Princess Char­lene’s SA cook­book

Char­lene’s love of SA food is noth­ing new. Now the Monaco princess is com­pil­ing a cook­book with South African favourites – and she wants your recipes!


‘Ev­ery oc­ca­sion was a rea­son to braai. We’d watch rugby and braai, watch cricket and braai’

AS THE princess of the tiny principali­ty of Monaco she can have any dish her heart de­sires. Del­i­ca­cies can be brought in from all over the world and there’s no tasty treat that can’t be pre­pared by the finest French chefs who’d be only too happy to cook for the oc­cu­pants of the Pink Palace.

But what Her Serene High­ness, Char­lene of Monaco, is most pas­sion­ate about on the culi­nary front are the meals of her child­hood in South Africa. Milk tart, bobotie and braaibrood­jies are just a few of the dishes she dreams of – which is why she wants to launch a cook­book fea­tur­ing these and more.

And it’s not just any old recipes she’s look­ing for – she wants peo­ple like you and me to send in our fam­ily favourites.

Yes, that’s right: Princess Char­lene (40) wants South Africans from all walks of life and ev­ery cul­ture to send in their tried-and-tested favourites to be con­sid­ered for the book.

“They can be hand­writ­ten orig­i­nal recipes,” the princess says when we meet her in a swanky ho­tel room at Em­per­ors Palace in Jo­han­nes­burg. She’s warm and down-to-earth in min­i­mal make-up, a flow­ing blouse, jeans and boots, and ex­udes el­e­gance as she talks about the new pro­ject.

“I’d like to in­clude folk sto­ries about the food too – how long it took to cook a meal, where the recipe came from, what the back story is and so on,” she tells us in an exclusive in­ter­view.

She doesn’t want any­thing fancy and pricey in this pro­ject, she stresses. Her char­ity work has made her hy­per aware of poverty and she wants dishes that “are sim­ple and ac­ces­si­ble and can feed a large num­ber of peo­ple”.

She’s clearly en­joy­ing talk­ing about two of her favourite things: food and her chil­dren.

Char­lene plans to bring her twins, Prince Jac­ques and Princess Gabriella (3), to her home­land for the first time later this month. “I want to take them to the bush, show them some an­i­mals, let them ex­pe­ri­ence the peo­ple and the food.”

Hope­fully sev­eral of the dishes the kids will ex­pe­ri­ence will fea­ture in the cook­book. Pro­ceeds from the sale of the book will go to The Sal­va­tion Army.

It’s still in its plan­ning stages and de­tails about where South Africans can sub­mit their recipes will be re­vealed in due course, ac­cord­ing to the princess’ man­age­ment team.

But once it’s done and dusted it will be avail­able world­wide so that sim­ple yet scrump­tious South African cui­sine can be in­tro­duced to a global au­di­ence.

BACK when she was Char­lene Witt­stock, grow­ing up in Benoni on the East Rand of Gaut­eng, her fam­ily used to braai all the time, and mealie pap, boere­wors and braaibrood­jies were the or­der of the day.

“Ev­ery oc­ca­sion was a rea­son to braai,” she says. “We’d watch rugby and braai, watch cricket and braai, cel­e­brate Christ­mas Day and braai.”

Best of all was a potjie slowly sim­mer­ing over the coals – the per­fect end to a day of watch­ing sport.

“Af­ter a rugby match or cricket game we’d get home and be starv­ing,” re­calls the princess, who re­mains a staunch Spring­bok and Proteas sup­porter. “It was al­ways so ex­cit­ing when the potjie would fi­nally be ready to eat af­ter eight hours on the fire.”

In fact, when­ever she de­cides to cook

in her adopted home­land for her hus­band, Prince Al­bert (59), and their twins, a potjie is what she makes.

“When I have the time, I’ll give the staff time off and tell them I want the kitchen to my­self for a while. This hap­pens mostly at our coun­try home.”

She’s of­ten asked about South African food in Monaco, she adds. “It’s very dif­fi­cult ex­plain­ing what a vetkoek or a koek­sis­ter is and that I didn’t grow up drink- ing espresso and eat­ing crois­sants.”

This is one of the mo­ti­va­tions be­hind her new cook­book, she says.

