Bertus Basson is my chef crush and I’m a fan of everything he does.
And he’s a busy man, having just opened De Vriije Burger café in Stellenbosch – his fifth restaurant in the Cape Winelands. (Overture fine dining, Spice Route Paarl traditional South African, Spek en Bone winebar, The Deck at Overture and now De Vriije Burger.)
Add to this busy culinary empire his frequent stints as TV cookery show presenter and judge (Ultimate Braai Master), freelance private cheffing, pop-ups at trendy events, mentoring and training staff, running award-winning, packed-to-the-rafters restaurants, being a good husband to beautiful wife Mareli and devoted dad to new baby son Theodore, proud companion to his trusty sidekicks Spek and Bone and good buddy to his mates and you pretty much wonder where he gets the time to do it all.
And then write a cookbook as well.
Not any old cookbook, either – Homegrown is a heartfelt ode to all things local, be that Boerekos, ‘the fantasticness of tannies’, melktert and koeksisters, snoekbraai and monkey gland sauce, fancy modern twists to traditional favourites like Hertzoggie Pavlova and Koeksister Ice Cream and above all, memories. There are tributes to and recipes for quintessential local favourites like shisanyama, braaied mielies, peri-peri chicken, boerie rolls and gatsbys too! Fans of Fritz Schoon formerly of Schoon de Compagne will rejoice to find his ciabatta recipe here, too.
Fittingly, it ends with Mareli Basson’s killer recipe for a layered confection named simply ‘Mareli Bake.’
The book is awash with Bertus’s memories – of food, family, friendships and happy times. I literally got goosebumps at my first reading of the book and I’ve grown so attached to my own copy, I sometimes carry it around the house with me all day long. It’s marvellous to dip into for a quick read. If all else fails, Bertus can always become a professional storyteller. Homegrown is more than a collection of recipes, you see: it’s cookbook-as-friend. I really can’t think of a single person I know who wouldn’t love it.
So there’s your cue – go out and buy 2, sommer, one for you and one for someone you love.
Although ghostwritten by photographer Russell Waterfall, Bertus addresses the reader in first person and comes across so vividly, it’s as if he’s sitting across the table from you. As he tells it, Homegrown is perhaps not the cookbook expected of him (at the peak of his success), but ‘it tells snatches of his culinary journey’. In his own words: “There are some classic Overture recipes in these pages. It also has recipes that have travelled everywhere with me, from kitchen to kitchen, in my career. Here and there are dishes that made me want to be a chef. Mostly, though, this book is about memories.”
This book is intensely personal, intimate even, yet suffused with a lighthearted playfulness and warmth throughout. What leaps off the pages are Sincerity. Tenderness. Generosity. Discipline. Honesty. And Mischief. Just like the man himself, really.
The photography throughout is done by the legendary Claire Gunn, who captures Bertus, his food and his world with studied nonchalance. Like happy snaps, done beautifully and professionally. Roxy Spears’ design of the book is bang on the money, too. Bright colours, relaxed settings and vivid textures make the food come alive on the pages, inviting you to lean over and pick up a bite or two. I get ravenously hungry just reading the recipes!
I urge you to pick this book up and page through it on your next visit to a decent bookstore. And I challenge you to leave the store without buying it, or least feeling a pang of regret that you can’t. It’s more than just a cookbook, you see: it’s a direct connection to something precious in our South African souls – the simple happiness that comes from making and sharing homegrown food. Five chapters, and every recipe a must-make treat.
By kind permission from Jacana Publishers, I can share with you three mouthwatering recipes from Homegrown in the next few weeks. Here are some photos to whet your appetites!
Homegrown is sold for R330.
From the press release:
Ultimate Braai Master host and chef Bertus Basson shares recipes from his personal and national heritage in his first cookbook, Homegrown. The book is a celebration of being South African and how embracing his roots has influenced Bertus as a chef, as many of his signature recipes are inspired by his Afrikaans origins.
Homegrown also explores how other distinctly South African tastes and flavours have impacted his cooking, influencing his unique take on fine dining for his award-winning restaurants.
The book is filled with stunning photographs and delectable recipes such as Snoek with Apricot Glaze, Beer Braised Pork Belly, Spice Rub for Braaied Brisket, Charred Octopus with Gnocchi and Nasturtium Paste, Tamatie Frikkadels, Koeksister Ice Cream, and Milk Tart Soufflé. These recipes are easy to prepare and are made with fresh, local ingredients.
‘It surprises friends to learn that I did not like food as a kid. My mother, Hetta Basson (Ma), had to work hard to get me to eat anything that wasn’t sweet or bad for me. I guess that’s why my earliest food memories are of sweet things. In fact, this book starts with dessert.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND CONTRIBUTORS
Highly acclaimed South African chef Bertus Basson is famed for the phenomenal success of Overture, a restaurant he has had an integral part in establishing as one of the finest in South Africa in his position as a chef and owner since 2007. The picturesque Winelands restaurant has won several Eat Out top 10 awards, and is currently placed ninth. It has also been awarded three stars in the Rossouw’s Restaurant Guide for four years running. His other restaurants are Bertus Basson at Spice Route, Spek & Bone and Bertus Basson at the Ritz. His most recent achievement is becoming a judge on Ultimate Braai Master, the South African reality cooking show.
Russel Wasserfall is a highly regarded food writer and photographer who has worked on or produced over 20 cookbooks.
Roxy Spears is the owner of Good Design, which specialises in graphic design for food and restaurant branding, recipe books, packaging and food truck design.
Claire Gunn is a photographer, chef, artist, blogger and stylist. She has photographed or contributed to the making of six cookbooks. Her photography is regularly featured in South Africa’s top food and lifestyle magazines, newspapers, blogs and the like.