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...