FOR a special New Year’s Eve episode of SABC3’s Cooking with Chris Smit, chef Chris Smit opted to ring in the new year in the company of friends – and prepared a smorgasbord of canapés and cocktails for his New Year’s party. His menu of bite-size delights included almond-crusted chicken bites with a pineapple dipping sauce; sumac-dusted prawn tails with harissa mayonnaise; blinis with salmon and cream cheese; roasted cherries with thyme and chevin; beetroot and chevin skewers and an artichoke hummus platter. I asked him ahead of the show what we could expect from the TV special and also asked some general questions.
TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR ‘COCKTAILS AT NEW YEAR’S DECEMBER 31 EPISODE
To minimise the likelihood of welcoming the first day of the New Year with that ‘morning-after’ feeling I try to avoid spirits, preferring instead to serve MCC-based cocktails.
In the New Year’s episode my assistant and mixologist, Johanna Jones, will be preparing a cocktail with puréed strawberries and a dry Brut as well as a non-alcoholic Appletiser and peach Bellini. We’ll be serving these with a selection of delectable canapés.
HOW, WHERE AND WITH WHOM DO YOU PLAN TO SPEND NEW YEAR’S EVE? AND WHAT FAVOURITE COCKTAIL ARE YOU LIKELY TO DRINK THEN?
I’ll be spending New Year’s Eve and the day after with my significant other, ensconced in our home, far from the crowds of visitors who flock to Franschhoek around this time of year. We’re actually homebodies at heart so we’ll probably cook a special dinner over which to take stock of the year that was – and will most likely toast to the New Year with our favourite tipple, Graham Beck Brut.
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN AND HOW/WHY DID YOU GET ATTRACTED TO A CAREER IN COOKING?
I was born in Phalaborwa (Limpopo) in 1972. During my childhood years I was always surrounded by good food and great cooks (my family baked all their own bread and cakes – and my dad made his own boerewors and biltong at home).
One of my earliest jobs was that of a waiter in a hotel – and after spending a number of my days off volunteering in the kitchen, I realised that that is where I wanted to be. I felt inspired, challenged, stimulated and excited by how much there was to learn about food and cooking. I still do.
WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU EVER COOKED – AND WHAT IS THE DISH YOU MOST LIKE TO COOK?
From the age of 7 onwards my siblings and I made our own breakfasts and lunches since both my parents worked full time. But my first culinary ‘milestone’ was a lemon meringue tart that I made by myself from a magazine when I was around 10 years old. It was in my grandmother’s kitchen in the Kruger National Park.
The dish I like cooking the most is a curry, particularly any Indian-style curry. I just love experimenting with all the spices, herbs and regional styles of Indian dishes. Theirs is such a rich and ancient cultural and culinary heritage.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR YEAR?
Filming two seasons of “Cooking with Chris Smit” has certainly been a highlight. It’s been such a powerful platform for sharing my passion for cooking – and has provided me with an opportunity to reach a greater audience and inspire people to try new dishes that they might not have considered previously.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Passionate, adventurous, reclusive, measured, loving.
WHAT ARE FIVE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
I love gardening. I enjoy listening to Ghazals (Middle-Eastern and Indian music and poetry) when I cook. I’ve never cultivated a taste for brandy, whiskey, truffles or caviar. One day I would like to have a farm sanctuary for horses.I crave sweets late at night or early in the morning.
WHO IS THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
I’ve had the pleasure of cooking for people that our society would consider to be celebrities but I’m afraid I find name-dropping to be tacky and pretentious so I’ll pass on this one.
I wouldn’t necessarily offer precious metals for the opportunity but I would welcome the chance to meet Australian chef Maggie Beer. She’s incredibly talented and has helped to put country food back on the map. Despite her international success she seems humble and grounded.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I love travelling locally and internationally to explore new places and cultures. When I’m not cooking and baking, I enjoy pottering around the garden, taking our dog Sophia on long walks, exploring the valley on my mountain bike, researching and formulating new recipes and entertaining family and friends over long lazy lunches set to soothing music.
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS – AND WHY?
