Cape Town cookbook author and (food) lover of all things French, Marlene van der Westhuizen shares her stylish thoughts on alfresco entertaining – and celebrates her 50th cooking tour to the 12th-century village of Charroux in the Auvergne
Styling by Marlene van der Westhuizen
Chef, cookbook author and restaurateur Peter Veldsman once said food writers had a responsibility to share what they know about food and lifestyle. His comment made a huge impression on me – I want to make people aware of the fact that you truly are what you eat. I host pupils at Bagatelle, our home in France, four times a year for a week of learning to live, cook and eat the French way. It’s a personal experience and I’ve realised that eating well can even lead to weight loss. I’m beginning to think that the moment you experience a taste that is full of flavour, you eat less. goodfoodco.co.za
A few days before this shoot, I decided to replace the slightly dusty three-month-old orchids in and around my house with potted fynbos plants that I bought at the Kirstenbosch Garden Centre. It has been the most wonderful experience. The fynbos makes interesting table plants and the herbal perfume throughout the house is magnificent. And when they start looking unhappy or I get tired of them, they can move to a sunny spot in our Victorian garden.
Un petit cadeau
Send your guests home with a gift of a bouquet garni that you have made yourself. Use an outer leaf of a leek as your wrap. Inside, place some sage, rosemary, parsley, thyme, chives and bay leaves, and tie the bundle up with a piece of string. It looks pretty and the leek wrap is really practical too, keeping the tiny leaves of the herbs contained when you don’t want them floating around in the sauce or soup.
Red layer salad
This salad is made up of everything that is red and available. Build it in layers, starting with red cabbage or radicchio, followed by thinly sliced red onions, red peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, red chilli, shiny blackcurrants tossed in olive oil and pomegranate rubies. Just add some white pepper and walnut oil – there’s enough acidity in there; you don’t need any vinegar or lemon juice. Serve as is, in layers. Remember: tossed salads belong to the last millennium!
On the menu
An alfresco table will always include chicken or fish and a variety of salads. I love serving a whole fish but not necessarily done on the coals. (Incidentally, our fixation with fires denies us the delights that you can create in an oven!) I love serving whole steamed trout or trout baked in almond flour and served with fresh fennel. I will only serve one meat dish and very little starch.
Apart from my own designs, every other piece of crockery and cutlery I own in Charroux has been bought at antique markets in France. Every single village in France has a turn to host what is called a brocante or antique market on one Sunday of the year and shopping at these markets is a delight. For this table, I have used an old French sheet underneath a cloth I bought at Poetry in Cape Town and all the glassware, cutlery and vessels are brocante finds.
I launched my first range of ceramic tableware in blue and white florals. We recently released the same range in grey and white, and green and white with solid grey, black and green extras. The inspiration came from a single antique plate bought in a brocante (market) in France, and South African artist Mervyn Gers has helped to turn it into the M-Crockery range. The range is available at goodfoodco.co.za and via Maria Smit at [email protected].