It’s no coincidence that the beautiful dessert in the three-course lunch prepared by Silwood School of Cookery students was inspired by the Noma cookbook. Noma is the Copenhagen restaurant that has been No 1 on San Pellegrino’s The World’s Best 50 Restaurants list for three years running, and it’s where a Silwood graduate starts working this year. “Noma’s food is an inspiration to all of us at Silwood,” says the school’s vice-principal Carianne Wilson. “It was a wonderful challenge for us to reinterpret Chef Rene Redzepi’s Symphony of Flowers.”
When Silwood’s version of the intricately plated dessert won Showcook’s annual Reaching for the Young Stars award at the One & Only last year, Carianne excitedly emailed a shot of the dessert to Chef Redzepi as a thank you for inspiring her students. His response was brief but classic: “So cool!
“It took time and passion but it was worth it,” says third-year Silwood student Kirby Auret, who created the dessert
for the competition together with Bonani Lester, also in his third year.
They’re just two of the hundreds of dedicated foodies that have been produced by Silwood Kitchen during the 46 years of its existence. Silwood graduates are in prestigious kitchens all over the world, working for the likes of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, as well as local gurus like Franck Dangereux and Luke Dale-Roberts. Silwood students routinely win the Sunday Times Chef School competitions.
Carianne is the daughter of the school’s principal, Alicia Wilkinson, and granddaughter of Lesley Faull, who
founded Silwood Kitchen in 1964.
“My mother was South Africa’s own Julia Child,” says Alicia. “Like Julia she went to France to learn about French cuisine
so that she could bring it back to her own country. In France she was inducted as a member of the renowned gastronomic
society Commanderie des Cordons Bleus de France.”
Silwood House was where Lesley lived with her husband and five children. It was built in 1904 by the Syfret family on a historic Rondebosch estate, and in its forested grounds were generous outhouses and lofts going back to 1795. They had become derelict, but instead of demolishing them, Lesley restored them and started a cookery school. You can still see VOC (Dutch East India Company) ballast bricks in the walls. “Initially it was just demonstrations for housewives,” says Alicia. “My mother did French cuisine. Baroness Theodora von Arnim, mother of Achim of Haute Cabrière, expounded on l’Art de la Table. Peter Veldsman, who now has Emily’s restaurant, gave wine tastings. Joan Pare did flower demos.” Classical training remains the core of the school’s culinary programme. “That hasn’t changed over the years though the recipes have, with global cuisine bringing novelties like fusion food. To be world-class chefs, students have to become masters at refining techniques and understanding ingredients. “We have three one-year courses,” says Alicia. Students can do the first-year Cordon Bleu certificate only, or continue into second year, working in various kitchens in the industry, and then third year, doing 12 months in a Silwood-approved culinary establishment and finally graduating with a Silwood Grande Diplome.
And as far as their beautiful and detailed dessert that follows is concerned, Carianne adds, “You might think it all looks like a lot of work, but at the dinner parties I go to nowadays I’m always flabbergasted at the lengths to which people will go to produce something special.”
Silwood Kitchen, Silwood Road, Rondebosch, Cape Town. Call 021-686-4894/5; visit www.silwood.co.za.
HILARY PRENDINI TOFFOLI