Celebrity chef and cook­book au­thor, Sarah Gra­ham, talks to Ju­lia Bain about grow­ing up on a game farm, her TV show, and the im­por­tance of bal­ance

Essentials (South Africa) - - CONTENTS DECEMBER 2018 -

Sarah, 37, grew up on a game farm and re­serve in Zim­babwe, with her par­ents and her two sib­lings. She moved to Cape Town to study mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sity of Cape Town, grad­u­at­ing in 2004. In 2010, Sarah came across the con­cept of food blog­ging and started her own blog, AFood­ieLivesHer­e, and her blog con­tent was later adapted into her first cook­book, Bit­ten ( Pen­guin Ran­dom House). She’s since re­leased three other cook­books and cre­ated her own cook­ing TV show, SarahGra­ham’sFoodSa­fari, with its fourth sea­son sched­uled for 2019. In 2017, she launched her own range of healthy snacks called Nour­ish Power Balls. She’s also col­lab­o­rated with a num­ber of brands like Miele and UCOOK, and she’s ap­peared at food fes­ti­vals such as The Good Food & Wine Show and Ap­petite Fest. Sarah lives in Bryanston with her hus­band Rob, 36, and their three daugh­ters, Sophie, seven, Isla, four, and Emily, eight months.

I feel priv­i­leged to have had such a great up­bring­ing. Grow­ing up on a game farm is some­thing so spe­cial. My par­ents used to take tourists on sa­faris so we did a lot of off-the-beaten-track trav­el­ling within Zim­babwe. We had horses we used to ride as well as quad-bikes. On the re­serve, we had lions and gi­raffe, and my par­ents still have four or­phaned ele­phants that are rea­son­ably tame. Rob and I take the girls there about two or three times a year so they can spend time in the bush, away from big city life.

My love of eating came be­fore my love of cook­ing. On a farm, it’s a down-to- earth life that re­volves around the next meal. Your veg­gies come from the back gar­den and the milk from next door. It teaches you to ap­pre­ci­ate your food be­cause you know ex­actly where it comes from. I only got into cook­ing when I was at UCT. On the farm, only sim­ple in­gre­di­ents were ever used in the food I ate, so go­ing to Cape Town opened my eyes to so many more ex­cit­ing op­tions. Sud­denly, I had ac­cess to a wide ar­ray of new in­gre­di­ents and dishes. The restau­rant in­dus­try in Cape Town re­ally sparked my culi­nary cre­ativ­ity too, and I was in­spired by the strong stance on sea­son­al­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity.

My blog started with a ca­sual email from a friend in the US. While work­ing with my hus­band to start our own travel com­pany, a friend sent me a link to Smit­ten Kitchen, a pop­u­lar New York City food blog. I started read­ing it at my desk, en­joy­ing the com­bi­na­tion of food and words: two things I love al­most equally. There and then I de­cided to start my own blog – where I could self-pub­lish my ideas, al­most like an on­line jour­nal. In the be­gin­ning, I didn’t care if my mom and my hus­band were the only ones who were read­ing my blog (al­beit forcibly!). It was my cre­ative out­let to write about and share recipes. I loved the process of craft­ing ev­ery post. I didn’t start A Foodie Lives Here with any am­bi­tions but, in the back of my mind, an idea was sparked and I knew it could be some­thing more.

So much is mov­ing from printed page to screen, but I did the re­verse. I sent a pro­posal to turn my blog into a cook­book to pub­lish­ers Pen­guin Ran­dom House. Af­ter a three-month wait, they got back to me, say­ing they wanted the book fin­ished in 12 weeks. At the time, I was preg­nant with Sophie and was also work­ing full time: three months to pro­duce a cook­book is very tight, es­pe­cially when you have to write and triple test over 100 recipes! It was in­cred­i­bly hard work but I did it and loved the en­tire process.

My TV show, SarahGra­ham’sFood Sa­fari, started out as a fun side project. Soon af­ter my first book had gone to print, a friend of mine – who works in the TV in­dus­try – sug­gested we do a pilot for a cook­ing show. We got a tiny crew to­gether to shoot it and sent it to Okuhle Me­dia in Cape Town. They took us on and we filmed my first sea­son, SarahGra­hamCooks

In the be­gin­ning I didn’t even care that my mom and my hus­band were the only ones read­ing my blog

CapeTown, in 2013. Film­ing the first episode was in­cred­i­bly in­tim­i­dat­ing: there were two cam­eras in my face and 13 crew mem­bers watch­ing my ev­ery move. At first I thought I’m not cut out for this but I learnt how to tune out every­thing and just get on with it. Since then, we’ve shot two more sea­sons of FoodSa­fari and we’re now broad­cast in over 42 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

For the next sea­son, we’re look­ing at shoot­ing in Mau­ri­tius in early 2019.

It’s a very long process to get a TV show off the ground – every­thing from find­ing a chan­nel and spon­sors, to the lo­gis­tics of weather and lo­ca­tion need to be taken into ac­count. Then there is the plan­ning that goes into each episode, like the premise, re­search­ing lo­cal food, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with chefs on the ground. Plus, each episode is about 14 hours of raw footage, which then gets cut down to just 24 min­utes...

