Celebrations are in the air!

East Out DSTV Food Network Restaurant Awards 2013
More than ever before, I believe the chefs in South Africa are striving for greatness - every day. The levels of creativity are inspirational. So, getting called up on stage as the No 5 restaurant in the country was pretty astonishing. Especially considering where we are based and where we have come from.
— Jackie Cameron

Hartford House is No 5 restaurant in the country as voted by the judges in the 2013 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards. This is the 'Oscars' for restaurants in South Africa.

The build up to this award means four judges eating, unannounced, at select restaurants during the course of 2013. In October the 20 chefs/restaurants that made the Top 20 were announced in a media release, all finalists were invited to a glitzy award ceremony in mid November and at the end of the evening’s meal the Top 10 were announced. The four highly-regarded judges, who were made known to us at the awards, included Abigail Donnelly, editor of Eat Out and food editor of Woolworths TASTE magazine; Liam Thomlin, owner of Chef Warehouse and Cookery School; Garth Stroebel, chef, lecturer and accredited judge; Andy Fenner, food writer, consultant and owner Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants. It was a very stressful time for all us chefs - but even more nerve racking for the chefs who cooked for the occasion.

Travis Finch, an outstanding new member of the Hartford House A-team; Jessica Edmunds, a past trainee and a special friend of mine; and Luke Nel, a chef from the area and another great friend of mine made up my prep team. We all headed to the Cape and arrived at the picturesque L'Ormarins guest house compliments of Bear (Gareth) Robinson and the team. Sadly there was no time to chill out - we had to get to dinner because the very talented and oh-so-interesting foraging chef Chris Erasmus was waiting for us at La Motte. There the chef's table dinner was truly special and we felt like royalty on every level. The experience at La Motte was the start of a memorable weekend.

The following day was much longer than we'd anticipated. The mussels I'd ordered from one of my favourite families in the Cape, the Bakers-Ross Baker of Wild Peacock Emporium fame made up for the long hours. They where superb - so plump and juicy... We got home at 1am with a huge sense of pride - smiles from ear to ear because our smoked mussel soup with fond side memories was sorted! I have to add we prepared in Chris' state-of-the-art kitchen with all the top of range equipment; I was on cloud nine the entire day. His staff is fantastic - in particular: Ryan Cole, Michelle Theron and Jonke (Michael Jonker). The dynamics of the kitchen team is something quite unique.

We were up with the sparrows, back to La Motte to do the final touches, and then loaded the food truck. We all wished we'd had the opportunity to enjoy a glass or two of the world-renowned wines from L'Ormarins, especially considering the Cape of Good Hope Chardonnay 2012, Serruria, was my choice to go with our mussel soup that evening.

The rest of the Hartford House team on the morning of the awards' dinner arrived - Elaine Boshoff, my sous chef; Cheryl Goss, the owner of Hartford House; Scott Morgan, the assistant general manager, and Umbelelo Mahlungulu, the duty manager.

Cooking for this event were George Jardine, Jordan's restaurant, on starter; the Hartford House team on the first main; Chris Erasmus and his team on second main; Peter Tempelhoff and his pastry chef Amy-Margaret Young with David Higgs and his pastry chef Minette Smith on dessert. The man who put the kitchen together was Wynand du Plessis from Extreme Kwizeen. He was in charge of the entire kitchen setup. From start to finish this was a fantastic experience. In 10 minutes we got our soup out for 500 people! Working with all these professionals made the task an absolute pleasure - a brilliant milestone in my foodie career.

The awards were emotional for many restaurant teams. More than ever before, I believe the chefs in South Africa are striving for greatness - every day. The levels of creativity are inspirational. So, getting called up on stage as the No 5 restaurant in the country was pretty astonishing. Especially considering where we are based and where we have come from. This was a true team effort. Every staff member wanted the award as badly as I did. Elaine and I have been the only qualified chefs in the hotel kitchen for many years and I’m always amazed at what the teamfrom the scullery women to the kitchen helpers and the waitrons - puts out on a day-to-day basis. Loyalty and dedication are part of each member’s make up and it’s what gets me up in the morning.

Andy Bainborough / Sapore

This brings me to my birthday, and those readers who follow my column know birthdays are an occasion for me. So, this year I insisted on celebrating very locally to ensure the Hartford House kitchen team could, at some part of the day, join me in commemorating my special day as well as the end of a hard-working year. Sapore in Nottingham Road popped straight to mind for a long, lazy, festive day. The restaurant is owned by my friends Andy Bainborough and Geoff Combrinck. It's a casual eatery, and sitting outside sharing a bottle of bubbles with my mates on a Sunday afternoon conjures up such happy memories for me. Sapore has recently opened a hip-and-happening bar alongside the restaurant. I wish I had more available time to visit there 'cos it's ultra cool. My kind of place to just kuier... The menu includes something for all palates; from sushi and pizza to salads and pastas. Sapore's owners have happily parted with a few of their recipes to tantalise your palates this month.

Sapore Chinese Chicken

Elaine, my sous chef, recommends Sapore's Chinese chicken. Elaine is my rock, my constant, my right and left hand. She knows me inside and out, understands my craziness and deep desires - and if she says it's good you know it is delicious. Add Tempura vegetable for an interesting twist or serve on its own with a dipping sauce - both are tasty combinations.

Sapore Ciabatta

Bread of any sort is my weakness so a Sapore ciabatta is just right for me.

Sapore Bruschetta

Bruschetta is simply delicious when served freshly crisp with Mediterranean toppings. This is often my order at Sapore when I want to fill the gap between meals. As I've already said Sapore is a place you can chill out with mates - any time.

Sapore Basil Pesto

Every chef/restaurant has a unique pesto recipe - and they're all good. Try Sapore's as an alternative to mine. We must celebrate eateries that make their own because, I assure you, many restaurants these days buy in a lot of their products. Nothing tastes better than dishes home made with love, rather than commercially manufactured poor cousins!

Sapore Pole-Caught Tuna Fish Cakes

Pole-caught tuna fish cakes are scrumptious and this dish adheres to SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative). We only serve green-listed fish at Hartford House - nothing on the orange/red list because we are conscientious about conserving the status of over-exploited seafood. To find out more visit: www.wwf.org.za/sassi; and to check the status of any fish, text its name to 079 499 8795 and you'll receive the answer. Save this number and sms 'the fish of the day' when dining out, you will be surprised and shocked at what some restaurants are selling. Serve the Sapore tuna fish cakes with a sweet honey and ginger sauce. This promises to impress your guests.

Here's to happy celebrations at Sapore with your friends and family. If you haven't been - visit soon. I wish I had more social time with my family, friends and the Hartford House team - they all mean the world to me.

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Send comments and food-related questions to jackie@jackiecameron.co.za

Find out more about my women's chef range, JACKIE CAMERON COOKS AT HOME and all my foodie adventures. I always look forward to hearing from you. Jackie Cameron (Head Chef: Hartford House - 033 263 2713). For the latest on local foodie news add me as a friend on FACEBOOK. Find me on Twitter - @jackie_cameron.

All Photos taken by Karen Edward’s Photography 082 441 7429 / karene@bundunet.com.