I have spent many years travelling and working around the world, I also have a passion for good food and good living.
In view of this, I have put together a recipe book and travelogue “Accountants Can Cook“; which contains 120 of my favourite recipes, together with anecdotes of my travels and experiences around the world.
One particular area that I visited, whilst working for De Beers, was South Africa. South Africa has an abundance of life enhancing experiences for the traveller (both business and tourist alike).
Here is a brief extract of a portion of “Accountants Can Cook” that covers some of my time in South Africa.
In 1886 a prospector, George Harrison, stumbled onto the richest gold seam in the world. Three years later Johannesburg, or “eGoli” (the City of Gold) had grown into the third largest city in South Africa. The transformation was driven by individuals such as Cecil Rhodes, who used capital derived from diamond mines in Kimberley to fund the gold mining. He and like minded SOB’s. founded a consortium of mining which set policies on recruitment, wages, and working conditions. In 1893 this consortium set the “colour bar,” which prevented the indigenous black population from performing anything other than manual labour.
The first free elections were held over 100 years later in 1994, after the release of Nelson Mandela.
Gold now no longer drives the economy of Jo’burg, criminal activity has spiralled out of control and security fences, private security firms and guard dogs are now part of the scenery.
The wealthy, eschewing the city centre, live in the more secure suburbs such as Rosebank.
In the Footsteps of Cecil Rhodes
When I joined De Beers I went to South Africa for a few weeks to acquaint myself with the mining side of the business, and to see the birth place of the company. I stayed in Rosebank, a suburb of Johannesburg, in a genteel hotel which (to save their embarrassment) shall remain nameless. The hotel had all the luxuries that the executive traveller may require, satellite TV, room service, an excellent restaurant and a roof garden with swimming pool. Regrettably it was run by a man I can only describe as an utterly obnoxious, unreconstructed, crawling, racist; I nicknamed him Brussel Sprout (an approximate anagram of his name).
Staying in a hotel for a long period can make one more aware of its deficiencies, and never being one to avoid pointing things out (in the spirit of constructive dialog!); I duly pointed things out that could be improved or indeed were patently wrong, eg the hotel’s remarkable inability to pass on telephone messages. The latter issue cost me some money, as it delayed my booking a flight for Eva to come and visit me; resulting in me having to pay a higher price. Having received no feedback from the manager, or indeed any offer to compensate me for the financial loss, I decided that it was time to knock a few heads together. I attempted to raise this directly with Brussel Sprout, as it was clear to me that the staff were not following up the issues I was raising with them.
Hunt the Brussel
A two day game of hide and seek then ensued; as each attempt to see the Brussel Sprout or talk to him directly achieved nothing other than his assistant advising me that he had my message, and that he would get back to me. Having been rebuffed yet again, “he is off site at a meeting”, I made the polite but direct point to the assistant that I would, on my return to London, advise my office to use other hotels in the future for their staff. A miracle, within 10 minutes I had the very man himself on the end of the phone saying he would be with me, if convenient, within 30 minutes. How very fortunate that his meeting ended so promptly and unexpectedly! I discussed my issues with him and he, like the truly weak man he was, tried to blame his staff; and indeed asked me specifically which of them I felt was to blame. I pointed out that as manager it was his responsibility, and his alone, for the situation. We agreed a reasonable compensation for my financial loss, and he duly paid this to me a few days later.
However, I was totally disgusted to see that in a note to me; he said that he had told his staff it was their fault, and that the money was being deducted from their tips fund. Utterly obnoxious!
Eva flew down to join me the following weekend. Brussel Sprout was keen to try to keep on my good side after our “full and frank” discussion. He therefore, arranged to travel with the hotel driver who had been assigned to pick her up. Poor Eva though had been suffering a little bit of airsickness. She told me that she had needed to use her sick bag, that she had been firmly clutching for the last hour of the flight, just as she was standing to leave the aircraft at Jo’burg; much to the alarm of her fellow passengers, who were “up close and personal”. She was still feeling a little “green” when met by Mr Sprout. He, by all accounts, was at his most garrulous on the journey back to the hotel; giving a very detailed guide to all the sights and history of the region. Unfortunately all Eva could do was concentrate on not throwing up again, so most of it went over her head. When they reached the hotel, Brussel Sprout attempted to give her a full guided tour; which was politely declined. Eva made a welcome dash for the room, then the bathroom, and took an hour’s nap to recover. You will be pleased to hear she recovered fully for the evening which we spent at Bodega, a continental style bistro run by a truly decent chap called Janis. We dined with my boss and his wife, kicking off what would be a very lively and pleasant evening with Kir Royales (champagne and Kir).
