Q&A: Country Chef Jackie Cameron

At her cookery school in Hilton, award-winning KwaZulu-Natal chef Jackie Cameron puts her creative flair to work on heritage food. 

Words: Andrea Abbott

Pictures: Clinton Friedman

Jackie Cameron 3“Everything I do has a story to it,” says multi-award winning chef, Jackie Cameron, as she applies the delicate finishing touches to a dish picturesquely named Seaside Mussel Shell with Memories.

The memories in question are of family holidays on the beach – “our seaside meanderings”. A much earlier memory is of standing on a chair so she could reach the counter in her grandmother’s kitchen. “I was kneading bread dough. Granny Dot was patting me on my back, saying, ‘Come on Jackie, put your back into it.’”

Doing things properly has become almost a mantra for Jackie who famously honed her art as head chef at Hartford House in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, before beginning this new chapter in her career. In 2015 she realised her long-held dream of opening the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine in Hilton. “It’s been a 15-year journey to this point,” she says. The school occupies the large thatched house that Jackie grew up in, which has been transformed over the past six years into a superb teaching and functions venue.

While Jackie is fully behind the ‘support local’ movement – “not just because it’s local but because it’s fabulous” – her exacting standards mean she sometimes has to go further afield. And so most of the equipment in her functions and demonstration kitchens is imported. “It has to last so I buy the best in the world – brands that have stood the test of time.”

We got to know Jackie a little better…

Name 2 food trends:

One ingredient dishes e.g. ten different ways to use carrots. Hibiscus is very popular – in jellies, infusions etc.

Best cooking advice from your mother or grandmother:

Always do things properly.

Main cooking mistakes novices make:

Incorrect oven temperature. Poaching instead of searing – in other words not using enough heat, or overloading the pan so that the temperature reduces and ingredients poach instead of sear.

Your biggest flop:

I’ve had just one major flop and that was many years ago when an entire wedding cake collapsed. It was my signature chocolate mousse cake. The wedding, a large function in Durban, took place on a very hot day and the mousse never set. Today, I would never send out something like that. Still, the couple and I have become good friends.

7I1A7692Must-have kitchen kit:

Set of round cutters; sharp knives; a scale; sieves. And the best quality available. Rather wait until you can afford top quality instead of buying inferior equipment.

When last did you have a takeaway and what?

About a month ago and it was a Steers burger.

Best farmer’s market:

Karkloof Farmers Market.

Favourite tipple:

Bubbles!

Favourite restaurant:

I really do not have a favourite. It depends on whom I’m with and my mood. There are some fabulous chefs in this country. We can consider ourselves lucky.

What would you order for your last supper?

Spaghetti bolognaise.

Favourite regional cuisine:

Thai and Spanish.

What is always in your fridge at home?

Cheese, pickles and preserves, and charcuterie

Try Jackie’s Shiitake Crème Duck Breast with Duck Crumble and Crispy Roasted Vegetables recipe.

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