BILLY SUTER talks to IAN VON MEMERTY about food and drink likes and dislikes, and what the stage and TV star gets up to in the kitchen. The multi-skilled entertainer will present a solo show, Prince of the Piano, at 2.30pm and 7pm on Saturday, November 14, at the Pietermaritzburg Rhumbelow Theatre (at the Allan Wilson shellhole), followed by 7.30pm performances from Tuesday, November 17, to Thursday, November 19, at the Durban Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo. The show has singer-pianist Von Memerty paying tribute to Billy Joel, Elton John, Fats Waller, Freddie Mercury, Adele, Nina Simone, Liberace, Fats Domino and others. Tickets cost R180 for this production (R150 for pensioners) and booking is at Computicket or by calling Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.
On a scale of one to 10 how good a cook are you? And why do you rate yourself so?
I am a two. I can cut a salad, make a soup, boil an egg and microwave a potato.
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?
Blessed to have been in lockdown with my whole family. My wife, Viv, is a great cook, daughter Kas is a great baker and son Oscar is a dab hand as well. Viv has done a curried pilchards which is simple extraordinary (though it does sound very ordinary) and a lightly chillied pasta which is a multi-layered heaven on the tongue.
Your most embarrassing/awkward moment in a restaurant?
Laughing so hard that I bent down and set my hair on fire on the candle in the centrepiece. I am not kidding!
Favourite take-away meal order?
In South Africa – butter chicken from our local. In Greece – Giros.
What are you unlikely to never order?
McDonalds. I have cardboard at home, why should I pay to eat it.
What is your first food memory?
The apple from my Dad’s pocket when we went walking early in the morning on the farm.
Your most special meal?
My 47th birthday lunch. The whole family was in Paxos and the food never stopped coming. Sitting under olive trees, local retzina – perfect company, setting and taste.
What would be your worst dining experience?
Anywhere that the music is too loud or aggressive. You could offer me the tastiest meal in the world, but if my ears are in revolt it won’t count.
Something you loved to eat or drink when younger, which you can’t find today?
Penny Cools. What a treat those ice lollies were when I was growing up in Zimbabwe.
As a child did you ever develop a taste for unusual foods or unusual combinations of foods?
I was a very late developer. I couldn’t drink alcohol until I was 40 (it all tasted like poo). I only tasted olives at the age of 50.
What is the dish you tend to cook most often?
What do you like and/or dislike about attending dinner parties?
The conversation is usually disjointed, the noise is distracting and the alcohol makes everyone either too loud (me), aggressive or stupid. I also do not like being forced to sit for such a long time.
What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?
I microwaved an egg with the shell on, while in London. The explosion was very loud and the after-effects were extensive. Multiple cleanings and there were still small bits emerging days later.
What has been your biggest culinary success?
I am now an excellent braai-er. My father would be proud. Also, the whole family is addicted to Peppermint Crisp pudding (I think we could each eat a whole bowl of it every day, if we could).
How serious a wine fundi are you, and what is your favourite tipple?
I like it light, dry, crisp and white. I have drunk some very bad expensive wines and some very good cheap wines – so, not a label freak.
What three people would you most like to invite to dinner?
I eat with them every day anyway – Viv, Kas and Oscar. Otherwise, Camilla, because loyalty and discretion in the face of haters is very rare; Colleen McCullough, who was a neurosurgeon, bestselling author, an expert on ancient Rome and lived on Norfolk Island; and Stephen Fry, because of that brain and his use of the English language.
What kitchen utensil can you simply not live without?
A kettle. If they stop making tea I’ll have to retire.
What’s the most kitsch thing in your kitchen – and why is it there?
Me – because I am always hungry.
What are some foods you simply refuse to try?
Brains, offal, larvae, testicles, eyes… you get the picture.
What is your favourite restaurant in Durban or KwaZulu-Natal and what do you usually order there?
It’s Durban, so it is always a curry somewhere.
Favourite restaurant in South Africa and/or abroad?
The best restaurant in the world for us is the Taverna in Meronas in Crete, high in the mountains. It is run by two sisters. No menu… just heaven on a plate.
Favourite cooking ingredient/s?
Olive oil and Lemon. Everything tastes better with those.
What marks the most memorable meal you’ve had?
First one that pops to mind, is sitting on the banks of the Seine, next to Shakespeare and Co, with my family looking at Notre Dame at sunset, and eating grilled, black sea bass. Although a bowl of Cretan snails runs a very close second.
Who is your favourite celebrity cook?
I loved Anthony Bourdain’s books, although I think he was most probably impossible as a person.
Your favourite tipple on a hot, humid day? And on a freezing day?
A beer shandy is the most refreshing thing – and it makes me very drunk. On a freezing day? This is so old-fashioned, but a sherry really does warm the cockles of the heart.
What is the sexiest of all foods?
Anything which does not produce gas… for obvious reasons.
What do you tip in restaurants?
When we had money to eat out (in those days before Covid-19), I tipped 10%.
Have you/would you send a dish back at a restaurant if you were not happy with it?
I’ve never done that. Just won’t eat it.
Peppermint Crisp Pudding (home-made).