Still, she be­lieves SA food in its sim­plic­ity is sim­i­lar to French food, which is why she’s plan­ning to get her ex­ec­u­tive chef to give a few SA recipes a French twist in her book. The best of both worlds – that’s what read­ers can ex­pect.

CHAR­LENE also loves droë­wors and bi l tong . They’re usu­ally among the snacks served in the palace, she tells us. And she rarely misses a chance to get friends and fam­ily to bring her her favourite treats when they visit Europe to see her. “I’m wor­ried about them get­ting into trou­ble at cus­toms,” she jokes. “I al­ways ask them to bring bil­tong when they come to visit.” Her twins love Ouma rusks and Marie bis­cuits, and Char­lene’s a huge fan of Zam-Buk oint­ment. “It’s the best. We give it to all our friends who go ski­ing. It helps for ev­ery­thing, from dry lips to in­sect bites.” In the Prince’s Palace, Monaco’s of­fi­cial royal res­i­dence, four chefs pre­pare meals for palace per­son­nel as well as for Al­bert, Char­lene and the rest of the Grimaldi fam­ily. Some­times they have three-course meals but not al­ways, Char­lene says. And it’s pos­si­ble to re­quest some­thing as sim­ple as a toasted cheese and tomato sand­wich.

The head chef and his team have made var­i­ous SA dishes, from bobotie to dessert with rooi­bos tea as an in­gre­di­ent. “I al­ways take rooi­bos tea and spices back with me af­ter I’ve been here.

“I’m al­ways in and out of the kitchen my­self, say­ing hi to my chefs. My kids go in there too. It’s not go­ing to be long now be­fore Jac­ques is go­ing to walk in there and be, like, ‘I’m hun­gry.’

“Both the twins have good ap­petites. They love pasta and pizza and bread rolls with ev­ery meal. That’s the Ital­ian and French, the Grimaldis, com­ing out in them.”

She says she’s lucky to have kids who love veg­eta­bles – es­pe­cially broc­coli – and they’ll of­ten go into the palace veg­gie gar­den to pick their own veg­eta­bles. Ev­ery­thing from brin­jals, car­rots and salad greens to spinach, onion and pump­kin is grown in the gar­den.

It’s im­por­tant to her that her chil­dren un­der­stand she wasn’t born into roy­alty, the princess says.

As a young­ster her big­gest treats were trips to the Mike’s Kitchen or Spur in Benoni.

Her par­ents, Mike and Lynette Witt­stock, taught her and her two younger broth­ers, Gareth and Sean, never to let any­thing on their plate go to waste. If you were un­able to fin­ish your din­ner, you had to have it for break­fast.

These days Char­lene says she prefers savoury food to sweet treats.

“I like stews, ox­tail, cur­ries, potjies and fresh veg­eta­bles. I pre­fer

food that takes a while to cook. There’s noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar that I don’t eat – I just don’t like greasy food. That’s about it. But I’m not a health fa­natic and will have fries, a pizza or a burger.”

Char­lene’s par­ents and Sean and his fam­ily still live in Benoni. Sean and his wife, Chantell, who run a pro­mo­tions and events com­pany, have ac­com­pa­nied Char­lene to to­day’s in­ter­view. The cou­ple have two kids, Raigen (4) and AvaGrace (1), who’ve met their Mone­gasque cousins.

Gareth and his wife, Roi­son, live in Monaco where they run a restau­rant busi­ness. They also have two kids, Kaia (4), and Bodhi (three months).

“It’s great that the kids are all around the same age,” Chantell says. “They play to­gether well.”

JAC­QUES and Gabriella aren’t be­ing raised by an army of nan­nies, Char­lene says. She’s a hands-on mom who’s do­ing most of the child-rear­ing her­self. Her favourite pas­time with the lit­tle ones is swim­ming or ski­ing – they’ve been able to swim for more than a year now and they’re al­ready quite adept on skis, she says proudly.

The twins’ sport­ing prow­ess is hardly sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing their mom is a for­mer Olympic swim­mer and their dad has taken part in five Win­ter Olympics in bob-sled­ding.

And in the 1920s their late great-grand­fa­ther John Kelly – fa­ther of their late grand­mother, Princess Grace – won three Olympic gold medals in row­ing.

