bag of biltong.

Tom is no stranger to biltong. His wife Sara, who is the editor of Harper's Bazaar, is half South African and has "an absolute obsession with the stuff". She is a purist and likes kudu or beef, very dry, and had given instructions to him for a large consigment to be brought back to the UK.

I ask him about her culinary memories of South Africa, and whether any of them have trickled through into his kitchen. She left when she was five years old and can only remember a life lived outdoors with a bar and a braai and "fruit that tasted of fruit".

We talk about the taste of South African food, one of its strongest points, and he gets very enthusiastic when told about the taste of our lamb. All those sheep and lambs running around the Karoo, nibbling on little veld herbs and enjoying a life on the (free) range, makes for some of the tastiest cuts around - perhaps grist for a sequel to his latest book "Let's Eat Meat"?

Two days simply are not long enough to try all the things he has been told about but the local chefs at the show like the Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris are keen to help, sourcing different South African flavours for him to try.

The Slow Food stand is another drawcard with its indigenous jellies and jams, locally cured charcuterie and sausages and African cucumbers and its marvellous Rex Union oranges. and Tom is spotted trying out some of the goodies on offer. He was particularly interested in the Slow Food movement in South Africa, as I was told by Brian Dick of the Cheese Shop in Linden who is their chairman, as Prue Leith is a huge advocate of slow food in the UK and the Prue Leith School in Centurion is also very involved with the movement here.

All the visiting chefs at the show go home having experienced new tastes and flavours and will hopefully come back to try some more.



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