Outside Stellenbosch at the restaurant on Overgaauw wine estate, Jason Comins leads a double life.
Okay, it’s more like a 70/30 split than a 50/50. For three months of the year he runs the kitchen of a Norwegian salmon-fishing lodge.
It’s a pretty sweet deal for a guy who loves to flyfish, as every now and then, when the guests are putting their feet up, he gets to go out and catch one of the magnificent sea-run fish working their way up the river.
He’s that guy with the photograph of a massive fish on his Whatsapp profile. While working there he cooks a lot of salmon, but also prepares biltong and boerewors for the guests, as they fish deep into Northern hemisphere summer nights nearly devoid of darkness. “They love a boerie,” he says. “Specially at midnight when they are on the river and can smell it cooking.”
The rest of the time there, he works, and works, and works. When he gets back to South Africa, it’s much the same, but Jason being Jason, and a farm boy at that, he just cracks on doing what he does best, preparing the kind of food at Overgaauw that you wish your mum made.
Serving up delicious country fare is what he does. It runs in his blood. We sat down with him to get to know a little more…
My essential items are my selection of knives, my potato peeler and my Magimix. It’s especially useful when you work alone – save for Vuyo who helps me and a sculler.
As a child, what was your favourite food?
My mum’s Yorkshire pudding.
Do you have a favourite restaurant?
I like Olympia Café in Kalk Bay and in Stellenbosch I go to Coopmanshuijs. I’m good friends with the chef and I helped set up the kitchen.
Do you have a fantasy food holiday destination?
I’d go to Italy, Genoa specifically to visit an Italian fishing mate who comes from there. His name is Federico and he insists I must come and visit him. He says that “Genoa is not actually Italy, it’s separate. We’re not Italians.” But I’d go to Italy purely for the food history.
What would your last supper be?
Caviar on toast (white toast not melba) with my wife who does not eat it so there will be more for me. She calls it fish eggs. I’m talking large spoons of caviar served with finely chopped egg and red onions. I’d pair it with a glass of bubbles and the setting would be in the ring of Kerry in Ireland.
I think our meat in South Africa is really good. Norway does not have the quality we have here. They don’t have the space, they don’t have the labour and they don’t have the climate, so cattle are inside in the winter time and out in the summer. It’s a tedious thing to have because you have to look after them and feed them every day.
The only guys that keep animals are dairy farmers so the beef that you get is old dairy cows and it’s not very good quality and super expensive at 600krone per kilo. On the other hand, their seafood is very good.
My proteins change a lot at Overgaauw and I like to work with any kind of meat in South Africa. No fish because that’s what I cook all the time in Norway.
Do you have a cooking bible?
I don’t have a cookbook bible but I do have a couple of favourites like Rick Stein’s French Odyssey and Antonio Carluccio (Antonio Carluccio Goes Wild, Passion for Pasta and Italia). I like their general mindset to approaching food.
Have you had any kitchen disasters?
When we were having all that load shedding, we had a wedding for 120 people here and we put a generator in as back up. So as planned for, the power went out but the generator did not kick in. I ran down to open the fuse box, and switch it on, but when I came back to the kitchen you could tell that when the power had gone it had blown the phase. The ovens would not get hot and I had to cook fillet for all those people.
I made a plan. The ovens go to 300 degrees allowing me to cook a whole fillet in 15-20 minutes and then I could slice it at the table. This time they only got to 200 and then I just switched everything off – the coolers, the extractor fan, the lights, the geyser, everything – so all the power went to the ovens. It worked.
What’s the trick to making a top terrine?
Now try these recipes:
- Country Terrine with Tomato Chutney
- Beetroot Tarte Tatin with Horseradish Cream
- Slow-braised Duck with Lentils and Roasted Butternut, and a Baby Leaf, Pea and Pomegranate Salad
- Pickled Pork Loin with Hasselback Potatoes
- Coconut Meringue Roulade with Fresh Summer Berries
Words: Tudor Caradoc-Davies
Pictures and Video: Johan Wilke