Food markets were high on the agenda across the whole visit as it has been identified that this style of catering is cheap and versatile and therefore well suited to this little island.
The Orangezicht City Farm market on Saturdays has a stunning backdrop at the base of Table Mountain in the area behind the Mount Nelson Hotel.
The surrounding market gardens supply the market with dew fresh greens of all colours and sizes.
Veggie stalls are backed up by a mass of home prepared goods such as chutneys, breads, cakes and confectionary. Food stalls offer Dim Sum, Salads, Paella and plenty of coffee! One of the most interesting stalls was a guy making ice cream with liquid Nitrogen-.something I have seen done by Heston Blumenthal.
Moving on from there we then travelled to Stellenbosch where yet another market has evolved.
On Route 44, just outside of town there is a small village of tents, stalls and a stretch of grass with a stage at the end. This was the second experience of the combination of live music and food and boy does it work well.
There must have been in the region of 1000 or more people milling around, eating, people watching and generally enjoying their day. All age groups and nationalities took advantage of the warm sunshine with no one going anywhere in a hurry.
Our food experiences that day included representation from the following countries: Thai Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexico, USA, France, Greece, Korea and of course a Massive hit of South Africa in not only food but the massive array of wines to sample.
Monday’s visit to Unilever’s test kitchens in Century City gave us all an opportunity to sample many of the convenience offerings from one of the world’s biggest catering food suppliers.
We were shown a variety of stocks and sauces plus seasonings and magic things to do with instant mash potato!
The gang were split into teams and then were given a couple of hours to come up with a meal using a number of ingredients and the Unilever products.
There was no clear winner as all entered into the challenge with enthusiasm, butternut squash had never been cooked in so many ways in one kitchen!
The Last Word in Constantia is a small luxury hotel owned by the Mantis Hotel Group.
This was another opportunity to examine what our international visitors might expect from a hotel and why they might return to that same hotel year after year.
One of the great selling points of this place were the enormous rooms (Suites actually) with sumptuous and calming décor enhanced by massive windows onto tropical gardens. As the hotel has only 9 suites, the level of service here is naturally top notch with guests almost feeling as if they are almost family by the time they leave.
Following our Constantia visit we managed to fit in a lightning tour of Kirstenbosch Gardens. The world famous gardens had just opened their Tree Canopy Walkway; a cross between a bridge and a flyover for people to walk above the treeline.
St Helena has many valleys and even more trees, some of which are only found on the island so perhaps some day a budding entrepreneur might think that this walkway would work well.
The views from this swaying platform were amazing, look at the pictures. The fact that it swayed was communicated in the notice before walking onto the walkway and I am glad I had read it as you could see the surprise on faces of those who hadn’t.
Three more big highlights to go before heading back to St Helena! The first was a morning spent at the Cape Town convention centre at the Hostex Exhibition which just happened to be on whilst we were in town.
This is an annual coming together of the major catering suppliers across South Africa. It was an eye opener for many of our team and all came away with brochures, samples and one even bought a pizza oven!
More of these events should be visited by Saints as the concentration of information in one area is a great advantage.
Our trip to the 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa had been eagerly anticipated as we had driven past the hotel at least three times in the previous week and just wondered at the magnificence of the location.
It must be the most stunning location on the western cape as it is situated around 10 miles out of town on a pristine piece of coastline with a mountain backdrop.
What more would you need!
Numerous awards and accolades have been bestowed upon the hotel and spa in the 12 years it has been owned by the Red Carnation group of luxury hotels. We could see how well justified they are during the four or so hours we spent in the company of the hotel’s management team.
One of the most unique things about the hotel is the massive variety of South African Art on walls, floors and even a sculptured leopard in the middle of the bar.
Our finale to the visit was afternoon tea in the lounge with the stunning backdrop of the 12 Apostles Mountains just outside the window. We just didn't know where to look...was it the dainty cakes or the view which was the most attractive.
Perhaps if I return and do the whole thing again I might just make up my mind.
The final day before boarding the RMS St Helena back home was spent at the CPUT Hotel School which is one of the best Hotel Schools in South Africa.
Our team were shown the facilities, which included a working restaurant and bar area plus fabulous kitchens.