Bodega’s speciality was spicy poussin, a whole poussin split into two griddle cooked with garlic and chilli; succulent and flavoursome, absolutely delicious. I have included a recipe for poussin with tarragon (see page 212).
Muggers Make Me Sick
Rosebank had a number of good restaurants and watering holes. My hotel had a rather elegant roof top restaurant, which served a dish that is a particular favourite of mine; namely braised lamb shank, this was tender, succulent and served in a rich red wine sauce accompanied by mashed potatoes (see page 266). Two other restaurants that I would highly recommend visiting are Katzies (a lively music bar and steak restaurant, the steaks are unctuous!) and Bodega (which I have mentioned above), their details can be found on my website www.kenfrost.com. Both these establishments were about 10 minutes walk from my hotel.
However, crime against the individual is running at unacceptably high levels in Jo’burg and its surrounds. My colleagues advised me that even though the area seemed, to my innocent eyes, no more threatening than Surbiton on a Sunday afternoon; I should exercise extreme caution, and really should not walk to these places. Well as I have said before, following instructions is not in my nature, having survived many visits to the Baltics I chose to disregard all wise counsel and walked to these places whenever dining out. I would say this, no one ever threatened me or came close to threatening me (as far as I am aware). However, I remember of colleague of mine in Lithuania telling me that in his opinion the reason why I was never threatened when walking around Vilnius (which has a high level of organised crime); was because I look as though I am a member of the Mafia myself (I took that as a compliment). Maybe I gave off that same aura when in Rosebank.
I would also like to point out that I have an emergency plan, in the event I feel that I may become victim to a potential street crime. Namely, I will simply act as though I am about to violently throw up. I think it is fair to say that most people, even hardened criminals, have a natural aversion to vomit and an even more natural aversion to being vomited upon. Should the pretence of imminent projectile vomiting not be enough then swiftly putting my fingers down my throat and vomiting over the street assailant should halt any attack, then run like hell!
Snowmen and Sunburn
Since I was in Rosebank during October/November, Christmas and the South African summer were both approaching. The atmosphere, to me, was quite surreal. Shops and streets were decorated with Christmas trees, snowmen, Santas and winter scenes; yet the days were sunny and hot. I naturally took advantage of the unseasonable, to me anyway, weather; whenever the opportunity afforded itself I went up to the roof garden of my hotel and staked myself out in the sun on one of the many sun-loungers; laid out on the grass by the rooftop pool. This was a very pleasant way to unwind, made even more luxurious by the fact that you could order food and drinks from the garden waiter. I cannot think of a greater overindulgence than sunbathing on a rooftop garden, whilst sipping a cocktail and munching on a little something. The menu was quite extensive, offering choices ranging from salads and steaks to sandwiches. I opted for an old favourite of mine, the Club sandwich. I note that some “celebrity chefs” turn their nose up at this noble creation; I would like to make the following points:
- I am neither a celebrity nor professional chef, and I suspect neither are the vast majority of people reading this.
- I eat what I like, not what I am told to eat or what is fashionable.
This sandwich, in my view, provides a well balanced medley of ingredients and tastes; which are a good source of protein. To create the sandwich in its basic form, you will need the following:
- Three slices of buttered toasted bread.
- Cooked sliced chicken breast, still warm.
- Cooked smoked bacon, still warm.
- Two medium poached eggs.
- Lettuce and sliced tomato.
Simply assemble the above in whatever order you wish, with the third slice of toast in the middle. A splendid afternoon feast, by anybody’s standards! There was a price to pay for such luxury, I of course got severely sunburnt; poor me!
