The Slow Food movement is an initiative that began in the 80s in reaction to the rapidly-consumed, mass-produced fast food and packaged food that eliminated the direct relationship between consumer and farmer, and small retailer. The aim of Slow Food is to engage directly with local producers, to enjoy food made with sustainable, seasonably-available local ingredients and to do so in a leisurely, convivial manner that builds friendships and communities. It’s the antidote to fast food. The first Slow Food chapter in SA was launched in Johannesburg in 2001 and finally, 14 years later, it has arrived in Durban. That in itself is a testament to how slow we beach-dwellers like to take things 😉
Slow Meat is an offshoot of that. It promotes sustainable and ethical farming practices, humanely treated free range livestock, the use of local breeds and the limiting of wastage by respecting the carcass and using every part of it, nose to tail, making it more economical for the consumer (cheaper cuts cooked well can taste better than the expensive ones) and more profitable for the producer (being able to sell parts and byproducts that would theoretically be wasted). It’s probably a simplification of an ambitious economic construct, but you get the idea. Happy cow, happy farmer, happy consumer and happy tummies. And it’s also about honouring the local heritage, reintroducing traditional cooking and celebrating it. Caroline McCann, of Braeside Butchery in Jhb which specialises in free range grass fed beef, brought this great movement to Durban by initiating the first #EatACow Slow Meat Festival at the Durban Country Club.
Ten of KZN’s prominent chefs participated enthusiastically, in collaboration with 12 artisan producers, to create a nose-to-tail indulgent feast. Each chef and their team was given a regular cut and an offal cut of Afrikaner beef, and had to prepare a dish highlighting each. Festival goers were given five random tickets, of a regular dish each, one offal ticket and one dessert ticket. Effectively seven generous courses for R295, all served outdoors, accompanied by music and chatter. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday lunch!
Table 1 was Chef Alex Poltera from Fernhill in the KZN Midlands. He had the Silverside and the Oxtail cuts. I was very bleak not to have an offal ticket for his table, as I friggin love me some oxtail, but we did have the regular silverside. This was presented as a delicious slider, with thinly shaved beef, camembert and caramelised onions. It served as a great starter, not too heavy and conducive to the (sort of) unseasonably hot day. Little packaged brownie gift bags were a nice touch.
Chef Kayla Osborne from Traffords was next up, at Table 2. Her deconstructed steak egg and chips, with a piped slow-cooked egg yolk, was an inventive twist on the thick flank, I loved the playful interpretation of her dish, challenging the expected somewhat. And the egg yolk was sublime.
Beluga’s Chef Steven Kruger at Table 3 made a very tender braised neck with pomme purée and rosemary jus – so tender it would have passed French muster because it could have been eaten with a spoon. He also cooked up a sous-vide flank with Asian veg and XO sauce (a Hong-Kong style seafood-based condiment). Sensational.
At Table 4 some of my favourite dishes were served. Chefs Graham Nielson and Charlie Lakin of 9th Avenue Bistro made slow-braised short rib, resting on a tangy bed of grated turnip and crowned with deep fried shredded beef. At first, we thought the crispy bits on top were thinly sliced onions with an umami kick and then realised it was beef. Bleddy clever! Their offal cut was ox liver, which was served on an avo gaucamole, topped with rice puffs and creme fraiche. The liver, combined with the orange citrus in the guacamole was fantastic. I’m so pleased they deviated from the expected paté and experimented with something different! And a squeeze of orange instead of lemon in the avo brought out a complexity of flavour in the liver that overpowered any gaminess. Clever cooking all round!
Xanthos Giannakopoulos, head chef of the host venue, the Durban Country Club, was at Table 5. His was a beautifully plated chuck beef bourguignon, a French stew that is as fun to spell as his surname. Tripe curry was his offal offering. We had the ticket for the bourg- the stew and it was mouth-meltingly wonderful.
