SA Chefs: Q&A with Jackie Cameron

Celebrated KZN chef, Jackie Cameron talks about her new exciting chapter in food.
— Food24

Jackie Cameron, the KZN born chef, known for her role as Executive chef of Hartford House, has left her position to start her own cooking school. Jackie has put Hartford House firmly on the culinary map - having achieved national Top 10 status four times. She took a moment to share some of her home truths.

What inspired you to become a chef?

When I was growing up everything happened around the dining room/kitchen table so it was a natural course for me to follow when I left school.

Both my grandmothers were fantastic cooks, my grandfather had his own butchery and my mother so enjoys cooking and treating us all.

Where did you study? Do you think it is important to get formal education in cooking to become a professional chef?  

I studied at Christina Martin's School of Food and Wine when Christina Martin was still around and when this course was still in Florida Road in Durban. I believe that it’s imperative to have the basics and the culinary understanding.

What is your food philosophy?

Cook from the heart, cook with love and all will enjoy. Cook for a guest with as much heart and soul as you would a family member. Be proud of, and always impress, with every plate. And always be able to write your name under every plate you send out.  

What is your number one kitchen rule?  

Do everything with integrity. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Tell us a little about your cookbook ‘Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home’?

Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home is a layered recipe book that appeals to all palates and can work for every individual depending on how much time they have available. Recipes are straight forward and easy to follow as there is no point compiling a recipe book that the readers/cooks cannot follow. And all the ingredients can be found at your local grocer.

Do you think it is important for young South African chefs to get international work experience?  

I believe experience is key, so yes, I do agree one must travel overseas and see the world. It will open one’s eyes to the fact that we in South Africa are doing a pretty fantastic job. I have had some of my best meals in South Africa rather than abroad.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs when they first start working in the industry? 

Work hard, put your head down and concentrate on improving your skills daily. Never stop learning and always learn from everyone within the kitchen team.

What are your thoughts of the current food trends in South Africa?

Food is ever-changing, but the knowledge of what is local and seasonal, where your farmer is and where your fresh products/ingredients come from is something I have kept abreast of since I started. It makes sense to me to be using local meats and cheeses, for example not getting in foie gras and truffle oil from France and Italy.

I am excited about this ‘local-is-lekker’ food movement as it is not only chefs who are pushing this but all the many foodies out there too. I cannot wait to see how this transforms the way we see our local groceries today.

What are your top 3 ingredients to cook with?

I love cooking with any fresh fish, and sweetbread/brain, any innards really. I love the chocolate tempering process too.  

It’s very exciting news to hear that you are opening a cheffing school in KZN. Please tell us a little more about what prompted you to make the decision to open a school.

This is something I have known I have wanted to do for a while now.  There is no reward that can compare to seeing the development of another human being on a day-to-day basis. I am extremely excited to get started with this. Jackie Cameron's School of Food and Wine will offer an 18-month intensive internationally-recognised course with a maximum intake of 15 students.

"Hands-on" is Jackie's philosophy and the students will be working alongside her, daily. The school will provide learners with the opportunity to experience all things foodie in a safe and secure environment.

In her endeavour to share her knowledge, Jackie writes a monthly column for The Witness newspaper as well as a column in the Chef Magazine where, through her stories and her recipes, she encourages readers to experiment with food.

Follow Jackie Cameron on Twitter @jackie_cameron