Interview with Chef and Writer, Tony Jackman

Writer Tony Jackman jokes that every now and then he goes mad and opens a restaurant. But his true love is food, words and the Karoo and they all shine through in his new cookbook.

We had a quick Q&A with this interesting chef.

Do you have a favourite restaurant?

I do. Societi Bistro in Gardens, Cape Town, where I’m so familiar with the management that they named the lamb shank after me. I sometimes order myself. I’m fall-off-the-bone delicious.

Do you have a fantasy food holiday destination?

I haven’t spent nearly enough time in the Far East, only five wonderful days in Hong Kong in 1996. I’d love to go to Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong (again), Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan and spend long days and nights traipsing the streets and markets, eating all sorts of exotic things. And India of course, that would be a massive jaunt in itself.

Where do you get inspiration from? Do you have a cookbook Bible?

I dip in and out of lots of books but no specific bible as it were. Rather than be inspired by outside influences I like to take an ingredient and really think about what could be done with it. Very often a dish I make will have started with me finding, say, some fresh turmeric, or a side of salmon, and imagining interesting ways to cook with it.

What would your last supper be?

If I died on a hot summer’s day I’d order crayfish mayonnaise with a portion of fries done in the Belgian way, slim, crisp and golden, with extra mayonnaise on the side to dip the chips in. Then you’d have to give me a slice of lemon tart with a scoop of lemon sorbet. If I died on a chilly winter’s day I’d want the best ever Durban curry followed by seekhund, that wonderful Indian dessert made of cream cheese and cream and aromatics like cardamom, saffron and pistachios. You’d need to play me some Beatles music while I eat.

What food trends of the moment do you absolutely love and why?

Food fads irritate me. If there’s a fad, you’re more likely to find me cooking anything but the flavour of the month. ‘Ooh, let’s have a dinner party and cook kale.’ Ooh yes, let’s. Yum. Really? Kale? Kale is a fad? What disturbed mind came up with that idea? (Sorry, I’ll stop now.)

When it comes to creativity in the kitchen, what advice would you give novices?

Buy those odd-looking ingredients that you’ve always looked at and thought, ‘I wonder what you do with that?’ No need to wonder any more – just Google it. Take them home, look them up in recipes, and learn how to cook with them. Challenge yourself to make recipes that look forbidding. You may surprise yourself. If you’re an instinctive cook you’ll be able to learn how to master all sorts of techniques.

Fresh ingredients are important in your cooking. Do you have a favourite?

Garlic. The fresher the better, and lots of it. I hadn’t eaten garlic until I was 20 years old. (Well, not knowingly.) My parents were of that British generation that distrusted garlic, spice and foreigners. Then a Greek friend said, ‘Tony, you must try this… and this… and this.’ I’ve never looked back.

Have you ever discovered a brilliant new way to make something as a result of a flop? What was it?

Well, not as a result of a flop, but out of a need to feed vegetarian friends at a recent dinner party. Instead of making moussaka with mince, I cooked layers of brinjals (first fried with garlic), courgettes (stir-fried in strips with garlic and lemon and finished by stirring in creamy feta), creamed spinach (with garlic, lemon and nutmeg) and layers, between them, of a rich home-made tomato and onion sauce and a bechamel into which you’ve grated masses of Cheddar cheese. It’s possible that I preferred this to the traditional meat version.

Best farmers’ market?

I live very far away from the nearest farmers’ market but I have fond memories of our years in Chichester, West Sussex, where there’s a market to which one farmer will bring his hand-reared pork and another cut of his first-grade beef. You get to ask the farmer him or herself how they would cook that cut… and it’s a good idea to do it their way, as a farmer who knows how to breed cattle also knows how to cook them.

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