Karoo chef Tronette Dippenaar is carrying on a centuries-old tradition of serving dollops of country food and hospitality at historic Matjiesfontein
Words Diana Wemyss Pictures Johan Wilke
When Tronette Dippenaar, head chef of The Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, married Johan, general manager of the hotel, he asked her how she felt about him being the boss both at home and at work. Tronette (32) replied that she was okay with the home part, but not the work part.
“I’m the boss of my kitchen,” she replied with a laugh. Not that she’s the bossy type really, but this country-raised girl has strong views about food and how to manage her staff.
Tronette grew up in Robertson, the daughter of a grape and vegetable farmer and his wife, the owner of a catering company. Food was always central to her life. The couple’s chance to work together came many years ago when they first joined The Collection by Liz McGrath. Liz herself was not too happy about hiring a couple – lose one and you lose the other – but she obviously overcame her hesitation and in fact trusted them to steer her new project: the revival and restoration of The Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein, Central Karoo, for the Rawdon Family Trust.
Liz put the last two years of her very fulfilled life (she died this year aged 92) into this project, and the old hotel has lost none of its historic spirit or charm but is now overlaid with her very special brand of elegance and style. If you only stop there long enough to eat Tronette’s lamb shoulder you will have the joy of tasting perhaps one of the best meat dishes this country has to offer. Served simply with lightly steamed beans, and roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, the succulent lamb just melts in your mouth.
Tronette sources her meat from Laingsburg, further north up the N1. “The reason it is so flavoursome is that there is rain on the pastures throughout the year, winter and summer, so the livestock doesn’t have the stress of being moved,” says Tronette. “Their diet is strictly Karoo bossies and the meat has the stamp of approval, Karoo Meat of Origin. You don’t have to do much to give it flavour.”
That’s certainly a key word in Tronette’s culinary vocabulary. Although she has had a lot of guidance from Peter Templehoff, executive chef of The Collection, she strives to keep her menus direct and straightforward, in keeping with a country dining room.
Recipe 1: Traditional Karoo Lamb Curry (serves 5)
2 large onions, chopped
2 peppers (red or green), chopped
1kg lean lamb, cubed
30ml sunflower oil
2 tbs curry powder
1 tbs mixed Marsala
1 tbs turmeric
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cinnamon
410g tomato paste
500g potatoes, peeled and diced
500g carrots, peeled and sliced in rings
salt and pepper
2 knobs fresh ginger, peeled
5 cloves garlic
2 whole chillies
50ml olive oil
To make the paste, place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until a smooth paste forms.
For the curry, place the onions and peppers in a pot and fry on low heat till soft. Add 2 tbs curry powder to the onions and fry. Add all the spices and keep on stirring until the mixture is dry.
Deglaze the pot with the tomato paste and 1 cup of water. Add the lamb and simmer with the lid on until the meat is just tender. Add the potatoes and carrots and keep on simmering till the potatoes are soft. Season with salt and pepper. Do not remove the whole spices. Serve the curry with steamed white rice and sambals of your choice
Wine suggestion: Mount Sutherland Shiraz 2011
Try more of Chef Tronette’s recipes in the June 2015 edition of Country Life. You might also enjoy our Karoo Lamb Tagine recipe.