A superb lunch was enjoyed which was cooked and served by the first year students….. so a big thank you and credit to them for achieving such a lovely meal so soon into their training.
Our voyage back to the island gave all time to reflect on the array of experiences and learnings of the three weeks. There is great excitement to share new knowledge and skills back home and there will be plenty of opportunity to do this. St Helena being in such a remote location has many challenges ahead.
I hope that this trip will enable some to consider other solutions to problems and new ways of achieving results. Time will tell!
This was the week that each of the team went their separate ways in order to gain specific experience in the area of their own expertise.
We had work experience scheduled in local gastro pubs, a baking course in Stellenbosch, local supermarket’s food to go and front desk training at the Taj Hotel.
Our three students were embracing their shifts at the Cape Grace Hotel with gusto and returning to our guest house each evening with tales of new skills and new friends.
We were also treated to a show round of an in-flight catering facility which was just mind blowing and something I would recommend to ALL caterers at some time in their career.
The key point here was the incredibly high levels of hygiene and detail which come into place when making meals to go onto airplanes. The words of Riaan Blignaut MD will remain with me for a long time “airline food will never been the most exciting food in the world but it will ALWAYS be the safest”. Just to put it into perspective, I couldn’t take my Camera in as they don’t allow any glass on the premises! I did manage to persuade them to let me use a small camera so we do have some record of the visit!
Friday was a 4.00am start for us all because we had an invite by the owner Patrick Moreau of Cassis to visit one of the best Bakery/Patisseries in the Western Cape. Our fatigue soon departed on entering a wonderland of baking smells and sights. Our arrival was planned to coincide with the departure of bread and pastries which had been prepared that night being sent out on delivery across town. There were loaves and rolls and cakes and buns and tarts and macaroons and more. All looked just picture perfect as if ready for a cook book photo shoot.
We then observed some of the practices in place for the following day, tons of puff pastry being handmade and also Macaroons and a variety of breads and rolls.
Reward for the early start was a French style Brunch at the Cassis Café in the Garden Centre Mall. We endeavoured to sample as much of the menu as possible, managing to consume Croissants, Croque Monisieur, Pain au Chocolate and some gorgeous little potato puffs made from choux pastry plus a variety of pastries and macaroons and a cooked breakfast! All agreed it was well worth the early start.
We have just returned from the long awaited Hospitality upskilling visit to Cape Town. The objectives were varied although to caption them I would say we were looking at all aspects of the industry with a view to bringing back information, inspiration and a way forward. This ranged from health and safety through to customer service and food styles.
10 Saints from all aspects of the industry joined me on the adventure.
Our expedition was a great success, to the extent that I didn’t have time to update this blog whilst on the road. The sheer variety and volume of experiences have intrigued, enticed and inspired our group.
To say the trip has changed lives might be a tad overstated, however the initial signs are pretty positive.
Cape Town in May can be cold and damp. This is a point many of us forgot and I for one spent much of the first week wishing I had packed warmer clothes and especially my socks!
Day one covered a trip down to the Two Oceans Restaurant on Cape Point, this restaurant serves up to 1000 very high quality meals a day in a fantastic setting, miles away from anywhere (sound familiar?). The difficulties of getting supplies and staff were discussed and comparisons made with St Helena.
We also spent a morning at the Cape Grace Hotel on the Waterfront. This was a highpoint for me as we have had a special relationship with the Cape Grace team and three of my sudents were spending part of their visit working in the kitchens of the hotel.
The morning commenced with breakfast in Signal, the hotel’s main restaurant. There was much to be impressed with as the hotel has been voted one of the best in the World! We didn’t even start to dent the buffet which contained fruits of all varieties, cakes, pastries and breads, cereals and yoghurts, meats, fish, fresh juices and much more. The choice of main courses is no less impressive with the full breakfast including steak being a favourite!
The tour of the basement whiskey bar and bedrooms gave the group some idea of the quality at which international Five Star Hotels operate. The talk by Barry Ross, the Head of HR was inspiring with an insight into why the hotel is one of the busiest in Cape Town and why it receives so many accolades: it’s all about the customer.
Weekends in Cape Town are all about food and getting out and about. The Old Biscuit Mill is one of the most popular destinations and rightly so.
