Food is a serious business, so a sense of humour is not the easiest ingredient to find in a professional kitchen. Yet for Andrea Burgener, it's as easy as pie.
Trained as a fine artist, Andrea's journey to food as an adult (as a child, she'd already perfected school lunches) began with her colourful friend Braam Kruger, a well-known Sunday Times columnist, artist and foodie. Her first restaurant, aptly named Super Bon-Bon, was the clean canvas she needed to splash out and do as she pleased. Although devotees call it "fusion", Andrea prefers to refer to her style of cooking as "a mix that happened along the way".
There were plenty of fancy items on the early menu, but it was not unusual to find a plastic toy bobbing about in your dessert. Andrea has worn many hats and her food-writing skills are just as noted as her skills in the kitchen. And although she's serious about what goes into every dish, one thing is for sure: she still knows how to have fun.
Your first memories of food? Horrible sandwiches that my mom used to make for our lunch boxes. She never put the butter all the way to the crust, which needs it the most. I think that's when I started cooking and making lunch boxes for my brother, my dad and I. I couldn't bear the thought of anyone having sandwiches without the butter all the way to the crust! Apart from that, I remember cooking pasta when I was about eight years old and making the water so salty that it was inedible. I'd made it for lunch for about eight people. I remember that very clearly.
Your journey to food? I studied fine arts at Wits and then I'd had a bit too much of it, especially the theoretical side, so I fled. I was in my twenties and started working with a friend of mine, Braam Kruger, who was very involved in food. I worked at his restaurant for a while. For some mad reason, I decided to open my own restaurant, Super Bon-Bon, without actually having any training, which was both a good and bad thing – bad because I had to learn on the job all the pitfalls that I could have learnt elsewhere, and good because I had no idea what I was supposed to do and made it up as I went along, which actually worked out quite well.
How would you best describe the menu at Super Bon-Bon? My husband describes it as "do what I like". And what do you like? I think it was an Asian, trashy type of thing. I don't really like the word "fusion" for my food, because somehow it makes me think of formalised food. I think of my food as a mix that happened along the way. We did quite posh dishes alongside casual dishes, so you'd be able to come in and have bangers and mash while your friend had a huge wok of Thai chilli crab.
How does The Leopard differ from Super Bon-Bon? The Leopard is a bit more grown-up than Super Bon-Bon — maybe because we're more grown-up and have children to feed, or maybe it's what happens when you've been cooking for a few years. I mean, we did things at Super Bon-Bon like serving Coco Pops for supper with enormous prizes in them, which we made absolutely no money out of but still had fun.
Do your kids' needs affect the way you cook? People have an idealised notion of what restaurateurs' or chefs' children eat and maybe some people manage to be fantastic in that department, but we're very wobbly. Sometimes our children benefit hugely… Nick will come home and cut them all slices of bresaola that he's just made. They don't ever eat badly farmed meat or dairy, but on the other hand there are lots of times when we're so gatvol of looking at and thinking about food that by the time we get home, when they ask what's for supper, I say, "Well… cereal." What's wrong with that?
What have you made for us? The first is a halva yoghurt dish. It's layers of yoghurt and rose syrup, halva, salted nuts and honey. It originally started life as a breakfast dish when we started with The Leopard as a daytime venue and then everyone wanted it for supper. It is a weird dessert in my mind, but it's our most popular. It’s quite light. And then I made the artichokes, which is a bit of a riff of an Italian dish, where the artichokes are topped with a mixture of a gremolata but without the lemon rind. It's basil, mint, parsley, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, breadcrumbs and then lots more Parmesan and olive oil on top. Artichokes are one of my favourite things in the world.
HALVA WITH YOGHURT, HONEY, SALTED NUTS AND ROSE SYRUP
1 tsp rose syrup
½ cup full-cream yoghurt
1 tbsp good-quality halva
1 tbsp salted roasted nuts
2 tsp honey
Swirl rose syrup around any glass you like, then layer ingredients to fill. This makes a great breakfast or dessert.
ARTICHOKES WITH ROMAN INSPIRED TOPPING
12 artichokes, halved length-ways
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup mint, finely chopped
1 dessert spoon garlic, finely slivered
½ cup chunky homemade breadcrumbs, toasted
1 cup Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
Extra-virgin olive oil, enough to make a thick pesto-like mixture
Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Mix all ingredients (except artichokes) together. Place a dollop of the mix on each artichoke half, then bake for 10 minutes until hot. Serve immediately.
This is an extract from ‘Cooked in South Africa’, an initiative of Wish Upon A Star, a non-profit fund-raising charity (Reg. No 2013/038478/08). Cooked in South Africa is about memories and journeys around food and will be on sale in leading bookstores from mid-November with all profits from the sales going to children living with disability. Photographs courtesy of Naashon Zalk and Cooked in South Africa .