STAFF DINNER chicken stew and pap
Pap is as essential as water to the daily meal here and as long as there is meat to go with it, it’s a good meal reminiscent of home-cooked fare: simple, savoury and satisfying.
The oldest staff member in the kitchen is affectionately referred to as Uncle, and he’s sorting today’s chow: chicken stew and pap. This isn’t an unwanted task for him; there is great joy for Uncle in making the food for everyone and it feels appropriate that the elder is the one to nourish the young hearts. Whisking pap for a whole team of hungry people is a physical task and one of the taller chefs comes over to lend a hand.
Many a wooden spoon has been lost to the great pot of pap, I’m told.
Whisks fare better, but are not in it for the long haul.
Uncle teaches me a new trick: scooping perfect rochers of pap (a half quenelle to you and me) with a side plate. He dishes up the plates democratically and everyone collects and shuffles outside to rest their bones. Uncle sits down last, politely picks up a spoon and glances up at his kitchen family to see them giggling at him. I implore him to relax and proceed as normal, even though this is the first time they are being photographed doing what they do daily. Somehow, because someone is now taking photographs of their meal, it has been elevated above a mundane act, and highlighted as a glorious common thread that people share everywhere. Nourishment. Fuel. Life.
So Uncle sets down his spoon and puts his hand into the cloud of pap he has just prepared. Resting his elbow and sinking into his tableside posture, he scoops up the fruits of his weekly labour. Chef Jack Coetzee asks me if I have the recipe and I reply that they had given it to me written on a till slip with just five main ingredients. He asks if one of them if Rajah curry, which is indeed on the list. “Ja, they won’t do anything without that,” he says. I guess that makes it an Urbanologi classic.
Clockwise from above: A kitchen brigade that eats together, works well together; traditional pap and chicken stew; Uncle serves the staples.