Coun­try Chef


Writer Tony Jack­man loves words, the Karoo and food in equal quan­ti­ties. Big quan­ti­ties

Writer Tony Jack­man jokes that ev­ery now and then he goes mad and opens a restau­rant. But his true love is food, words and the Karoo

and they all shine through in his new cook book

Lamb with gar­lic, rose­mary and lemon. Pars­ley-crusted rack of lamb. Greek shoul­der of lamb. Neck of Han­tam lamb for one. Lamb shanks with thyme, oregano, lemon and minted yo­ghurt. You may see a pat­tern emerg­ing here. All are recipes in well-known gas­tro-journo Tony Jack­man’s new cook book, foodSTUFF:

. It is clear there is lit­tle Tony doesn’t like about a sheep, and why it seems he was des­tined to open two restau­rants in the Karoo, and even­tu­ally move to Cradock. Also, it ex­plains why some Karoo

" #À lemon and rose­mary are about to go on the grill

" ¿ "of Tony’s culi­nary life – a braai.

There are friends vis­it­ing from Gra­ham­stown, the evening is mild, Tony is wear­ing his favourite

À } ~

 " ¿ to the salad.

Cats Chai and Sean are watch­ing pro­ceed­ings with smug ap­proval. At some bon­homious stage in the evening, Tony looks around and com­ments qui­etly, al­most to him­self: “Sto­ries, friends and food. I love this.”

He also waxes fairly lyri­cal when he’s in the À !€ 

Give me a Karoo storm gath­er­ing, the thud of a hoof in the veld, the red earth spat­ter­ing with rain. Give me the smell of bak­ing bread, wafts of cof­fee grounds as they meet boil­ing wa­ter. The twist of the cap on a jar of gin­ger pre­serve, the scrape of but­ter on toast. The bast­ing of the roast, stok­ing of the coals, the clink of the glass, the cup to lip.”

But his life has not al­ways been lamb, wine and kit­ties. Tony’s cook book is also a me­moir

¿ life than this rather in­tro­verted man would likely ever di­vulge in per­son. It is beau­ti­fully writ­ten, gut-wrench­ingly can­did at times.

His early years in the di­a­mond-min­ing town of Oran­je­mund, the son of two York­shire-born

" ¿ } child­hood, en­dured bul­ly­ing and played tru­ant for months on end. But some of his most vivid food mem­o­ries hark back to those times.

“I was brought up eat­ing rock lob­ster which a friend of my dad’s would bring us on a Sun­day,


Oran­je­mund. As a boy, I only liked it cold with may­on­naise, but my palate grew to like it as a hot cooked meal when I grew up. Not overly adorned, though. A sim­ple gar­lic or lemon but­ter is all it needs for me. And chips, lots of chips.

“I have a taste for pâtés in the French way and for those old-fash­ioned English dishes like the

" € #¿ visit to the UK in 1987. It comes from the ‘pot­ted meat’ my dad used to make when I was a kid – his dad’s recipe and an old York­shire tra­di­tion.”

Tony’s book is rich in other com­fort-food recipes – York­shire pud­ding, bangers and parsnip mash, pota­toes roasted in duck fat, macaroni and cheese, ba­con and beer braai bread, and sin­fully deca­dent choco­late tart.

De­spite his shy­ness, Tony took some bold chances, some of which have paid off hand­somely. He joined a band. Through a se­quence of un­likely events, he be­came a ship­ping cor­re­spon­dent for the Cape Times, and then started writ­ing about en­ter­tain­ment and life­style, as well as do­ing the­atre and restau­rant re­views. He went to Cannes and in­ter­viewed Mickey Rourke and Meryl Streep.

Met Di, got mar­ried, be­came a fa­ther. Be­came an ac­claimed play­wright.

Tony even had a dish named af­ter him at his favourite Cape Town restau­rant, So­ci­eti Bistro (ten­der lamb shanks, but­tered mash and roasted vegeta­bles). “It may sur­prise peo­ple who know how much I love meat, and cook­ing meat, to know

¿ #

¿ "of which is a great haunch of hog or wilde­beest – okay, more usu­ally lamb or beef. Pota­toes done many ways, that’s a thing I got from my mom,

" ¿ with but­ter, milk and plenty of sea­son­ing.

