Food for Thought: Delia Sainsbury

Television and musical theatre personality Delia Sainsbury at home in Cape Town. She loves food!

BILLY SUTER talks to former TV and stage personality DELIA SAINSBURY, head of Cape Town’s Waterfront Theatre School,  about food and drink likes and dislikes, and what she gets up to in the kitchen.

On a scale of one to 10 how good a cook are you?

I would say a 7 or 8. I’m a really good cook when I have the time. I’m a fast cook though, and cheat with ready-made sauces, as my hours at the Waterfront Theatre School are long and I need to cook dishes which don’t take up too much time to prepare.

What has been the meal you have had most during lockdown? Also, who are you in lockdown with – and have you personally cooked or baked a lot more than usual during lockdown?

Favourite meals have been fish, fish and fish – fresh from Hout Bay harbour. I am in lockdown with my partner Mike Downie, who is a director of photography; daughter Jo Galloway, who got trapped here from New York; and daughter Genna Galloway and her fiancé, Ross Rowley, who set up his recording studio in a flat adjoining the house.

It’s been a very creative lockdown. Genna has done all the baking as she’s a whizz at vegan cooking. Mike is a brilliant cook and very experimental with food. He was brought up in Beirut, so I get lots of exotic dishes served up.

Your most embarrassing/awkward moment in a restaurant?

The most embarrassing moment was when (late husband) Keith shook a bottle of tomato sauce and the lid flew off. The sauce jetted across to the next table and settled on the white shirt front of the very posh gentleman who sat there with an expression like stone… and with sauce dripping down his front. Nobody moved. We all just froze.

Also, when the girls were small, Keith was explaining to them why someone always tasted wine before drinking it. He explained that the King had a “taster” to test the wine in case it was poisoned. He then proceeded to “try” the wine and pretended to “drop dead” in true theatrical form on the dining table. Whereupon the waitress screamed and rushed out of the dining room. Needless to say, we were in hysterics.

Favourite take-away meal order? An what are you unlikely to never order?

My favourite take away is always sushi. Preferably from Willoughby’s on the Waterfront. I would never order fast food of any kind.

What is your first food memory?

My mother trying to feed me Brussel sprouts.

Your favourite meal – and also the meal you don’t enjoy much?

My favourite meal is seafood pasta in any form. I don’t tolerate curries very well  I love them my digestive system doesn’t. Oh, and of course, I hate Brussel sprouts!

Something you loved to eat or drink when younger, which you can’t find today?

Wagon Wheel. A huge chocolate biscuit I used to buy at the school tuckshop in England, after swimming lessons.

As a child did you ever develop a taste for unusual foods or unusual combinations of foods?

Yes, pilchards and beetroot – from my high school years at a convent school. The nuns made us eat everything on the plate and would scrape it off and put the leftovers on another plate to make us eat it. I soon learned to like everything or go hungry.

What is the dish you tend to cook most often?

Casseroles and stews in winter. I love chucking in everything I can find. In summer, I love salads with everything – fruits, vegetables, chicken, prawns, whatever is in the fridge.

What do you like and/or dislike about attending dinner parties?

I love dinner parties, especially if the other guests have nothing to do with show business in any form. No egos and lots of information as to what’s happening in the real world. It’s a chance to listen and learn.

What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?

When my entire oven packed up on Christmas Day and, for the first time ever, we had to find a restaurant at the last minute. We ended up at the Twelve Apostles in Camps Bay, the only available place, and the meal cost more than all the Christmas presents combined. I was left with a very pink, half-cooked turkey at home.

What has been your biggest culinary success?

Ah, I have to say when I cooked Chicken Veronique for a very well-known American movie director at my flat in London. I was 19. Nothing else to say except that I was the dessert! Unfortunately, the “meal” wasn’t outstanding enough to land me a movie contract.

How serious a wine fundi are you, and what is your favourite tipple?

I’m much more knowledgeable since I’ve been living with Mike Downie. The first thing he did when we got together was take me on a trip for five days around the Cape Wine routes. Before that, I knew the difference between red and white.

Now, I can show off a bit and, I must say, I prefer reds. At the moment I’m loving the Rupert and Rothchild 2016 Classique. It’s a Merlot and Cab Sav blend. Otherwise, I’m a gin and tonic girl in any form, the more botanicals the better.

What three people would you most like to invite to dinner?

John Maytham from Cape Talk, Alan Committie and Oprah Winfrey. A great mixture of intellect, compassion and humour.

