PMB’s hidden gem
Incredible people of the city make running the Fat Aubergine a joy for Margie Harel
The beautifully decorated interior of the Fat Aubergine has a homely feel. A friendly Daschund sign greets customers to the restaurant in Chapel Street.
Plants growing in a variety of containers add to the peaceful feel. LEFT: The Fat Aubergine team (from left) Khethi Sibiya, Pru Sosibo, owner Margie Harel, Nomvula Mabaso and Nana Sibisi. PHOTOS: ESTELLE SINKINS MARGIE Harel, owner of the Fat Aubergine — one of Maritzburg’s hidden gems — admits to not being “obsessed by food” when she was younger.
Rather it was her teachers at the ML Sultan Hotel School and later Prue Leith’s cooking school in London, which helped instil a love of cooking in her.
That love is reflected in the dishes she and her team produce at the restaurant situated near the intersection of Boshoff and Chapel streets.
“I originally chose to study hotel management because I wanted to work with people, and it was while I was there that I realised that what I really wanted to do was cook,” she said.
“I had incredible teachers at One of the most popular dishes on the menu at the Fat Aubergine is Coronation Chicken and Margie Harel has kindly decided to share her tasty recipe with us. CORONATION CHICKEN Serves 6 Ingredients Eight chicken breasts Sauce: 1 onion 1 tbs oil 1 tsp curry powder 1 tbs tomato sauce ½ cup water 1 tsp apricot jam 1 tsp lemon juice 2 cups Hellman’s Real Mayo 1 cup cream Method Poach chicken over moderate heat until just cooked. In another pan, fry onion in the hotel school and I was so lucky to win the prize for best student in my final year, sponsored by the International Wine and Food Society. That helped me to travel to London where I got to hone my skills at Prue Leith’s cooking school.”
Originally from Westville, the Durban Girls’ College old girl found herself in Pietermaritzburg after marrying her husband, Denis. “The city has been incredible to us as a family,” she added. Initially Harel worked as a lecturer at the Durban University of Technology and Varsity College, but later she and her then business partner, Theresa Rattray, decided to open the Aubergine Cookery School.
In 2005 Harel moved into her Chapel Street property and decided it was the perfect per spot p to oil and add curry powder. Stir together for one minute. Add water, tomato sauce, apricot jam and lemon juice. Simmer then leave to cool. set up a small restaurant/coffee shop with a homely feel and great food.
She continued to teach cookery classes and took on catering for weddings and functions, but eventually in 2012 decided that she needed to concentrate less on teaching and more on running the Fat Aubergine and her work as a caterer.
“For me it’s all about building relationships. I don’t just want to do the food for your wedding, but also for your brother’s and your sister’s and your friend’s, because it’s not just a job for me,” Harel said.
“I truly believe that I only have the clients I have been meant to have ... and they have all been amazing.”
As for the Fat Aubergine itself, she says that running it is “energising”, thanks to the “incredible people” she meets every single day .
Harel believes in sourcing the best possible ingredients for her customers and as far as possible, in using what is seasonal and sustainable.
She also hates food which has been “fiddled about with”, adding: “I believe that if you want to have fish, then I want you to be able to taste that beautiful kingklip or smoked salmon.”
The mom of two, whose children Sophie and Emilie keep her busy when she’s not working, also views her staff as members of her family. “Most of them have been with me forever,” she explains. “I simply could not do this without them.”
She also has no desire to move from her Chapel Street premises, saying: “I am very, very happy to be in the centre of town because I get such an amazing diversity of people here. I just love it!”
Thanks to the support of Denis and her children, Harel truly believes she has been blessed to do what she loves most in life.
“I have had the most incredible life in food; a life rich in the relationships that I have made and the people who have enjoyed one of my meals.” • For more information about the Fat Aubergine, call Margie on 033 342 3046. Add two cups of real mayo and the cream. Spoon over the chicken and fold. Serve on a bed of crispy greens.