“The per­fect roast potato is a thing of beauty, "À # the cen­tre. Boil or steam un­til al dente, about ten min­utes, drain, then shake them around on the heat in the pan to get rid of any mois­ture. Then I put them in a loaf tin half full of oil, which has heated in the oven to about 160°C. Not that I ever test the tem­per­a­ture. They should im­me­di­ately start siz­zling when they go in, and you turn them once. They’re ready when beau­ti­fully golden.

“Cour­gettes are prob­a­bly my favourite green. I slice on the di­ag­o­nal and stir­fry in olive oil or but­ter with gar­lic, a squeeze of lemon and sea­son­ing, and I love ad­ding cubes of feta at the end to melt. Creamed spinach, creamed leeks, gem squash mashed with lots of Parme­san. But­ter­nut purée, roasted parsnips. All sta­ples on our ta­ble.”

In 1999 he and Di im­pul­sively bought two houses in Suther­land, in large part be­cause they were so ir­re­sistibly cheap. A few years later they were work­ing in Eng­land when the grey-sky ceil­ing and con­stant press of peo­ple started get­ting to him. So pro­found was Tony’s need for blue skies and open spa­ces that when he and Di re­turned to South Africa, they headed straight for Suther­land, liv­ing in one house and turn­ing the other into a restau­rant. Perl­man House, named af­ter the orig­i­nal owner, a Jewish smous, be­came an eatery spe­cial­is­ing in Karoo lamb.

Tony re­mem­bers writ­ing the daily spe­cials on a black­board. “One day I had this eerie feel­ing

I was be­ing watched. I turned around, and there was this sheep truck, and all the sheep were look­ing at me. I put down the chalk and couldn’t write an­other thing un­til the truck pulled off again.”

But most lo­cals didn’t quite see the point of eat­ing there. “They ate lamb ev­ery day for sup­per, so why come to a lamb spe­cial­ity restau­rant?” says Di. “But they did en­joy our cock­tail menu, some­thing quite unique in Suther­land at the time. It was funny to see big farm­ers sit on our stoep and hold el­e­gant glasses in their large hands, down­ing a Perl­man Pearly or Sex in the Veld in one thirsty gulp.”

In the end Suther­land’s ex­treme cli­mate was too much. They sold the restau­rant af­ter two years and headed back to Cape Town, back into news­pa­pers un­til 2014, when an old friend, San­dra An­trobus, owner of the Tuishuise and Vic­to­ria Manor Ho­tel in Cradock, called and men­tioned that a restau­rant lease in Mar­ket Street in the East­ern Cape town had just be­come avail­able.

So they moved to Cradock and ran Schreiner’s Bistro and Tea Room for sev­eral months. In his spare time, Tony wrote frag­ments of mem­o­ries, recipes and thoughts, which even­tu­ally be­came a manuscript that re­sulted in foodSTUFF. In it are some of his sig­na­ture dishes, like lightly

" " " Z ¿ ¿ feta and goose­ber­ries, has­sel­back pota­toes and all day veni­son.

Then he re­ceived an ir­re­sistible of­fer to be­come chief sub-edi­tor of the edgy on­line news plat­form the Daily Mav­er­ick. There was no more time to run a restau­rant as Tony works a gru­elling shift from 4pm un­til 3am. “But I love it.” Di now also sub-ed­its for them, work­ing the early morn­ing shift.

It’s time for pud­ding, and out of the oven comes one of his mother’s favourite recipes, lemon syrup cake served with ice cream. The buzz of con­ver­sa­tion falls rev­er­en­tially si­lent.

This man can cook.

OP­PO­SITE: Tony Jack­man, slic­ing and dic­ing fresh veg­gies in a Cradock friend’s kitchen. LEFT: Tony and his wife Di Cassere in the main road of their new home town, Cradock. Di likes to colour her hair in some­times out­ra­geous shades. BE­LOW: Chai (in...

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