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.
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!
The arrival coincided with the start of Marine awareness week which as we are surrounded by such a large expanse of ocean is probably one of the most appropriate events in the calendar.
The week includes a variety of events, pitched at education and raising awareness of marine issues.
Our part to play was to provide a stall offering a variety of seafood items which were not normally available here. We chose Sushi as the leading food item as it’s something that most people have heard of but over here many have never tried it.
There was some thought over how to make the Sushi easier to accept and enjoy as the trend here is to cook tuna very well. It is used in many curry dishes over here.
Also there was the wasabi issue! Wasabi, as anyone who has tasted it, is somewhat like chilli or oysters, in that it is an acquired taste which needs to be developed gradually.
Eventually a variety of Sushi and Sashimi were decided upon, including some sweet sushi which were made with coconut rice and mango. We need not have worried; the sushi went down a storm and was soon gone, as were the trio of flavoured fishcakes which the students had made to their own recipes.
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!
Also on the cards that evening was the initiation of 2onmain into the Chaîne Des Rôtisseurs and the inauguration of 5 Saint Helenians and myself into the Chaîne!
The Chaîne des Rôtisseurs is an international gastronomic society dedicated to bringing together professional and non-professional members from around the world who appreciate wine, cuisine and fine dining. Members of a local Bailliage are part of a worldwide organisation with more than 25,000 members in over 80 countries.
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.
Waiting in the rain for the unveiling of the plaque
The occasion was the official opening of the Ladder Hill Business Park in Half Tree Hollow which contains a variety of businesses such as, Cater Hire, Jewellery design and Maintenance Services. The business park didn’t exist a few years ago and has been created as part of the improvements to business locations across St Helena.
The event was also fashioned to remind guests that we only have 32 more months before the airport arrives and the first planes land! Our brief was to provide a short menu of easy to eat products at a reasonable price from local ingredients for up to 100 persons.
The menu consisted of three items; local Tuna or Wahoo Steaks or a Veggie Burger served in a bun with salad and a choice of relishes. The food was to be cooked and served by our trainees with just a little supervision from us trainers. There was also a request for a cake.
Two of the park tenants cutting the cake!
The day before the event we set to work on mountains of lettuce, tomatoes and of course the fish. When ingredients are as fresh and as good quality as they are over here it is a real pleasure to work with them.
In fact when we were prepping the tuna, I took some of the smaller slices and put them into a marinade of ginger, lemon juice and salt for a minute or two and then we ate them! This might not sound so significant but getting the trainees to eat raw tuna when all they have seen in the past is cooked is some challenge let me tell you! The verdict by the way was positive although not something they would eat at home.
Friday loomed with grey skies and a 25mph wind from the south east (it's winter here) which when translated onto the hillside where the business park lies, meant horizontal blasts of wind and rain punctuated by occasional shots of bright sunshine……a British spring day. Luckily we were sheltered by a large gazebo which rattled and shook throughout the afternoon but held fast to the bitter end.
The team got to work with great professionalism and zeal and took to serving food outdoors as if they had been doing it all their lives. At times the queues were long and the students had to communicate with their customers that their food might take a few minutes; all done in good cheer with smiles and eye contact….Brilliant!!
Grilling with a sea view
Feedback from the customers was very positive throughout the event.
For example one gentleman came up to me after his second fish roll to suggest that perhaps we should set up permanently on a Saturday evening in town.
When I asked what sort of times he was thinking of, the response was something along the lines of “well if you open around 9.00pm and keep going until 2.00am you should do good business”……..maybe in another lifetime I think!
Having said that, it shows there is a market on St Helena for good food of whatever style and there are many business opportunities over here increasing toward the arrival of the airport.
Even if some are in the middle of the night!
This week we are celebrating the signing of two new apprentices to the hospitality training programme.
This brings are number of apprentices up to three and we have two more joining us in two months’ time.
Numbers might sound small however the total school leavers for 2012 and 2013 are only in the region of 20 to 30 youngsters. Any Saint is welcome to join us to see whether they would like to work in this type of career and some are coming just to get some hands on training rather than going through an accreditation process.
In order to become an apprentice on the programme the student has to work with us for 12 weeks to demonstrate their commitment to working the antisocial hours which come with a career in this line.
We also have Chelsea with us who will be returning to school in September with the goal of getting enough qualifications to go to university in a couple of years’ time.
Our training team has increased in number with the addition of two new arrivals.
Both are Saints and have worked in a variety of catering establishments, not only in the UK but also on the Falkland Islands where many Saints currently work.
Sandra has been working as a Chef for over 20 years and is welcoming the opportunity to return home.
Mandy was in Swindon and before that the Falklands, Mandy’s background of admin, accounts and customer service will help keep things on a smooth pathway.
Our next challenge is to get more trainees signed up and start offering accredited Hospitality courses.
We are working on offering two Diploma courses. One is in Professional Cookery and the other, Food and Beverage
Service. Following on from this will be spin offs into supervisory and managerial qualifications.
It has taken us the six months that I have been here to get this far.
Roll on the next six months!