One of my good friends, Errieda du Toit told me a long time ago that if ever she had the choice, then she wanted Nic van Wyk to cook her last meal on earth! This is a bold statement coming from one of the best food writers in this country! So it was with tremendous excitement that I had the opportunity to meet with him at the recent launch of the new Diemersdal Eatery. What an opportunity this was … I wanted to meet the man and I wanted to taste his food.
What I was to discover on this most amazing day was that Nic van Wyk was this uber humble man with the greatest love for peasant food – especially from Provence, Spain and the Eastern Mediterranean. What I loved about his food is his unique ability to take nostalgic dishes of South African food and turn them into plated modern wonders …without losing the taste of our past, our heritage and all the memories that goes with the food and days gone by in our beautiful land. My two favourite dishes of the day were the pulled lamb shoulder with white bean + truffle cream and the soft nougat rum poached peaches.
I had a chat to Nic and here is what he has to say …
How do you eat zoo biscuits?
Quickly and with fond memories
What did you eat / cook last evening?
My wife made a delicious Niçoise salad. Unfortunately we didn’t have baby potatoes and further happily bent the rules by adding both anchovies and tuna to the same salad – tinned tuna of course.
Are you excited to be a judge on Kokkedoor?
I am over the moon to be involved in this exciting new food series. Not only does it open up new avenues to explore food, the programme will also connect us with the traditions of the South African table. It is not only about the nostalgic side of food, but also about the food skills and techniques of the past; and adapting it for modern times.
I will also be working with loads of interesting and talented people – from artisans and farmers to chefs, food historians and local producers. I am especially excited about co-hosting with Hetta van Deventer Terblanche, whose knowledge of our South African food heritage bowls me over.
What does Kokkedoor entail?
It is a cooking competition with a lot of heart. It looks at heritage food and bringing it into the 21st century. The series will be filmed in the Karoodorp Prins Albert, known for its fantastic produce. The community will be closely involved, as enthusiastic cooks, hobby chefs and professionals take on challenges that are rooted in our food culture – from the school fete and church bazaar to padkos, the Sunday meal and other ways that we celebrate food and togetherness.
Kokkedoor will be aired from early April 2013 on KykNET channel 144.
Where did you enjoy your most memorable meal and who cooked it?
For me food is memorable – not only for what I eat but also who I share the experience with. So not an easy answer.
In South Africa: I’ve had some great meals at La Colombe when Franck Dangereax was still there) and now we enjoy his amazing food at the Food Barn. Another favourite is Mariana’s in Stanford. It is so simple; the consistency and flavours are so good that I will never tire of eating there.
Abroad: In London I had a terrific meal at St. John – heaven for an offal lover like myself. The best service I’ve ever experienced in my life was at The Square, worthy of its two Michelin stars.
Your idea of a Sunday meal?
Oozing care and generosity. No other meal reminds me so much of my ouma (and everyone else’s oumas) like the Sunday lunch, ideally served on large platters and ‘opskepskottels’.
What we serve on Sundays at Diemersdal is how I like to feast with my own family:
Starting with freshly baked bread and home made tomato jam, then on to a plated starter such as pickled fish with asparagus. Then it’s on to the Sunday Roast (with all the trimmings) from pork belly and crackling to chicken roasted in a clay tiled oven.
There must be roast potatoes (I love it with rosemary butter); pumpkin made into pampoenkoekies (fritters) or roasted to intensify the flavour; green beans or courgettes in butter, chilli and garlic; fresh asparagus; carrot salad with cumin and honey dressing and pearl barley to soak up the gravy. A good harvest of aubergine will be turned into small bites of melanzane.
And what’s a Sunday lunch without pud? I keep it fresh and fruity in the summer months – stone fruit and almond tart; lemon curd foam with fresh berries or a rich chocolate tart when there’s a nip in the air.
What is your most favourite cut of meat?
I’m one for the lesser cuts – short rib and even chuck. Have you put chuck on the braai? Truly delicious, as long as you use cool coals and don’t rush.
Any tips for the summer time salads and meals?
Summer time is perfect for casual grazing. Have lots of fresh things in the fridge to whip up a salad or lay out a tapas platter without effort. I have some good cheese at hand and a selection of cold meats. I keep the pantry well stocked with preserves – olives, chutneys and pickles.
I also love to turn the glut of fruit and vegetables into simple tasty dishes – courgettes slices thinly, dipped in tempura batter and flash fried – served with aioli – I find it’s what roast chicken has been looking for its whole life.
Summer herbs can be turned into delicious green dressings – I just tried it with beetroot ravioli. Heavenly and light. And don’t forget the summer dessert: the season is far too short for cherry clafoutis, so I now make this French countryside classic with mulberries.
I’m also a great advocate of tapas-style eating – you can turn literally any dish into a tapas dish, so think of it as a way of eating, rather than what you eat. Small dishes presented on shared platters make for leisurely eating in the summer heat – some of yesterday’s leftover meatballs served with smoked tomatoes, garden beans turned into a salad with barley and olive oil. Dessert can be part of a summer tapas presentation as well – small, individual portions of fruit-based puds.
Who is your foodie hero?
I have quite a team of food heroes I draw inspiration from. Chefs and food writers that make me think about food in such a positive way are Nigel Slater, Thomas Keller, Nico Ladines, Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal.
I also tend to think of my my grandfather, walking in his vegetable garden with a salt shaker in his one hand, picking the fresh vegetables and making me taste it there and then. To this day I am probably the most content I can be strolling through a kitchen garden.
Follow Nic van Wyk on Twitter: @nicvwyk