Princess Grace, of course, was an Os­car-win­ning ac­tress and it looks as if Gabriella might take af­ter her grandma.

“Gabriella is very the­atri­cal and mu­si­cal,” Char­lene says. “She loves singing. She’s a real princess and loves dresses and crowns.”

Char­lene re­calls how her daugh­ter was a bit of a drama queen when Monaco cel­e­brated its Na­tional Day on 19 Novem­ber last year. “I woke up, got dressed, put on my hat and said, ‘Gabriella, come, we have to go’.”

To which she replied, “Oh my gosh. Where’s my crown, where’s my crown?”

Char­lene laughs. “I just said, ‘Al­bert, you deal with that’.”

Char­lene says the lit­tle girl adores her dad. “When she sees Al­bert on TV she says, ‘Bravo, Daddy, bravo!’ And she goes and kisses the screen.”

Her brother, who’s next in line to the throne, is more re­served.

“Jac­ques takes his time with ev­ery­thing,” his mom says.

“He won’t give him­self away im­me­di­ately. He’ll check you out and when he’s ready he’ll let you know. When he’s fo­cused, he’s fo­cused – you can’t move him off some­thing. He’s very good with his hands as well.

“But you know, my chil­dren are the most beau­ti­ful in the whole world,” she adds. “I know ev­ery mother would say that, but they are. I love them so much. They’re so clever and we have to be so care­ful about what we say in front of them.”

As for her own life, be­ing a princess is far from a fairy­tale, Char­lene as­sures us.

“I’m def­i­nitely not a Dis­ney princess – I don’t have long hair and I don’t like big dresses.”

Also, try­ing to evade the pa­parazzi and turn­ing a deaf ear to all the gos­sip can be­come over­whelm­ing, she says. There was no train­ing man­ual on how to be a princess and she had to find her feet on her own over time.

Char­lene says she’s hap­pily mar­ried to Al­bert. Like any cou­ple they have their dif­fer­ences. But she de­scribes her hus­band as her “big­gest sup­porter, best friend and con­fi­dant”.

“Al­bert was my only friend when I moved to Monaco. He was the only one who guided me and helped me,” she says.

Char­lene even turned to him for ad­vice on how to trans­form her­self from a tomboy­ish pro­fes­sional ath­lete into a classy Euro­pean princess.

“He was even the one who styled me,” she jokes. “I’d ask him, ‘This dress or that dress? Long or short?’ And he’d be like, ‘You look great in what­ever you wear.’

“And I’d say: ‘Jeez, thank you’,” she says with a light-hearted roll of the eyes.

Her Serene High­ness will al­ways be grate­ful for the lessons she learnt in her days as a sportswoma­n.

“Sport teaches you the value of team­work, ca­ma­raderie, for­give­ness, com­pas­sion, what it is to lose, what it is to win, what it is to cel­e­brate, how to deal with crit­i­cism, how to mourn, how to be hum­ble . . . These are the kinds of prin­ci­ples I want to trans­fer to my chil­dren. Life can be stress­ful, but we do our best.”

And now Char­lene will be bring­ing her ba­bies to the coun­try that re­mains so much a part of her life.

“I’ll al­ways be proud of where I come from and where I grew up,” she says.

Her chil­dren are half South African and they’ll grow up know­ing the coun­try is in their blood. And that it’s where that bil­tong in the palace cup­board comes from too.

ABOVE: Char­lene with Gabriella. RIGHT and FAR RIGHT: The twins – Char­lene says she can’t wait to bring them for their first visit to her coun­try of birth later this month.

ABOVE RIGHT: Char­lene with her broth­ers, Sean (front) and Gareth, who reckon she’s still the tomboy she was when they were kids. ABOVE LEFT: Sean with his wife, Chantell. Their kids en­joy play­ing with their royal cousins.

Char­lene with her hus­band, Prince Al­bert of Monaco, and their twins, Prince Jac­ques and Princess Gabriella.

FAR LEFT: Char­lene as a child in Benoni, east of Jo­han­nes­burg. LEFT: With her mom, Lynette Witt­stock, and brother Gareth.

Princess Char­lene, Prince Al­bert and Gareth at­tend Riviera Water Bike Chal­lenge on 4 June 2017.

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