I’m not fond of snakes even though I grew up in the bush. I’m not enamoured of frogs either. I suppose it’s because they’re slithery and slimy respectively. I won’t swim in murky water such as dams and rivers. I always need to see the bottom, for fear of what might be lurking beneath I suppose.
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU MOST DISLIKE IN OTHERS?
Ungraciousness and an attitude of entitlement (sadly there’s a lot more of that in the world compared to when I was growing up). Poor timekeepers also annoy me.
WHAT ARE TWO OF YOUR MOST TREASURED MATERIAL POSSESSIONS?
I seldom dress up but I own a gorgeous black cashmere sports jacket that I love to wear whenever the occasion calls for it. My considerable cookbook collection is also very dear to me. I derive hours of pleasure from leafing through them.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
I wish I was a better, more intent listener at times because I’ve often regretted missing important information and pearls of wisdom shared by other people.
As a man in my mid-40s I’ve come to cherish the importance of good health and wish I was more disciplined so as to eat less cake and bread!
I have a tendency to procrastinate when I’m not looking forward to doing something, thus putting things off to the last minute.
TWO HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER?
Early on in my career I was fortunate enough to work for Rovos Rail. Working to such a high standard and benchmark I came to realise and value the power and importance of exceptional service in the hospitality industry. I also learned how critical it is to be organised and thoroughly prepared for the foreseen and unforeseen circumstances that come with the tasks at hand.
Later, while working for The Royal Portfolio I had the opportunity to travel abroad extensively – and work with many gifted international chefs. Those interactions played an invaluable part in my growth and development as a chef.
IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY FIVE THINGS FROM FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE, WHAT AND WHO WOULD THEY BE?
My dad can fix just about anything! I would love to have his knowledge and understanding of all things mechanical.
My director, producer and friend, Imraan Vagar, has incredible insight into people and what informs their behaviour. I would love to have that kind of understanding of my fellow human being.
My close friends Tamara and Prakash Patel demonstrate such patience and dedication as parents – and as godfather to one of their daughters I get to experience some of the responsibilities of being a parent, some of the time. But I’d love to miraculously be imbued with the qualities of selflessness and diligence that they somehow manage to exhibit 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
American baker Chad Robinson understands sourdough baking better than most. His bread is legendary in San Francisco and his prowess is admired around the world. I think it would be wonderful to have mastered such a skill.
I can’t read music or play any instruments – but it would be exhilarating to be able to compose and play music like my friend, musician and composer, Richard Van Schoor.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
Many years ago my personal details were stolen to create a fraudulent identity that resulted in scores of unpaid bills. I spent many exhausting months convincing authorities, cellphone operators, clothing and furniture stores that I wasn’t the person responsible for the slew of accounts that were opened under my name.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED – AND WHO GAVE IT?
“No matter who you meet in your life, there is always something valuable you can learn from them.” I received this advice years ago from Santie Boonzaier, a lady I worked for for several years as a young man – and to this day, I apply it to whoever I meet.
WHAT THOUGHTS ON REINCARNATION? AND IF YOU COULD CHOOSE, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO COME BACK AS IN YOUR NEXT LIFE?
Although very intriguing, it’s not something I’ve given too much thought to. But if I did come back as another creature, I should like to be a dolphin.
WHAT THINGS DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
My grandparents worked and lived in The Kruger National Park and we spent every weekend and holiday there. I do miss being that close to wildlife and the beautiful bushveld. It was only after moving to the city after school that I realised just how privileged I was to have grown up in the bush.
WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT FIVE THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
Absolutely fabulous: Mother Nature, horses, hot-air ballooning, dance and the art of contortion, and cooking
Absolute no-nos: Smoking, dishonesty, gender and race inequality, animal cruelty and poor timekeeping.
WHAT DO YOUR PLANS FOR 2017 INCLUDE?
To continue to live and enjoy my life to the full, with gratitude, joy, purpose and creative inspiration – and to carry on cooking, baking and celebrating life, love, companionship and friendship. Perhaps I’ll commit to further seasons of my show, since I have so much more to share with my viewers. But first and foremost, my plans include continued happiness and good health in 2017.