. It certainly gave our visitors ideas on how to start a small food business with next to nothing and what quality can be achieved even though the stall is a couple of planks resting on boxes!
Wish we had more of these places in the UK although I guess the hygiene police would put a damper on the proceedings………..I didn’t see many coloured chopping boards!
In order for a smooth transition from student in a small island training centre to trainee in a world class hotel kitchen with 50 staff, we planned for someone in the hotel to come over to assess the levels of skill of the students and to cover an induction to the hotel.
When we heard that Malika, the executive chef was coming we were thrilled!
To say the week was a success is an understatement. The restaurant was buzzing the whole week with the students making batches of kebabs, sushi, homemade sauces and chutneys. Malika concentrated on a South African street food called Roti, this is a buttered flatbread which is cooked and then topped with a variety of flavourful toppings such as chick pea curry, pickled aubergine, and oven dried tomatoes, salad leaves and basil, cucumber in yoghurt and toasted sesame seeds. It’s a flavour explosion and one that was raved about by all who consumed one or in some cases FOUR!
Having been an AA Hotel Inspector for nearly 10 years, I have stayed in the whole gamut of accommodations offered in the British Isles.
Favourite visits include the Dorchester and Mandarin Oriental hotels in London who rightly hold their places at the pinnacle of high end hospitality and service. Lesser known favourite visits were usually to small privately run and owned properties when the owner’s passion to please the customer is reflected in the whole stay. its the type of service that many corporates dream of achieving!
There was one place I remember in the New Forest where the owners switched the water heating on for the swimming pool so I could have a swim in late September. They then served me with a fabulous cream tea in response to a spontaneous offer of a hot drink. Another place I remember well was in Callendar Scotland where the owner offered to iron my creased shirt and served the most amazing Scottish breakfast including home made jams and bakery products. He then called ahead to a store in the nearby town to check that they had a pottery jug which I had admired. These places remain strong memories, whereas others have faded into the past.
We will always remember the fabulous place with the WOW factor. Will we remember the place that was just OK?
Here are two places that I have stayed in Cape Town which will be remembered long after my time in St Helena is over.
The Cape Town Guest Accommodation scene is alive and well with an abundance of choices across the Western Cape. There seems to be a higher standard of accommodation, service and hospitality than in say the London or Edinburgh areas. This is good news for any visitor who would possibly prefer a more personal stay than one in a hotel.
There are two particular guest houses that I have been lucky enough to stay in. They stand out as exceptional in many ways: The quality of the accommodation itself and the friendly unobtrusive service offered to guests are probably the most important.
The Bluegum Hill Guesthouse is perched on the highest road in the Green Point district; this might mean a £3 taxi ride whenever one needs to go to the waterfront, but that slight inconvenience is blown away by the staggering views across the city from the two patios. As guests arrive and enjoy their welcome drink you can see eyes drawn through the floor to ceiling windows to the view and the pool on the patio below.
Air conditioned bedrooms are fairly spacious with very good bathrooms. Beds offer sumptuous comfort with fine cotton. The patio breakfast served by some lovely local ladies gives guests a great start to a days touring.
Hujis Haerlem Guest House in Sea Point is actually two houses with the gardens fused together giving guests a green space to relax and enjoy when the weather is fine which is most of the year. Johan, one of the proprietors has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Western Cape and will gladly spend time helping visitors get the most out of their visit.
Nothing is too much trouble here; bags are carried, tours are booked, wifi connections checked, Laundry, ironing, I have even had a lift to somewhere when a taxi didn’t turn up done. Breakfast is a highlight of any stay with Johan ensuring that the team retain his high standards. Coffee is a passion here with a state of the art cappuccino machine in pride of place in the breakfast room. The whole philosophy here is “my home is your home”.
I cant wait to return!
January brought with it some pretty wet weather for this time of year although nothing to compare with the UK’s deluge and especially the flooding happening around my home area of the Somerset Levels.
The rain here is dependent on the southerly trade winds which push the moist air off the sea onto the high ground which creates a fine misty rain very similar to the type which prevails in Scotland. The air temperature at this time of year here however runs between 18 and 24 centigrade which is pretty pleasant.