An Evening at Nelson Mandela’s (Well Almost)
During my lengthy visit to South Africa, as part of a moral boosting visit for me and R&R for her, Eva was able to fly down from London for a long weekend. In addition to meeting up for dinner on the Friday with my boss and his wife, they very kindly offered to take us out to a safari park on the Sunday afternoon. They picked us up outside the hotel, and we set off in search of big game. I must confess that I am not much of an animal spotter.
Game viewing at Makweti Safari LodgeHowever, we spent a pleasant afternoon driving through the park; looking at the hippos, rhinos, lions and other assorted wildlife, including the somewhat improbably named ha-dee-da-dee (some form of bird). We stopped off in the middle of the park and unpacked the picnic hamper; which was overflowing with rich, creamy, cheese laden quiches (see page 181), salad, beer and wine. We were careful not to stray from the car; rhinos can get spooked and charge at an impressive 30mph when the mood takes them. We sat inside the car munching and drinking our way through the contents of the hamper.
Appetites sated, we continued on our drive through the park; finally heading off into the sunset back to Rosebank.
My boss suggested that we come back to their house for a drink, sounded good to me. They lived in Rosebank, some ten minutes from our hotel and next door to Nelson Mandela. This afforded them the advantage, something that is highly valued in South Africa, of exceptionally high quality security. Mr Mandela was afforded 24 hour protection; and by definition if his house was monitored closely by trained security professional, so would the neighbours.
We sat outside in the garden having a glass or two of wine and munching on some assorted cheeses. Much like any suburban area, the houses were close enough together for you to be able to see the next door building and garden. Unfortunately, Mr Mandela was not promenading in his garden that evening; so he missed the opportunity of being introduced to us!
Clubbing the South African Way
As I have already noted, Jo’burg’s economy was based on the Victorian gold rush. This made a number of people extraordinarily wealthy. In my experience, wealthy people do not like to mix with ordinary mortals; and tend to seek the company of similarly wealthy individuals.
The wealthy Victorian pioneers in Jo’burg, at the run of the century, were no different; and sought to recreate the atmosphere of England, by establishing a number of exclusive clubs in and around the city. These still exist, and if you visit them you may catch sight of the ghost of Rhodes. I was taken to two of these clubs in Jo’burg by my boss, The Rand Club and the Country Club of Johannesburg.
The Rand Club was situated in central Jo’burg, and was a vast imposing Victorian building;
decorated with heavy wooden panelling and numerous oil paintings of the past luminaries of (white) South African society. The club had numerous function rooms, bedrooms, bars and a main dining room. The furnishing and decoration was a more imposing, imperial version of the style of my own club in London, The East India. I was reminded of King Canute who tried to hold back the tide; the people who came to this place clearly felt that they were trying to hold back the 21st century. It was sad, but inevitable, that owning to the security issues in Jo’burg and I suspect the very backward looking nature of the establishment; it was very nearly empty when we went there for lunch one Friday. We kicked off with a drink in the main bar with a couple of colleagues from our headquarters in Jo’burg, then went upstairs to the main dining room for lunch. The dining room was cavernous, and clearly designed to accommodate many more than the handful of diners there that Friday. However, that meant
that the service was exceptionally attentive. I am not one for having particularly large lunches, and so opted for a cheese omelette (see page 282). This to give them credit, was freshly prepared lightly cooked and creamy; unlike the overcooked dry rubber like creations served by less capable establishments.
The Country Club had a distinctly more lively and fresh atmosphere; this was partly due to the fact is was situated out of town, and was a modern complex of buildings set in beautiful grounds. The club acted as both a sports and social club, and as such the atmosphere was forward looking and not retrospective. My boss took me their for lunch on another Friday, with a colleague from the department. He had very wisely reserved a table as, in contrast to the Rand, this place was literally heaving. Even more agreeable was the fact that the dining area, he had booked, was outside by the pool underneath and old oak tree. An excellent place for lunch, wine and relaxed conversation. We had a few drinks and settled down to peruse the menu. I opted for the buffet, which offered a variety of dishes including a very professional selection of curries with all the trimmings; nan bread, chutneys, rice etc (see page 236 for my version).
I returned to South Africa in February 2001 for a conference, which was held in a hotel some distance from Jo’burg. One novel feature of the hotel, situated in a large secluded game reserve, was the warning notice in the bedroom advising guests to keep their windows shut as the monkeys (which seemed to be everywhere) would pay an unwelcome house-call to the room.
