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.