We invited a guest chef from South Africa to visit the island as part of the Hospitality Upskilling project.
Francois Ferriera has two culinary academies in South Africa and is the National President of the National Balliage d’Afrique du Sud de Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, one of the oldest international Gourmand Societies in the world. He has also written cookery books and appears regularly on South African TV.
Francois last visited St Helena in 1999 and was very keen to reacquaint himself with the island.
The programme included a variety of demonstration evenings covering, fast food, party catering, Spices and Masalas, Olive Oil, local produce and fish cookery.
He also spent the two weeks working with our students, offering valuable feedback and training.
My journey onward to St Helena was marked by the arrival of the Queen Mary 2 who docked in Cape Town just as the RMS St Helena was leaving.
In comparison to the RMS this ship is just huge. As she was entering the docking areas she dwarfed many of the other vessels around.
The fact that the pilot could get the ship turned toward its berth in the space available was incredible and fascinating to watch.
One interesting thing to me was the people on the Queen Mary were looking at the people on the RMS St Helena and vice versa. What each thought of the other goodness only knows. My other thought which went through my mind was how long would it take for all those passengers to get through immigration!
Cape Town has a plethora of interesting places to amble through whilst engaging the senses.
There are the ubiquitous Cape Town views, shops, art galleries, local musicians performing on street corners and of course there is the food.
The food scene here is incredibly varied and vibrant, much more so than in most of the UK, possibly because the laws on trading, hygiene and sales tax are more favourable (no sales tax on restaurant meals). Dining out is an event that is within the means of most locals with all budgets catered for one way or another.
Sundays are particularly popular across the city for the phenomena which is “the food market.”
Many districts and malls have their own little “pop up” area where a variety of food purveyors come together to offer food and drink to imbibe there and then or to take away. On my last visit to Cape Town I saw local olives, honey, cheese, sausages and hams being sold alongside dim sum, sushi, Belgian Waffles, Korean barbecue and steak sandwiches with homemade relishes. Fixtures and fittings are usually simple with the effort being put into quality of food rather than ambiance. One place which intrigued me was offering cappuccinos and teas to customers seated on hessian sacks. It has certainly given me some ideas for the way forward for St Helena’s gastronomic future as it proves what quality can be achieved with so little cost
RMS St Helena Departing Cape Town July 30th 2012
I set off on this expedition from Heathrow on a warm July day, one of the very few we have had this year. After a delay of a couple of hours due to the plane being too hot to board, (yes it was too hot to get onto the plane as the air conditioning was only working in one area of the aircraft) we headed for Cape Town.
Almost 24 hours after arriving in Cape Town I was going through the now familiar boarding process onto the RMS St Helena. The ship had just returned from its annual makeover in the Cape Town Dry Dock. A few people had mentioned
that sometimes the ship gets delayed on her first sail after dry dock, and yes we were: One of the cranes had decided to play up and was refusing to work. This could have had catastrophic results if it happened in St Helena as the cranes are the only way to get all baggage and supplies off the ship and onto dry land.
Eventually we set off 24 hours later in perfect conditions.
Viewing St Helena for the third time from the deck of the RMS was just as beguiling as the first time.
The excitement is almost visible as families prepare to be reunited, some having been apart for years, tears are shed and not just from those meeting loved ones!
Work this time round is in the Castle which is the home of the St Helena Government.
I am working with a team who are looking at the whole of Government in the context of standardising processes and procedures and modernising some areas. My role is to look at the customer service aspects of the project and to deliver some training. The work is very absorbing and time is just flying by.
Getting Ready for Pizza!
Saturday night was spent in the company of Michel Martineau, his partner JJ, 11 guests and a wood burning Bread Oven!
Michel and JJ had installed the oven 7 years ago but had never used it. Anyone who knows me will acknowledge that I have always wanted one of these ovens and the only reasons I haven’t taken the plunge is that in the UK, our weather and my working patterns (never at home) precludes the cost and time to build one.
So it was my extreme pleasure to have the opportunity to practice on Michel, JJ and their guests with wood oven baked Pizzas.
JJ lit the oven at lunchtime and fed it stack after stack of wood. We knew it was getting warm when the paint around the oven started to blister and the chimney started to smell like something chemical was burning!
