Reinventing the 'old-fashioned stuff'

I know how well Arnold Tanzer can cook because he catered my wedding.

And because we were married in a Jewish venue he had to work with extreme restrictions, but still produced a spectacular spread that was both delicious and stunning to look at.

Tanzer has specialised in opening restaurants — most notably some of Greenside’s hottest venues — Circle, Bite, Moyo and Inferno, along with George’s on 4th in Parkhurst.

He was executive chef for Conservation Corporation’s range of game lodges, setting up kitchens and training staff across Africa. He was also Michael Douglas’s personal chef when the Hollywood star was filming in South African in 1995.

Now the extraordinary chef has opened his own deli, named simply Delicatessen, and doesn’t have to tackle a myriad of logistical obstacles to produce his superior brand of food.

One glance at the deli shows that Dutch-born Tanzer’s classic and comprehensive training is clearly on display, as is his chic aesthetic and that of his partners, Leora Rubenstein and Lari Levy.
In fact, the deli’s styling — courtesy of architect Rubenstein — mirrors the quality of Tanzer’s trademark cuisine: simple but sophisticated, stylish but not over the top, and in the words of a very happy bride a few months ago: ‘Damn yummy”.

Rows of bottled jams, preserves, oils and vinegars are backlit by the glass walls facing Parktown North’s 3rd Avenue, and the pale wooden shelves feature an array of delectables.

Without doubt the most striking aspect of the dark wood and chrome store is this spread of ‘old-fashioned” jams and preserves.

Like everything he cooks, they are all seasonal and preservative-free, such as tomato chutney, quince and ‘fruit no one uses much anymore”, says Tanzer — kumquat preserve, naartjie marmalade, sweet pepper jam, mango and sweet pepper jelly and moskonfyt.

‘But we’ve made them chic with a twist, by adding jalapeño peppers and chilli. We’re reinvented old-fashioned stuff.”

He has all the deli staples — such as pestos, cold meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables like artichokes — and a range of spice rubs (Moroccan, Cajun, Tandoori, Cape Malay and roast chicken) for seasoning chicken, meat, vegetables and fish before cooking.

There is a range of salad dressings whose ingredients give you an idea of Tanzer’s lateral thinking, like green peppercorn, or my favourite, palm sugar and ginger.

His home-made biscuits show a nouvelle approach to old favourites. And you can buy Oriental basics such as wasabi, soy sauce and rice noodles. He even does sushi and ground coffee.

Many of these are designed to make home cooking easier, he says. ‘I take the schlep out of schlepping. That’s why I’m here.”

The same is true of his delicious portions of pasta, especially the lasagna — which comes in chicken, butternut or roast vegetables — designed so that people can stop and buy on their way home. For this Delicatessen stays open until 7pm on weeknights.

In the half hour I had coffee last week with Tanzer, a stream of customers ordered platters of food for parties of 10 or more. He prepares Moroccan lamb stew, couscous and grilled vegetables that can be warmed up at home.

What also stands out is his superb range of breads — again, all preservative-free and made daily.

The way he bakes his Italian panini rolls demonstrates his commitment to quality. ‘It is soft, with no oil in it and the crust is not tough. Ours is made the proper way with 70% moisture in the dough — which gives you a very soft dough”.

You can choose from these classic panini, butternut bread, Swiss rye bread, San Francisco sourdough bread, or gluten-free, wheat-free bread.

The home-made ice cream, especially the vanilla, is unbelievable and I heard two kugels swoon over the sorbet while I was buying there. Another told me, in that northern suburb way, that the home-baked ‘authentic cheese cake” and the marmalade chocolate cake were ‘divine”.

Tanzer seems overwhelmed, even blushful, by the positive affirmation he has gotten since he opened the deli open a couple of months ago.

He shouldn’t be. His reputation has preceded him.

Delicatessen, shop 4, Northpark Centre, corner of Third and Seventh avenues, Parktown North, Tel: (011) 880 2474. Open weekdays until 7pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 3pm.

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