Otherwise, my dad, Julius Malema and Donald Trump. Then I’d lock them in the diningroom and leave! My dad could argue anyone under the table. I remember when I was five being at dinner and my dad explaining the principals of nationalisation and why Britain should be a republic. No subject was ever taboo, much to my mother’s chagrin.

What kitchen utensil can you simply not live without?

A very, very sharp carving and chopping knife. I have a thing about knives. Watch out!

What’s the most kitsch thing in your kitchen?

A magnetised calender with butterflies on it to check the date! I love it.

What are some foods you simply refuse to try (and why)?

I refuse nothing when it comes to food! I try everything.

Oh, I’m lying. Years ago when I was shooting a movie in Thailand, I was in a remote village and was offered fish eyeballs for lunch on Christmas Day. They were floating in a sea of jelly and, I swear, they were all winking at me. I couldn’t do it, and completely insulted one of the producers of the film as it was considered a  delicacy”. I managed one or two by holding my breath. Then I threw up!

What is your favourite restaurant in Durban and what do you usually order there?

The Jack Salmon Fish House. I love their fresh, black mussels and basil pesto prawns! In fact, anything on their menu. I make a beeline for it whenever I’m in Durban, which isn’t often enough.

Favourite restaurant in South Africa and/or abroad?

There are so many. My favourite go‐to restaurant in Cape Town is Hussars Grill in Mouille Point, and, for “ fancy dining”, the Chef’s Warehouse in Constantia. Don’t forget that Paternoster has six of the finest restaurants in the Western Cape – all within walking distance of each other. I’ve had a house there for 14 years and rarely cook when I’m there. My favourite is Voorstrand on the beach, run by friends, Sharon and Adrian.

Internationally, I love Salieri in Charing Cross Road, London. I’ve known the owner for years and I get spoiled when I go there. Koha in Leicester Square, just behind Wyndham’s Theatre, is my favourite meeting place in London. Also, Café Pushkin in Moscow is magnificent, as are La Coupole in Paris (the oysters!) and Chateau Marmont in LA. You can see I like food.

Favourite cooking ingredients?

Herbs –lots of them.

What marks the most memorable meal you’ve had?

Dinner with Barbra Streisand and Elliott Gould in London, during the rehearsals of Funny Girl. I don’t remember the food! I hardly said a word, I just gawped. (note: Delia was a member of the ensemble of the 1966 London West End production that starred Streisand).

Also, sitting in Trattoria Romantica in Dean Street, gazing down the long table with the cast of The Four Musketeers (at Drury Lane) and realising, for the first time, that I was totally besotted with Keith Galloway, who was my dance captain. I made up my mind to marry him then. I was 19.

Who is your favourite celebrity cook? And who is your least favourite?

My favourite celebrity cook was Keith Floyd. He was at his best (and worst) after a few drinks! He was brilliant and entertaining. I also love Jenny Morris. I know her very well and love her healthy food. Her restaurant in the Cape Quarter is one of my favourites. I did a TV programme with her years ago called Fat Busters and loved every minute of it. She’s amazing.

I don’t have a least favourite chef as I love all food!

Your favourite tipple on a hot, humid day? And on a freezing day?

On a hot day, try Rosé All Day Punch. It’s made from your favourite rosé, vodka, lime juice, limes, honey and sparkling water with lots of ice. Go as easy (or not!) on the rosé and vodka as you like.

In winter, nothing beats a traditional Gluhwein. I love it with raisins. Ross Rowley. Genna’s fiance, who has been staying with me during lockdown, has perfected his recipe for mead.

What is the sexiest of all foods?

Oh come on, it has to be oysters with excellent champagne. The best I ever had was last year in Whitstable in Kent.

What do you tip in restaurants?

I go for 15% if I can. Both Jo and Genna waitressed when they were students at the Waterfront Theatre School (WTS), and I know how they relied on tips.

I try to find the top restaurants for my WTS students to work in. The restaurants love them as they have great personalities and are sharp. I feel it’s really important to support the service industry, as so many servers rely on tips to sustain themselves.

Have you/would you send a dish back at a restaurant if you were not happy with it? Please elaborate if so.

Oh yes, I would. I have done it very rarely and usually it has been a steak which was as tough as shoe leather. I once made a big fuss about a prawn curry that contained hardly any prawns. Eating out is too expensive to be ripped off.

Favourite dessert/s?

Ice-cream. Anywhere, any flavour. Plus crème bruleé and, oh yes, tiramisu and an Italian Kiss.

Store-bought sweet you most enjoy?

Woolworths’ triple chocolate dessert. My absolute downfall.

Delia Sainsbury… her most memorable meal was with Barbra Streisand and Elliot Gould.

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