Renowned Chef-Patron Andrew Draper plated up rump and shin cuts at Table 6. As per the style he is known for, the dishes were rich and colourful, contrasting slow cooking and robust flavours with fresh and brightly coloured raw ingredients sprinkled on top. I’ve often heard him say that each mouthful needs to be different, so the food is arranged in a fashion that you unearth treasures of different morsels as you munch through the dish. A slow-cooked shin with olives was served with little bites of anchovied and crumbed marrow and confit onion. The other cut was rump and this was nestled on a bed of tomato risotto, heirloom tomatoes and drizzled with a basil hollandaise, a bit of acidity to cut through the richness and elevate the rump flavour.
From Table 7 we enjoyed roasted loin, accompanied by a beef jus, a chimichurri-like herb crumb and an artichoke and shallot purée, garnished with dill and served with colour bursts of root veggies. This and a confit of heart with beetroot, parsnip and vanilla purée was created by the Cargo Hold’s Chef Warren Frantz. It was myself and my husband, and we were fortunate enough to have different tickets so we had now shared nearly every dish up until this point, and were barely able to make it to the other tables, we were so full. But we waddled on, determinedly.
Representing her School of Cooking, Jackie Cameron and her students were at Table 8. They took the traditional and local theme to heart and had donned endearing boeremeisie aprons of yesteryear, while dishing up Afrikaner topside bobotie with ‘tannie se blatjang’ (a kind of nutty fruit chutney that accompanies bobotie and has Cape Malay influences). Afrikaner kidney Christmas pie with flaky suet crust was the offal option. We had the bobotie and it was soft and a spectacular contrast of sweet and savoury, bejweled with little raisins and blanketed in a savoury custard. To those reading this from overseas, this tastes so much better than it sounds, I swear!
Gerard van Staden, of Fig Tree Simbithi, is, in my mind, one of KZN’s King of Sauces. He builds them up like a good perfume, using top, middle and base notes of flavour, and reducing, reducing, reducing, reconstituting and reducing again, over a process of days. So I was looking forward to raiding Table 9 for his dishes and I wasn’t disappointed. He had fillet and fat, the regular and offal cuts, and he combined the two in a little parcel. Reflecting his French influences, he and his sous chef, Godfrey Chege Kinyanjui , prepared a Fillet o Fagot – a bundle of fillet and mushroom encased in a thin envelope of fatty lining. Beneath this was his famous beef jus (I can drink it like soup) and drizzled on top was a choron sauce – a version of béarnaise that incorporates tomato purée. It balanced out the richness of the jus and brought out the flavour of the fillet, a balance that is difficult to achieve because it’s easier to smother the fillet instead of highlight it. This little parcel was a gift of flavour.
Table 10 was represented by Jonty Nicolson of Nicolsons, but unfortunately neither of us had tickets for that table so cannot comment on what was served. The cuts assigned to him were brisket and bones. I would have loved to have tried both, as I think brisket is one of the best cuts of meat and so much glorious flavour can be rendered from bones.
The event was exceptionally well supported and full to capacity, like our stomachs. It wasn’t without it’s hiccups (the power tripping, no bins to chuck trash into and the only way to buy soft drinks was to order from a waitress at the Country Club itself) but they were relatively minor. The food served was of an exceptional standard, there wasn’t anything I didn’t devour with gusto, even at the not-a-crumb-more end of my appetite. If I had any criticism of the food it was only that it was a little conservative, barring a few exceptions. Effectively, most dishes were a reinterpretation of mash and stew, however beautiful and flavourful, and I would like a little more adventurous cooking but I do understand that conservative cooking is as a result of conservative eating, so this was a good introduction to consumers of what to expect. I really hope to see another event like this in the near future, it was a resounding success and I will need to live on salad for a month to recover from the indulgence. Thank you to all who were involved in organising and cooking for the event, you made KZN proud!
Edited to add: Congratulations to Chef Gerard on placing first (guests voted with an orange ticket for the best meal), for Andrew Draper placing second and for Alex Poltera on coming third!