Cooking and Dining at the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine
During the Ship’s sojourn in Durban, South Africa, we were incredibly lucky to be among the six “students” who attended the inaugural cooking demonstration class and ate the first meal prepared by one of Africa’s leading young chefs, Jackie Cameron, at her eponymous School of Food & Wine.
In the picturesque town of Hilton, situated above the regional center city of Pietermaritzburg, Chef Cameron has transformed and modernized her family home into a state-of-the art facility while retaining its architectural and cultural heritage. It’s here she will train small groups of future South Africa culinary leaders (up to 15 resident students) through lectures, demonstrations, hands-on in-class cooking, and internships at the school’s public dining room.
As the school was not opening for another month, we were privileged to act as Jackie’s first group of pupils. For our classroom demonstration, she had prepared a number of local foods for us to snack on including biltong, a dried, cured meat that originated in South Africa and is similar to beef jerky. Biltong is generally made from a variety of meats (typically raw fillets) ranging from beef and game to farmed ostrich.
During class the local manager of the Terbodore coffee roasting company also served as barista and made incredible cappuccinos upon request. It was easy to get spoiled at this school!
Each of the dishes served in her future board room (formerly her family home’s dining room) had been explained, and the cooking techniques demonstrated in the school’s demonstration kitchen during the morning. Jackie’s cuisine is heavily drawn from the two predominant South African cultures — Afrikaans (derived from the Dutch colonists and settlers and later intermarriages) and Zulu (the large native tribe of the province, KwaZulu-Natal).
The first dish was African Mealie Bread with Amaqheqhe and locally Smoked “Romesco” Olives, drawn from the Zulu cuisine. It was much moister than the typical American (Southern) cornbread, as it incorporates a can of cream-style sweet corn. While we were served “mini cakes”, the same recipe could be cooked in a loaf pan for a traditional bread shape, which could then be sliced. Either way, with a little butter, delicious!
With the bread and olives, we were also served a really fresh salad (the greens and sage were fresh from a local garden) — Green Salad with crispy Sage Leaves, Capers, Caesar Dressing and Parmesan Shavings. In the demonstration Jackie gave us some great tips on frying the sage to have it come out crisp, but not overcooked.
The main course took quite a while to learn and prepare — Cordon Bleu Crispy Chicken Roll with Butter Bean Puree, ‘Gourmet Greek’ Yoghurt, Garlic Chips and Lavender Flowers. Note that the pounded skinless, boneless chicken breasts were stuffed with a filling of minced chicken, Gorgonzola, cream and egg before being rolled and cooked sous vide and then fried (after being dipped in flour, egg and bread crumbs).
And yes, it tasted even better than it looks in the photograph, below.
Dessert was from the Afrikaans cuisine (from the Dutch tradition) — Melk Terts (milk tarts). We were surprised that the only baking is the sweet pastry shells. Once the filling is made — a custard made from “full cream milk” (Americans call this “whole milk”), butter, flour, eggs, sugar and almond essence (extract) — it is poured into the baked shells and then topped with sprinkled cinnamon and sugar.
Jackie is a consummate professional chef. She’s personable, approachable, a perfectionist, and an outstanding (and patient) teacher. As we left for the van ride back to the Port of Durban to re-board our Ship, we counted ourselves lucky for having had the opportunity to spend a day learning from and enjoying the cooking of one of South Africa’s leading Master Chefs. In our kitchens, we’ll be able to try not only the recipes from the class, but also a variety of dishes from Jackie’s recently published cookbook, Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home: Simple and delectable home cooking.