4kg of bread dough started to have attitude problems toward the end of the afternoon when it had been punched down for the third time: It wanted to get cooking!
I realise I have a training need when it comes to flattening dough into a Pizza base. There was no way I could get the dough flat without the aid of a rather heavy rolling pin which kind of spoilt the effect. No twirling a ball of dough on my hand until flat as done in Naples!
When it was time to cook we trundled fillings and bases close to the oven where guests were invited to create their own Pizzas. The oven could only manage one Pizza at a time, possibly due to my portion control or lack of it.
11 Pizzas later and the oven could still manage to bake 6 small loaves of bread which looked a treat. The overall verdict was positive from our guests, there were a few burnt bits and some topping which slid into the oven when dislodging the pizza from its peel (the shovel you slide the pizza into the oven with) but generally the oven did us proud and I would like to have one even more now!
Hujis Haerlem, my bed and breakfast with bougainvillea by the pool
Heading back to St Helena for the next tranche of preparation for the arrival of the airport in 2015 I am once again passing through Cape Town.
My previous visit coincided with winter here, which is far more benign than that of the UK but nonetheless wet and windy with a few good days dotted about here and there. Rainy days were taken up with visits to well-known restaurants and the customary female habit of appraising the local stores for items as mundane as Woolite hand washing liquid (three varieties over here) and looking for a 6x magnifying mirror (didn’t find one). Sunny days were warm and comfortable enabling me to cover plenty of ground.
As a first visit to Cape Town, the motive to visit anything on the must see (and photograph) list of this well documented city was pretty high. I managed to do this fairly easily as temperatures allowed me to spend a full day out and about with my ever faithful 12kg of camera equipment at my side!
Good job too as I must profess on this visit I have been here for two days now and the camera shutter has yet to be released! ITS TOO HOT! Temperatures during the day have hit between 30 and 35degrees C. I ventured out to the Adderley Street flower market yesterday morning with camera and tripod eager to take some more pictures of the fabulous array of local blooms. The camera didn’t leave its bag, even the flowers looked tired, although I must say that it was a Monday and having spoken to some of the ladies who sell the flowers I am a week too early. Next week being Easter is going to bring in the bumper crop of the current season’s flowers and I will be in St Helena by then!
So it was back to my lovely bed and breakfast where a pot of fresh coffee under the bougainvillea gazebo by the pool made me wonder why I had set out for town in the first place.
Today's lunch was taken perched on a hill above the district known as Bo Kaap. I was lucky to be taken out by an ex colleague who now lives here as to walk up the hill to this place would have finished me off! This area is the home to the Cape Malay people who live in multicoloured houses and who cook in a way which is true fusion cuisine! Asia, Europe and Africa are represented with spices and cooking style. Restaurants are Halal with no alcohol served and are family run.
Bo Kaap Kombuis has the advantage of fine views and a terrace to admire the city from, Looking at the menu I could understand some of the items but had never come across items such as: Denning Vleis, Sosati and Geel rys so in for a penny we ordered Denning Vleis and a Sugar bean curry.
The Denning Vleis was excellent, leg of lamb which had the texture of Confit of duck and the taste of a sticky barbecued meat, almost treacle in colour the main flavours were tamarind and pepper. Surprisingly the accompanyments to the dish were a piped duchesse potato with sprinklings of something akin to Garam Masala over it, a salad topped with a glow in the dark marachino cherry, cubes of roasted aubergine and courgette and a mound of white rice. What a variety! Although I dont think they would have won masterchef the meat was fantastic with only a very slight glow of heat to it. I have tamarind in my fridge at home and I am now committed to getting to know this flavoursome item and its magical tangy acidity.
The bright yellow Sugar Bean Curry was interesting and well made with loads of tumeric in it and chunks of lamb on the bone floating amongst the beans. The beans looked like jelly beans in shape although all cream coloured, with a nice texture, a bit like black eye peas. The accompanying Roti (Flat Bread) was a highlight with a buttery smokey flavour and texture of a thick crepe. My only disappointment was that my dish lacked the glow in the dark cherry which had rekindled memories of snowballs, knickerbocker glories and sweet martinis! Maybe I'll get some on the ship!