A young Cape Town, Amanda Lewis, chef cooks up a storm in her small deli kitchen for a leisurely lunch with foodie friends.
She’s spent time cheffing in the tiny rolling galleys of Mediterranean yachts, so for Amanda Lewis it’s no sweat at all to produce a three-course meal for eight people in the little strip of kitchen behind her large and lovely deli in Cape Town’s Old Biscuit Mill.
It’s an inviting space with a vintage country feel, and the lunch is a bit of a celebration. Anything for a party, says the bubbly 27-year-old, who launched Saucisse Deli with the help of euros she’d saved while working overseas. In the past 18 months she has seen it really take off. Being located immediately opposite Luke Dale-Roberts’s highly acclaimed Test Kitchen hasn’t hurt.
The deli is stocked with locally sourced gourmet delights. “People like the fact that local produce tends to come with its own story,” Amanda says. And she can give them the relevant details, having sourced all her suppliers herself. These artisanal products include a delicious freerange bacon – complete with rind that cooks crispy – produced in a garden smoke-shed in Bergvliet. It’s a vital part of her starter for the lunch.
She does the lardons in a smoking pan, no oil. “As this bacon is not pumped full of brine or sprayed with liquid smoke, it has a lot more flavour. I just sprinkle a few lardons on the plate. By then this Culinary Academy trained chef had already done time in places like Baia, Hout Bay Manor, Winchester Mansions and Tintswalo Atlantic.
She was 19 when she left South Africa with a team led by the head chef at Baia, where she had been doing her internship, to launch a new Dubai restaurant. At 24 she was already a senior sous chef. But that was the limit. “They said I was a girl and too young to be a head chef.” So she headed for the yachts.
The training she got there was invaluable. “You can’t swim ashore to get the things you need so you learn to preplan everything. You have to be resourceful. You can get dropped off in the middle of a tiny island to do your shopping and you just have to go and find the butcher and the market. “Guests arrive onboard with things like wonderful mushrooms they want you to make into a dish. You learn to be flexible and to not complicate food.
Now I make it fancy but not enough to scare anyone. I’m very into seasonal, I don’t use recipes and I like food to feel a bit rustic.” Amanda always wanted to be a cook. “At Llandudno Primary I was the one who always manned the pancake stand. Growing up I was so obsessed with Jamie Oliver I went online and begged to be one of the 15 young adults he trains each year.”
He said no, but she got a nice letter. Unlike Jamie’s 15, however, there’s nothing disadvantaged about Amanda’s background. It’s all displayed in the deli for anyone to see. A complete wall of old framed photos of the family and the various shops her father, grandfather and greatgrandfather have had over the years in places like Oudtshoorn and George.
Her grandmother’s cookery book is there too – in the quotes written on the deli tables. “I’m just continuing the tradition” is how Amanda puts it. For her main course she made the polenta cakes in the morning as well as blanching the greens and plunging them into ice water. It doesn’t take her long to pan-fry the pork fillet with balsamic vinegar and olives – “plain black pitted are best; they’re not as salty as Kalamata” – and then heat the rest while her foodie friends are still ‘mmming’ and ‘aahing’ over their starters next door.
One of them, Gemma Smith, is a sommelier. She’s here with her partner, Eagle’s Nest winemaker Stuart Botha, and she has a lot of good things to say about the wines we’re drinking. Particularly the Vondeling Chardonnay, which British wine guru Jancis Robinson has singled out as special – at R70 a bottle it’s a reasonable price in the connoisseurs’ market.
“Lightly wooded and with enough body not to be drowned by the balsamic and olives, it’s perfect for the pork. Red wine would have been too heavy.” We drink a toast to Amanda, the unfazeable chef whose delicious food is presented with passion and flair.
By Bruce Tuck
By Hilary Prendini Toffoli