HE IS a British former history academic with a weakness for gun dogs and Appaloosa horses; she is a chef who speaks French, adores Bach and as a child dreamed of becoming an Egyptologist.
Each is a charming mix of off-beat meets intellectual and so it was practically preordained they would eventually find their way to each others’ hearts, in the village of Bathurst of all places.
When you observe Fred and Carla Bright at their beloved Kingston Farm a few kilometres outside town, you have a sense their once abandoned Edwardian manor house finally seems at peace.
It has not only been lovingly and sensitively restored, but by some conspiracy of the universe has found in the Brights its perfect pair.
The two have over the past few years worked ridiculously hard to establish Kingston not only as an Appaloosa stud of excellence, but Carla has built up a solid reputation for her superlative cooking.
You do not expect to find in this part of the world, populated in large part by solid settler stock who appreciate their hearty helpings of homegrown meat, the kind of inspired – and inspiring – cooking she has become renowned for.
Her prix-fixe menu (you pay for three set courses, whether for lunch or dinner) might feature an appetiser of smoked snoek paté with caramelised fennel and citrus dressing; an entrée of Beef Wellington served with roast root vegetables and a Cumberland jus accompanied by fresh sprouts and broad beans in parsley sauce and, for dessert, dark chocolate and espresso crème brulee with a sliver of dark chocolate torte and a strawberry compote.
Each dish is painstakingly researched, as history is a shared passion. For instance, the couple will tell you the pastry covering was, in the early days of this most British of dishes, a “mere paste of flour and water, wrapped around the uncooked tenderloin so it would roast without browning – a culinary fad of the era”.
“In time the covering became puff pastry; then the chefs of the continent, with their oft-noted penchant for lily-gilding, inserted a layer of truffles and paté de foie gras, today often simplified to mushroom and chicken livers.” The same careful attention to detail applies to everything they do, whether in the running of the self- catering accommodation they offer on the farm, the laying out of the formal gardens in front, Carla’s catering for exclusive weddings or her one-on-one cooking classes. But it is perhaps most evident in Fred’s approach to his horses.
Why Appaloosas, I ask. The choice seems slightly odd for an expert in British-South African diplomatic history – Fred did his research at Stellenbosch University and taught at Rhodes before tiring of academic life and becoming consumed by caring for his horses. But by now little should surprise one of this dashing man who looks like he might better belong to another gentler, more civilised era.
“It’s simple,” he shrugs. “I grew up watching cowboys and Indians movies and have always loved these spotted horses. I had three in Stellenbosch, but there was a drought and no grazing. I recalled the Bathurst area from my time at Rhodes and came here looking for land.”
The Appaloosa, he explains, is a native of North America, where it was selectively bred by various tribes for centuries. “Similar to a quarterhorse in build, it is a good endurance horse; sure-footed, easy- going, not too mad.
“It’s a friendly, versatile horse – you could jump it or do dressage with it. You could think of the Appaloosa as a big pony or a small horse,” says Fred, who hails from Devon, but spent his childhood years in Australia.
He has four mature Appaloosas and the others range from six months to four years. Hector, the foal, is a wilful little thing, and secretly one of Fred’s favourites. “This boy’s a handful,” he chuckles. “He is going to be a big, strong fellow.”
The economy is biting though and Fred says stud farmers are feeling the impact; few clients are buying horses at the moment and Fred is particular about who he’ll sell to.
“The horses have to be happy,” he says. His are in one large camp “so they can behave like a herd”.
“The politics of the herd, their hierarchy and rules, make for happier horses and easier ones to train.
“Horses aren’t a business,” he says. “They’re a choice. Carla has her restaurant, I have my horses and we get to live in this lovely house.
“That’s enough, isn’t it?”