PHOTOGRAPHS: VELD TO FORK, BY GORDON WRIGHT (STRUIK LIFESTYLE)
How long has it been since you and your wife, Rose, bought the Andries Stockenström Guesthouse and established Gordon’s Restaurant? How did that madness (I remember you using that word once) come about, and how do you feel about your leap of faith now?
It’s been five years since our move from PE, but it feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago all at the same time. Essentially we wanted to get out of the rat race and simplify our lives. A lot of our friends and family thought it was madness, but we went for it and just had to make it work.
Fortunately, when you’re doing what you absolutely love, it’s easier to get through the tough times and work that much harder.
With the help and support of the wonderful people of the Karoo we are still here and doing our thing.
Buying the guesthouse and returning to your childhood roots in Graaff-Reinet led to a major career change from investment banker to chef. How have you grown in your new role?
At first I thought I had little knowledge of the industry, but over time I started to realise how much residual food and business knowledge I had. And, with a supportive wife and business partner like mine, it did not take me long to start backing myself and make inroads into the food scene.
I saw a gap in the market for authentic Karoo cuisine (having been a boarder at Union High and spending plenty of time at amazing Karoo farms) and discovered this to be my forte. Once I started exploring the rich culinary history of the Karoo in detail, I saw the opportunities and fun that could be had. Today Karoo food in all its forms is the new big thing and it’s growing by the day.
And people call me a chef. Actually I am just a country cook with a passion for great food, great wine and great people.
You and Rose embarked on this adventure together. What is her role in the guesthouse and was she involved in the book?
Rose is the real driving force behind the scenes. She is not a big fan of the limelight and so she quietly looks after the guesthouse and admin. She is also a full-time mom and a very good artist.
Without her constant encouragement (read butt-kicking) and keeping everything running while I wrote, the book would not be on the shelves today. As much as it has my name on it, it is a collective effort from Rose, my boys, Jason and Max, and our whole community.
When did the idea of a book begin to take shape?
I’d always dreamed of doing my own cookery book, in fact it was written in my head a million times before I’d actually put pen to paper. Cooking has always been a huge part of who I am, a way to express myself completely. When we still lived in PE, my mate Roche van As was a great inspiration. We spent countless hours coming up with and cooking great dishes over a couple of glasses of wine. That was where the idea started crystallising in my mind. Once the restaurant opened, I had more and more patrons asking when my “book” was coming out. Eventually I had no choice – it had to happen.
What were the challenges of the project, and what kept you going?
It was a lot harder than I imagined, especially as I did most of the writing after I got home from a long day and night in the restaurant. Fortunately I had a very supportive family who let me lie in a bit in the mornings and an awesome editor, Joy Clack, who fixed my late-night errors.
What are among your favourite recipes from the book?
At heart it is a venison cookbook but there are all sorts of other recipes that are interesting and fun. The book is a sort of “greatest hits” collection of mine so the recipes are all my favourites. But, if I had to pick a few I’d say the deboned shoulder of lamb and venison – it looks difficult but is really easy and a superbly impressive Sunday roast with friends and family. Then there’s the spade flambéed sirloin – one of the most fun dishes you can make on the braai. Finally, there’s Rose’s decadent savoury Christmas tart – this book is out in time for Christmas, so what better way to celebrate than with a beautiful cookbook and my beautiful wife’s recipe.
Who will the book appeal to?
It will obviously appeal to Karoo fans and “Oos-Kaapenaars”, but also to a national and international audience – Exclusive Books have given it a five-star rating. I was determined to make this a world- class recipe book and as such had an awesome creative team consisting of Bev Dodd, Brita du Plessis and Yvette Pascoe, as well as a star food photographer in Shaun Calitz, who really got into my head and took what I was trying to achieve to a level I could never have dreamed of.
You founded the Karoo convivium of the international Slow Food movement. How is this taking off in South Africa?
Slow Food is gaining traction and South Africans are starting to realise it is more a lifestyle than an organisation. It is a way of thinking, eating and drinking in a responsible yet fun way. Slow Food international has identified South Africa as a major priority area and we will be having our first national conference towards the end of the year. It is a very exciting time and we are planning some big things.
Recipe: Spicy mutton knuckles with garlic parsnip mash
GORDON Wright says this tasty recipe from “Veld to Fork” is “great for winter or whenever you need a cosy night in with some mates around the fire, a decent bottle of wine and a good old chat”.
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 thumb-sized pieces fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 chillies, chopped (seeds removed if you don’t want too much heat)
2 cardamom pods, cracked
5 ml turmeric
10 ml mustard seeds
1 kg mutton knuckles
250 ml chicken stock
1 handful fresh coriander
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the garlic parsnip mash:
8 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 whole bulb garlic
Knob of butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
To make the mutton stew, sweat off the onion, garlic, ginger, chillies and spices in a good glug of olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan, then remove from the pan and set aside. Using the same pan, brown the meat in batches. Return all the meat and the onion mixture to the saucepan and add the stock. Simmer for 45–60 minutes.
To make the mash, place the parsnips and whole garlic into a saucepan of salted water (enough to cover) and boil for 30 minutes until soft. Remove, drain and allow to steam dry. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic out of the cloves onto the parsnips, add the butter, season to taste and mash until smooth. Scoop the mash into an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with some paprika and add a few more dabs of butter, and place under a preheated oven grill until the top is golden.
When the meat is nice and soft, stir in the coriander, season to taste and you are good to go. Serve the mutton knuckles on top of the mash and add a sprinkling of fresh coriander.