There is a good reason why the strap line of this book reads “Fine cuisine under an African sky,” as Nico Verster has spent a decade plying his trade as a professional chef in some of the most breathtaking locations South Africa has to offer. Three of these are at the heart of ‘Savannah to Sea’, viz. Jamala Madikwe, a safari lodge in North West Province; Beyond’s Phinda forest and vlei lodges in KwaZulu-Natal; and Birkenhead House boutique hotel in Hermanus in the Cape.
The book is divided into four chapters that encompass starters and snacks; main courses with white and red meat, fish and seafood, and game; baked delights; and desserts and sweet treats. All 55 recipes feature Nico’s culinary signature of elegance combined with pan-African cuisine “twists”, whether in the ingredients or the techniques, and range from classic favourites to the ultra-trendy.
Adding to the authenticity of the African experience, as well as the charm of ‘Savannah to Sea’, are some often-humorous tales from his time in these varying and challenging environments. And because Nico is so utterly passionate about his subject, he took the photographs himself, both food and wildlife.
In the book you will find wonderful chapters under the headings, ‘A chef’s life’; ‘Leadwood and aloes’; ‘Springbok and coral’; ‘Monkey orange and baguette’; and ‘Amarula and acacias’.
Despite being a relatively young chef, Nico has a wealth of experience. After training under Stephen Bellingham (president of the South African Chefs Association) and completing a three year professional chef’s course, he went on to obtain a City and Guilds of London qualification and has worked in leading boutique hotels and lodges all over Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He is a member of the South African Chefs Association, and is also an accomplished photographer and food stylist.
I really like this book and encourage you to take a look at it the next time you are in a book store.
Poached pears with spiced chocolate-cherry sauce
“Very often menus and recipes in the bush are created based on the content of the once-a-week delivery truck. I often adapt this recipe depending on the fruit I have to hand; peaches, nectarines and even plums work well.” – Nico Verster
Ingredients for the Poaching Liquid:
- 4 cups Pinot Noir or Merlot
- ¾ cup castor sugar
- 2 pieces stick cinnamon
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 strip orange rind
- 6 firm pears, peeled and cored (but save the stems)
Ingredients for the Chocolate-Cherry Sauce:
- ¾ cup fresh cream
- 1 cup melted dark chocolate
- ½ tsp vanilla paste
- A pinch of chilli powder
- 12 fresh cherries, pitted
For the poaching liquid, combine the wine, castor sugar, whole spices and orange rind in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Place the pears in the syrupy mixture, ensuring that they are covered, and poach gently for 25 minutes, turning occasionally. Leave the pears to cool in the syrup, then refrigerate until ready to serve.
To prepare the sauce, combine the cream and chocolate in a small saucepan, heat slowly and stir occasionally until the sauce is smooth.
Stir in the vanilla, chilli powder and cherries.
To serve, pour some chocolate-cherry sauce into a bowl and top with a chilled pear. Tuck the stem of each pear back into the stem ‘socket’ to add presentation appeal. For an extra bit of decadence, add a ball of vanilla ice cream if you like.
© Nico Verster Published by Struik Lifestyle