We came down­stairs one Satur­day morn­ing and found Sophie and Isla watch­ing my TV show. They’re gen­uinely proud of what I do and want to know when we’re go­ing on our next ad­ven­ture. While at Ap­petite Fest, they came on stage with me and helped me hand out tasters – I’m so lucky that they can, in some way, be in­volved in my work life. I think it’s so im­por­tant to let them see that I can work hard and fol­low my pas­sions, and be Mommy, too.

Sophie’s just learnt to read and she wanted to make cup­cakes from a recipe in a kids’ cook­book.

She wanted to do every­thing from scratch by herself. It was so spe­cial be­cause it was the first time she was able to do that in­de­pen­dently. The kids love be­ing in the kitchen and I def­i­nitely try to en­cour­age it.

Isla is my fussy eater. I’m of­ten film­ing her at din­ner time on my phone be­cause it’s like her own TV show; she is very vo­cal about what she does and doesn’t like. Sophie will pretty much eat any­thing and our baby,

Emily, is prov­ing to be a very good lit­tle eater (we’ll see if that lasts), but Isla gives us the most en­ter­tain­ment. Some­times it’s a sen­sory is­sue, but we per­se­vere and get there even­tu­ally – there’s just of­ten a lot of drama that comes with it!

As a mom of girls, it’s so im­por­tant for me to teach my kids healthy eating habits. I never want them to ob­sess with weight – I want them to see food as nour­ish­ment. They’re al­ready aware of where we can make healthy swaps, like send­ing them to school with yo­ghurt flavoured with home-made berry jam in­stead of sug­ary snacks. It just takes a few sim­ple swaps to start – every­thing else will fol­low.

We’re all so be­sot­ted with Emily. She’s the sweet­est, hap­pi­est baby, and be­cause she’s the third child, I’ve been calmer and more re­laxed. See­ing how her big sis­ters are with her just melts my heart. I thought they would be slightly in­con­ve­nienced by her ar­rival but they’ve been the op­po­site; they adore her. They of­ten say how they can’t wait for Emily to walk and play with them in the park.

Rob is such a good dad and he gen­uinely en­joys it; it’s not a chore for him. Our kids can wake him up at 3am and he’s far hap­pier to see them than I am. It’s a bless­ing to be a co-par­ent with some­one like that. He wanted to have more kids – af­ter two, I was ready to stop but now I’m so glad we had Emily. Would I have an­other? No, we’re in a happy place now, we’re done!

Our mar­riage goes through dif­fer­ent stages but we have a good bal­ance. Rob and I have sim­i­lar val­ues and we both love the work we do. He’s also an en­tre­pre­neur, which of­fers in­cred­i­ble free­dom on one hand and sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges on the other. The fact that we both en­joy our ca­reers means we make an ef­fort to sup­port each other and build our kids in and around that. Rob sees every­thing as a big ad­ven­ture and never holds me back from any­thing.

For our 10- year wed­ding an­niver­sary, Rob and I took a trip to Italy. We both love food so we just had to go to the mar­kets and do some cook­ing cour­ses. We ate pasta ev­ery day, joined var­i­ous tours of the his­toric sights, and went sight­see­ing on foot be­cause it’s the best way to take in every­thing. Italy re­ally is in­cred­i­ble; there’s nowhere else I would rather have gone to cel­e­brate our an­niver­sary – it was mag­i­cal.

Rob is a phe­nom­e­nal cook and he’s in the kitchen a cou­ple times a month, of­ten when we have peo­ple round. He makes a de­li­cious, slow- cooked lamb curry – and a huge mess while he’s at it! He’s bril­liant with com­bin­ing flavours; I of­ten get him to taste-test my dishes and I get very hon­est feed­back, which is help­ful.

I love how food can bring peo­ple to­gether. We en­ter­tain a lot but we don’t even lay the ta­ble; we all just sit out­side with a glass of wine and eat on our laps. Friends came over the other day and we made a rich lamb ragu and panna cotta for dessert. Ital­ian food is some of the best for shar­ing, it’s real fam­ily food. When I have free time, I love to read. Read­ing is my favourite thing to do in the world, es­pe­cially books set in the World War II era. I can’t go to sleep at night with­out read­ing at least a chap­ter. I also have a great book club; we eat, drink wine, swap books, and talk about lit­er­a­ture.

I’m al­ready get­ting emails from my pub­lisher ask­ing when I’m do­ing my next cook­book. I want to do some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent and have a few ideas swim­ming in my head. I’m a lit­tle hes­i­tant to get started be­cause, for me, a book is a six-month project, with hun­dreds of hours of work; I re­ally have to dig deep. At the mo­ment I have plenty to keep me busy: I do Women’s Well­ness events, which I love, where I talk about healthy eating tips, tricks and meal hacks. I’m also fo­cus­ing on my Nour­ish snack range, see­ing where I want to take it and if I want to add more products.

It’s taken me a long time to learn that I don’t have to al­ways be busy. A few years ago, my work-life bal­ance was very dif­fer­ent and wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily healthy. I’ve re­alised that bal­ance is so im­por­tant for both me and my fam­ily. Un­for­tu­nately, many moms are tied to their desk and can’t see their kids un­til 6pm. I’m lucky that I have the af­ter­noons to spend with my girls. I’ve worked hard to cre­ate this bal­ance, and be­cause of my su­per sup­port sys­tem, I’m able to take my foot off the gas. Many peo­ple think that their value is di­rectly pro­por­tion­ate to how busy they are; if you’re not busy, you’re not adding value – and that’s rub­bish.

It’s taken me ages to learn that I don’t have to be busy all the time

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