Life is full of all sorts of wonderful surprises. A couple of months back I found myself meandering through the Natal Midlands en-route to a foodie weekend when I decided to stop for lunch at Hartford House, an establishment run by a very passionate culinary persona, Jackie Cameron. I had heard much about her and this little gem of a place in the Midlands. So this was going to be my treat to myself – lunch at Hartford House. There I sat, on my ownsome on the verandah drooling over the tasting menu that Jackie telephonically said to the chefs I must taste. It was fantastic – the food the atmosphere and the bubbly. I met her 2 months later where we were sitting on the hay bales at the Biscuit mill the evening of the Eat Out Awards. She tapped me on the shoulder and as I turned around I could not believe she was sitting right behind me. She is such a down to earth lady with so much zest for life and fun. Jackie just launched her new book – Jackie Cameron Cooks At Home – I chatted to her about it and other interesting things in her life.
How do you eat zoo biscuits?
I love this question. I lick the animal off with my tongue (I may add that when I was younger they actually looked like animals and not blobs and drag-lines of icing) and then eat the outer biscuit edge and then I try my utmost to remove as much of the biscuit underneath the coloured-icing as possible. And finally I savour the coloured-icing part. Haha…what does this say about my personality? (i love you even more – anél )
You just launched your recipe book, congratulations – tell us more about it …
One of my goals was to write and publish a book by the time I turned 30 … I started writing a column for The Witness newspaper years ago and these articles provided me with a base to work from. Also, from the comments sent to me, I was able to judge which recipes were the most popular – and of course, those which did not necessarily impress the readers. Everything I do is meticulously researched before I begin with a project.
I find a lot of recipe books these days are trying to prove to the world that the authors are creative and well informed regarding food, so they are presenting items that impress on paper – a ‘stewed fruit with rose syrup’ this, and a ‘lavender essence’ that… In my book you’ll find a delicious stewed-fruit recipe just how my grandmother made it. No bells and whistles just interesting and tantalising flavours. I am not trying to prove to the world that I can cook; I’m aiming to help the house cook improve her or his day-to-day cooking with a “how-to recipe book” filled with recipes that actually work. I believe if people are cooking better at home they will expect a higher level of food in restaurants and in turn the entire food industry will migrate to another level.
Where did your inspiration come from for the recipe book?
An intense need and desire to improve everyday people’s cooking at home – the book as aforementioned also provided a way of documenting some of my own favourites which we use on a day-to-day basis at Hartford House.
What is your favourite recipe from the book – or the one you are most proud of?
This is like asking a parent which child is her favourite. I have a connection with every recipe in the book and there’s a little story to go with each one! They are all special in their own way
Do you still get as excited about the homely classics as you do about your fantastic menu?
Of course I do, there is nothing better than a great home-cooked meal with friends and family … these happy childhood memories is what inspires me each day to get into my kitchen.
Where did you enjoy your most memorable meal?
I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed so so many memorable meals over the years in some truly magnificent spots all around the world. I have been truly lucky. I could never pin-point one, each of these culinary destinations and establishments where I have enjoyed a meal or an outing has contrived to add something to who I am today as a chef.
Who are your culinary heroes and why?
Similar answer as above…so many chefs and foodie people have influenced my life without them ever even realising it. Bless them all.
What are your favorite flavor combinations?
Normally savoury combinations.
Fig and gorgonzola.
Foie gras, salt-crystals and fresh cherries.
Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and home-made basil pesto.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
No award can compare to seeing the development in my staff on a day-to-day basis. This is what gets me up in the morning.
Where will we find you in five years
Wow, I wish I knew the answer to this…pretty much so just diving into anything foodie and seeing which opportunities come my way.
How are you involved in your local community?
Besides my sous chef, Elaine Boshoff, all my staff come from the community in Mooiriver. Most of my ladies don’t have a standard 5/8 level of education and they are so dedicated and committed to me and Hartford in putting out beautiful food on a day-to-day basis. I’m using 95% of local produce and ingredients from the Midlands and even my chef jacket range is made on the midlands-meander.