Jackie Cameron: Book by 30, by hook or by cook

Under her guidance the place, in sleepy Mooi River, was voted an Eat Out top 10 venue four times and has received American Express Platinum Fine Dining and People’s Choice awards.

With her input, Hartford House earned a Diner’s Club International diamond award for its 2012 wine list.  

Cameron’s commitment to local culinary traditions also includes a monthly column for the Witness newspaper in which “she encourages readers to experiment with food”.

She recently released her first cookbook, Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home (Penguin), a “peep into my life”, as she describes it.

In a short note about her childhood, Cameron recalls “happy childhood memories of tales around the kitchen”.

Her mother and grandmother were exceptional cooks and her grandfather was a “locally renowned butcher in Commercial Road” in Pietermaritzburg. Her new book is an effort “to visit the past to create extra-ordinary dishes based on traditional favourites”.

Tell us a little about your present projects, or the state of your career and how you planned the book Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home.
I wanted to have a cookbook by the age of 30. I just wanted that. I started writing my Witness newspaper ­column years ago as a base to work off. It was all aligning me in understanding the basics in recipe writing, development and truly what people enjoy cooking. The more comments I get the more popular I feel the recipe is. With everything I do there is normally a very well-thought-out process that I go through to ensure I can make the most out of the situation I throw myself into.

What’s wrong with the South African restaurant and food industries now?
There is a huge movement towards understanding food and eating better and healthier but still there are many people who don’t eat well every day at home. I am desperately trying with my cookbook to inspire people to get back into their kitchens at home, to have a cookbook that they can trust and get much happiness from.

What’s right with the South African restaurant and food industries now?
So much has changed over the past 10 years. It is truly so exciting for all of us in the industry. People are becoming excited about South African flavours and showcasing these as much as possible.

What are you reading, or what was the last book you read and how was your response?
I really don’t have any time at the moment to read anything that isn’t food-related. Everything I am currently reading, or doing, is to teach or inspire myself for the next challenge or foodie adventure. But I read Fifty Shades of Grey just because I felt I had to.

Where do you like hanging out?
This depends on my mood and how much time is available.  Normally with friends or family in the most chilled place possible, a local pub or a restaurant.

What music are you playing in your car?
Mumford and Sons, Plush, Goldfish, Dave Matthews Band, Phillip Phillips, Lady Gaga … My moods reflect what I listen to, so it’s pretty much a mishmash. No single type of music is precious to me. I love most of it.

When you want to escape the ­Midlands, where do you like to go?
I love Jo’burg. I used to visit regularly when my sister lived there.  There is always something on the go, something to see and somewhere to eat. If I really want to chill, I go to Pennington beach on the South Coast.

What is your favourite food?
This changes from week to week but normally comes down to something I am craving. I love savoury and umami flavours so spaghetti bolognese, peri-peri livers and wood-fire pizzas are good. All usuals.

What is the last film you watched that blew you away?
Searching for Sugar Man.

Wine or beer? And what’s your brand?
Wine most of the time, bubbles all the time, and craft beer for sure, if available.

Now to a cheesy question: cheese or chocolate?
Cheese, we have world-class cheeses available in the Midlands and my fridge is always stocked.

Do you watch TV and what is your favourite show?
Don’t ever really have the time to watch. But I do enjoy the series White Collar if I have the time. Matt Bomer is delish.

Hartford House is on Hlatikulu Road in Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal. Jackie Cameron will be appearing on September 5 at the charity event “Chefs who share — the ART of giving”, an evening of glamour, culinary artistry and fine art at the Cape Town City Hall. She will be cooking with renowned Cape chef Reuben Riffel and wine will be chosen by the chairperson of the South African Sommelier Association Neil Grant. Tickets are R3 000 a person.

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Matthew Krouse
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