When chef Erika Grebe was a little girl growing up in the Eastern Cape town of Somerset East, she would spend endless hours watching her mother and grandmother cooking up a storm in their country kitchen.
“The smell of a leg of lamb in the Aga and the taste of stone-ground maize meal for the breakfast pap was very much a part of my childhood,” reminisces Erika, who moved to Port Elizabeth at the end of last year after having built a career cooking in jaw-droppingly beautiful locations both in South Africa and around the globe.
Erika has since joined the talented Food Studio team of Michael Mallet and Vuyani Nkwali, and together the three have been coming up with inspiring and fun themed menus at the popular Walmer venue.
Erika was the chef behind last week’s Seriously Sizzling Italian- themed Valentine’s menu, which saw The Food Studio teaming up with Italian bubbly brand Valdo Prosecco.
It was playfully billed as an aphrodisiac menu, so she served gorgeously silky oysters in a delicate prosecco and shallot vinaigrette, followed by parmesan crusted kingklip with ribbons of herbed parppardelle (fresh pasta) and balsamic glazed cherry tomatoes. The main course of lamb rump saltimbocca (an Italian favourite usually made with veal) continued the naughty theme and was served with delicious gnocci in sage butter, baby vegetables and prosecco cream.
“Bubbly, strawberries and vanilla also fall in the aphrodisiac category so I combined the lot into a traditional Italian dessert – pana cotta – which also happens to be my favourite,” Erika said, concluding her seductive meal with hand-made dark chocolate truffles.!
Following a stint in London, Erika studied culinary arts and hotel management before joining the Cape Town restaurant scene. She met her husband, Hein, while working at Gorah Elephant Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park, then cooked for the rich and famous on board super-yachts in the Mediterranean. Another career highlight was being executive chef and hospitality manager at an exclusive private island in the middle of Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania.
In 2012 Erika and Hein bought a historic home in Murraysburg in the Karoo. They transformed it into a guesthouse and Erika hosted regular cooking retreats on a friend’s farm under the banner Karoo Cuisine. “That was where my passion to highlight local, high quality, fresh and ethical ingredients was born and this remains the basis of my culinary view today,” she said.
“Collaborating with The Food Studio is a very symbiotic relationship which allows me to still do private cheffing, host the cooking retreats in the Karoo and spend quality time with my husband and two beautiful kids.”
Lecia de Villiers, who runs The Food Studio alongside business partner Andrew Broughton, said the response to the venue’s various culinary experiences has been very good.
“Erika has been a great addition to chefs Mike and Vuyani, who both have a large following, and she has brought her own flair and passion to The Food Studio,” Lecia said.
“People seem to like the idea of change, and different types of menus and themes. Some of our most popular evenings have been Couples Sharing, where couples sat around our kitchen table and shared food; All Things Cheezy, with every course incorporating cheese in some form or another; and our Homegrown menu which included local ingredients such as chokka, Nguni beef and spekboom.”
Exciting evenings to look out for include A Taste of Sicily with chef Mike on March 1, Asian Street Bowl Food with Erika on March 7, and the very intriguing Death Row Meal on March 28!
The Food Studio is at 147 Main Road, in the Bloomingdales building behind 2 Fat Butchers. Prior booking is essential. For more information on upcoming events visit www.thefoodstudio.co.za or follow Pefoodstudio on Facebook.
Recipe: vanilla bean panna cotta
Chef Erika Grebe prepared classic panna cotta for dessert at last week’s Valentine’s dinner at The Food Studio in Walmer.
She served it with prosecco-marinated berries for a romantic twist, but the caramelised pineapple below is an equally fitting accompaniment for this popular Italian dessert.
1 vanilla pod
3 gelatine sheets
Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soften.
Combine cream and sugar in a saucepan. Split vanilla pod in half and use a paring knife to scrape out all the seeds. Add seeds and pod to the cream and sugar.
Place on a gentle heat until it just begins to simmer – don’t let mixture boil.
When the cream mixture is just beginning to bubble around the edges take it of the heat completely.
Use your hands to remove the gelatine sheets from the water and squeeze out any excess moisture. Add gelatine one sheet at a time to the warm cream mixture, whisking after each sheet has been added.
Once all the gelatine has dissolved, remove vanilla pod and pour mixture into moulds or glasses.
Place in fridge to set, preferably overnight.
Serve with a spoonful of caramelised pineapple or your choice of sauce.
Recipe: caramelised pineapple
1 queen pine, peeled and cubed
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon butter
Place the sugar, butter and pineapple in a saucepan and gently heat until sugar has melted.
Cook over moderate heat while tossing pineapple around the pan. Continue cooking until sauce is a golden amber colour.
You may serve it warm or cold. A dash of dark rum is also a brilliant addition.