Some of the Squirrel Monkeys living at Monkeyland in Plettenberg BayThey seemed quite happy to pull windscreen wipers from cars, and defecate on the roofs; so it seemed quite a sensible precaution to keep the bedroom window shut.
As part of the evening entertainment laid on for the delegates was a safari, followed by a braai in a Zulu corral. By way of background, on the trip to South Africa, the flight lasts around 11 hours from London Heathrow and takes off in the early evening; so I arrived at the conference fresh as a daisy from my overnight flight. Hence, by the late afternoon, I was beginning to feel a little weary.
Our safari duly commenced, groups of ten piled into oversized land rovers which belted along the bush and scrub land at a less than sedate pace. The opportunity to take a quiet nap, whilst being taken for a drive in the “countryside”, was therefore not really afforded me; as it took quite some concentration, and physical strength to hold on to the grab bars in the vehicle to prevent being catapulted out. Still it did wake me up, and so in a way I could say it was quite refreshing. We spent and hour or so driving around observing lions, hippos, wilder-beast, ha-dee-da-dees (a type of bird) and other assorted flora, fauna and wildlife.
We then arrived at the corral, a circle of well presented (as an estate agent would say) genuine Zulu huts; set up for the benefit of the tourists who could rent a hut to stay in, or indeed turn up for a fully catered barbecue (as we did). Some features that I was impressed to see installed in the corral were electric lighting, running water and a fully equipped bar. The history books, and indeed that fine film with Michael Caine and Stanley Baker Zulu, never made reference to these particular mod cons!
We were taken on a tour of the corral, into one of the huts and then witnessed a display of native dancing. Then the serious business of beers and brai. One of the main dishes on offer was a whole lamb spit roast, absolutely first class. I have a recipe for saddle of lamb (see page 223), which offers the nearest you are likely to get to this; without putting a rotating spit in your garden. Other delicacies on offer were biltong, pork, steak and a local Zulu drink of fermented milk that was passed around in a clay mug.
Highly enjoyable, when I returned to the hotel that evening I slept like a log.
Kimberley South Africa
Up until the latter part of the 19th Century, it was assumed that diamonds could only be obtained in large economic quantities in India. This was turned on its head when a farmer in Kimberley noticed some children kicking an unusual stone around in the dust, this turned out to be a large diamond (known as the Eureka stone). This sparked a diamond rush, similar to the gold rush in the States, and Kimberley was transformed from a farming town into diamond digging frenzy. As with most frenzies for every upside, there is a downside. The diamond seam appeared to be running out. At this point Cecil Rhodes started to buy up plots of land (including a farm holding run by the De Beers brothers) on the hunch that there were more diamonds. Suffice to say another seam of diamonds was found; and the rest, as they say, is history.
The hustle and bustle, during the latter part of the 19th Century it was apparently more dangerous than the American frontier towns of the old West, has long since died down; the apt description would be now a “one horse dorp” as the Afrikaners would say. However, the remnants of the original mining operations are still to be seen.
Most notably there is an enormous, spectacular to be precise, hole in the ground; the bottom quarter of which has filled with water and formed a mini lake.
The town has a population of approximately 160000, and is surrounded by five of South Africa’s largest rivers. There are a few sights that may be interest to visitors including; an operating diamond mine, the Kimberley Mine Museum and the omnipresent Big Hole.
One Horse Dorp
During my few weeks in South Africa, in order to learn the history of De Beers, I made a two day visit to the old mining town of Kimberley; the once bustling centre of the diamond mining industry kick started by Cecil Rhodes. I will side track briefly so as to put a little piece of historical flesh on the bones of this.
My accommodation for the evening was the Kimberley club, a throw back to the colonial days. No doubt a very salubrious establishment in its hey day but now, much like an ageing dowager, showing distinct signs of age and faded grandeur.
Like the Australians, the favourite South African pastime is barbecue or as they refer to it, a “braai”. However in addition to this they do eat more than just griddled steak. I have put together five recipes, which can be accessed via the links below. These will give you a flavour of what South Africa has to offer: