• By Vicki Sleet

    If you live in the city, you may well have thought of doing it: selling up, simplifying life and settling down to a quiet, considered existence where the rise and fall of the sun dictates your days and where there really is time to smell the flowers, take long lazy walks on the coast and gaze at the stars.

    Of course, many people who opt for a new rustic existence often find their lives are fuller than ever. Their guest rooms are invariably occupied by out-of-town friends and they’re kept busy crossing things off a lifelong list of personal “to-do’s”. For Suzi Holtzhausen, this is the case, opting as she has to operate a guest house, cook at a local eatery and offer cooking classes for locals and culinary experiences for visitors, in between walks on the beach and in the veld with her trusty Scottie dog, Angus.

    Joburg foodies will know Suzi as the force behind the Barnes Street Culinary Studio, the home of her highly regarded part-time chef diploma course, where food lovers honed their skills while soaking up Suzi’s incredible enthusiasm and flair for food.

    Students also ran the catering arm of the studio and it is testament to her passion and skills that many left the course having changed careers and taking on positions as head chefs in top establishments. Suzi is the first to say that since closing the studio after 12 years and moving to Paternoster on the West Coast, her focus and style of food has undergone a shift.

    “My style of food is so much less complicated now. I’m really into using what’s fresh, what’s in season, what’s just picked or caught,” she says. This means that Suzi’s menu is often peppered with local delicacies, ranging from oysters and mussels collected in nearby Saldanha Bay to just-caught haarders cooked in coarse salt (which Suzi collects from the salt pans in Velddrif), waterblommetjies or even wild asparagus that grows prolifically in these parts. “I have developed a particular interest in indigenous foods.

    It’s great chatting to the locals and finding out how they use what grows wild when they cook – I’ve learnt how to cook duin kool, a type of succulent that’s very popular and I’ll often chop up some suurlings and scatter them over salads,” she explains of the sour little yellow flowers that pop up after the rain. There are a number of ways to sample the fruits of this talented chef’s fare. Not content to simply sit on the stoep and watch the world go by, Suzi is busier than ever with myriad activities – all to do with food of course. At the nearby Oep vir Koop at De Winkel at Paternoster, she treats locals and visitors to a small menu of old-fashioned favourites, from sugar-dusted French toast to any of the hearty daily specials that range from bobotie spring rolls to bredies with a contemporary twist.

    At her cooking school, students work their way through everything from basic cooking methods to serious dishes, while her popular West Coast cooking weekends offer local food and wine-related excursions as well as lessons that explore the produce and offerings from the area.

    Lunch at Salt Coast is always a relaxed affair and invariably Suzi waits for the day to see what’s on the menu. Living so close to the sea, one can only plan once the catch of the day has been confirmed. The meal kicks off with slices of local braaied boerewors, doused with freshly squeezed limes and wrapped in rocket – the flavours combining to create a new appreciation for this South African staple (she learnt this foodie flavour marriage from a local friend, and it’s definitely one worth trying). Instead of fish, Suzi opts for mussels and oysters in a red onion and lovage broth. The tea-smoked mussels lend an undeniably smoky flavour to this soulful dish and have that perfect ocean flavour.

    We move on to seared duck and balsamic pear club sandwiches. These delicious creations bear mouthful after mouthful of varied taste – sweet, salty, peppery flavours compete with the crunchy textures. Every offering that’s brought to the table reflects Suzi’s new-found lifestyle perfectly – this is relaxed fare, made to be eaten with your hands, with the sauces dribbling down your chin. All that’s needed to complete the West Coast experience is a long post-lunch walk on the beach in the icy shallows of the Atlantic Ocean.

    Salt Coast Fine Foods and Inn, Mosselbank Street, Paternoster. Call 022-752-2063 or 083 375 4929, or visit www.saltcoast.co.za

    By Warren Heath