Just add Bazil

I am one of those women who has no talent when it comes to cooking. Woolies can only bail me out so many times and for special occasions the square samoosas, dips and stripped tikka chicken from plastic trays just do not work.

My quandary was solved when I heard that the funky trendsetters have been using a secret ingredient called ‘Just Add Bazil”, a customised catering chef who takes the intimacy of dining to a new level. Originally born in Pretoria, having worked in London for a couple of years, this enterprising chef fills a gap for those who are tired of socialising in restaurants and prefer to entertain in their homes but want the same quality of food without the fuss.

My first impression on hearing the name was that he concentrates his efforts on the herb basil. However key it might be in the food of the Mediterranean and South East Asia, there are those of us who do not want every course smothered in it. For Bazil Stander, though, the name is a hint that if you ‘just add Bazil, any occasion can be special”.

‘My style of food is Mediterranean, and filled with flavours,” he admits. ‘For me presentation is important but secondary to taste.” The uniqueness of his service is in his flexibility, meeting the needs of the client. ‘I bring everything — all the cooking utensils, ingredients — and all I need is a stove and fridge.”

I meet Stander at his Observatory home and he takes me through various options for an intimate dinner party. I thought it would be expensive to rent a chef — I mean upper-class folk still suffer from guilt employing domestic workers — but the idea of getting someone to cook a decadent meal is only what we think the well-to-do can afford. ‘Not so,” said Stander while mixing the ingredients for his own home-made pasta. ‘You don’t have to be rich to afford my services.”

He works on a per-head budget and then constructs a menu that fits into the amount you can afford. There is a minimum charge, but the beauty is that Stander is adaptable and makes even the simplest meal seem like a royal feast.

I did hear a rumour that he scored a top job over the festive season cooking for a family linked to the Oppenheimers, where he prepared lunch and dinner at their posh Hermanus residence for 22 days.

‘So what do really rich people eat?” Shyly Stander tries to skirt the question, not wanting to tell me all the gory details my mind conjured up about importing expensive Beluga or oysters from France, or caviar for a regular weekday lunch. ‘My only concern was to keep the menu varied for 44 different meals to ensure that the guests were not bored.” He would shop each morning for the freshest produce, then cook a light lunch and a three- to four-course dinner. ‘I provide something the clients can’t do themselves. So I am not going to cook pap and steak.”

No tinned, preserved, processed, bottled condiments or cling-wrapped, pre-cooked meals for this guy. ‘Everything is made from scratch.”

The idea to do customised catering arose after Stander cooked for a friend’s wedding. ‘I always loved cooking for friends. I liked to create a meal with love and generosity for my friends to hook up over good wine and socialise.” For Stander his satisfaction comes from sharing and creating meals where food is the one of the most ‘honest pleasures” in life.

Although he does not mind being ‘shown off” to guests, Stander also does not mind if clients pack him off before the guests arrive so they can claim the admiration for becoming a gourmet chef overnight.

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