We South Africans love our weekends, the longer the better. We work all week chasing Friday then kick back and relax with our friends, family and great food.
In season two of Cooked, appropriately subtitled ‘Weekends Away’, Justin Bonello adapts the epic road trip concept of season one and dials it down a notch to two or three day breaks which anyone can tackle.
The distance and length of the trips may have been trimmed, but the fun and the food certainly haven’t!
For the first wseekend getaway Justin and his friends head up to Pringle Bay, an easy 85km drive from Cape Town where the highlight is our favourite cook’s rather unusual method of presenting perlemoen (abalone) stuffed inside a tube of kelp with sparkling wine and cream. He also flash fries the delicacy coated in crushed Pro-Vita (biscuit) crumbs, makes a super-easy naan bread in the wood-burning pizza oven at Gareth and Lisa’s beach house, and the simplest breakfast imagineable of harder (fish) and eggs in a pan at the water’s edge. “At the end of a hard day of relaxing, relax a little bit more,” suggests Justin.
It doesn’t get much lazier, or beautiful, than spending a weekend on a house boat on the Langebaan lagoon. Breakfast is roosterbrood (“fire bread”) filled with apricot jam, cheese, chocolate or simply slathered with butter, while main meals include an all-in effort to make fresh ravioli stuffed with mussels with garlic and pepper butters, swimming in rich tomato sauce and fresh spears of asparagus on the side, and snoek (pike/snake mackerel) smeared with apricot jam, butter and chilli done on the braai.
If you’ve ever wondered what the guys get up to when they demand that weekend on their own, here’s your answer: they drink rooibos espresso out of little cups, with their pinky fingers extended. They also do as much fishing as possible, with varying measure of success. Justin packs one of his essential camping items – a jaffle iron. A forerunner to the ubiquitous Snackwich toaster, he uses it to make peanut butter, banana and honey jaffles for breakfast. Later the blokes have the most traditional of South African braais with chops, worse and mielies, with drunken chickens on the side. They’re men – they only need protein and starch.
Tree houses are childhood must-haves and that desire to be up among the leaves and branches probably never subsides. This weekend we’re at Tree Tops in Citrusdal where Justin makes one of his most loved and famous dishes, the Tarzan roast – whole legs of lamb spiked with spring onions in oyster sauce, rosemary, garlic and chilli and suspended over a fire for several hours. “Just don’t drink too much while you’re waiting for it to cook,” advises Justin. He tackles koeksusters for the first time and serves them with cream. Dieters, you might want to look away.
Although this season is mainly about short weekend getaways, it just wouldn’t be Cooked without a proper road trip so Justin and friends pile into an truck and head north to Namibia. “The food you eat on a road trip doesn’t have to be tinned bully beef, you can make it exciting for your friends and it’s good to make an effort to eat well,” says Justin as he whips up simple yet scrumptious burgers at the roadside. There’s also yummy chicken sausage cannelloni, and at their Orange River destination the piece de resistance is ostrich baked in a pit oven – an ancient tradition dating back to caveman days – with chocolate, cranberry and red wine sauce.
Justin’s an early riser but the rest of the group benefits because he uses that time to make things like quiche with biltong, asparagus, leeks and pecorino for the next leg of the road trip which takes them to Fish River Canyon. With the breathtaking view of the world’s second largest canyon, Justin slow cooks ostrich in a potjie with gallons of red wine, and Garth helps out with a simple peppermint chocolate dessert, a great favourite in South Africa. After a hair-raising three hour drive down into the canyon, Justin declares “Africa ain’t for sissies”. This will become a Cooked mantra.
After a spectacular sunset and God’s fireworks at the canyon the journey takes the gang to Luderitz and some very welcome luxury accommodation at the four star Nest Hotel. “A nice change after tents and dust,” comments Justin. In the eyeball-melting heat they visit the abandoned diamond rush town of Kolmanskuppe where Justin makes fresh lemonade, and gazpacho which is slurped down poolside at the hotel later. A sumptuous seafood potjie with fresh black mussels, oysters, crayfish legs, prawns and white fish is washed down with copious amounts of sauvignon blanc. This is Cooked, after all.
Another early start for Justin as he kindly lets the camera crew sleep in while he films himself making vetkoek for breakfast. Stuffed with coriander chicken sausage and hardboiled eggs, it’s a meal in the hand. The lucky ones sail across Luderitz bay to a penguin colony while the slaves pack the truck for the trip to Klein Aus where they will encounter the wild horses of Namibia. Vegetarians get their treat with a hearty bean and tomato soup served over shredded spinach and topped with a dollop of double thick yoghurt.
There are some landscapes that can only truly be appreciated from the sky, in this case from a hot air balloon. “You can see from horizon to horizon and eventually your mind can’t even process the beauty of it any more,” says an awestruck Justin. “It is truly magnificent.” At Soussusvlei, Gareth shows that he is just as good with a bokkie as he is at catching fish. While he tends the springbok on a spit made from tent poles, Justin makes the twisted bread, sweet potato with marshmallows and chocolate and black cherry sauce to complement the meat.
Two weeks after the Namibia road trip and Justin is itching to get out of the city and back on the road. Helping his mates Richard, Allie and Roy get their soon-to-be-opened guest house – Schoone Oordt in Swellendam – into shape is the perfect excuse. A spot of wild mushroom picking provides the ingredients for a mushroom and roast chicken pie topped with flaky golden pastry, and everyone experiences the eye-rolling ecstasy of fresh strawberry jam on bread hot out the oven.
The thing about having your favourite weekend getaway spots is that you have mixed feelings about wanting to share them with the world and jealously guarding them. The beach camp in Cape Columbine Nature Reserve in Pater Noster on the West Coast is one such spot. “Why am I even telling you about it?” wonders Justin. The diving doesn’t yield the desired bounty but there are plenty of periwinkles. Hooked out of their shells with a pin and dipped in garlic butter or vinegar, they’re not an everyday experience but a special one nonetheless. There’s a feast of salads – Thai-style with prawns, mussels and mango, warm tomato and equally warm mushroom – with apple crumble and whipped cream for pud.
Cooked is based in Cape Town so most of the trips have left from there, but it is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Southern Africa so we can’t ignore what is right on our doorstep. In this episode, Justin and friends are hosted by Liziwe at her guest house in Gugulethu, or Gugs, as it is affectionately known. After a history lesson about apartheid and why we have townships in the first place, Liziwe offers her home brewed umquobhoti (traditional xhosa beer). Etiquette demands she try it first, but Justin is not convinced this isn’t just a ploy to have her fair share. The gracious hostess makes liver and onions, followed by a massive potjie of lamb knuckles. No visit to Gugs would be complete without sampling a “smiley” (sheep’s head) and a visit to Mzoli’s for true township vibe.
Nelson Mandela is one of South Africa’s most iconic heroes, and in this episode Justin visits the place where he was incarcerated for 18 years – Robben Island. Ferries depart from the V&A Waterfront everyday, carrying hundreds of tourists to their tour of the island and the infamous jail, but the crew is lucky enough to be allowed to stay overnight at this World Heritage Site, and explore the island a little bit more than the average person. Justin’s first meal is “strandloper” crayfish – quite simply crayfish cooked with nothing more than a splash of sea water on a fire on the beach. A breakfast casserole keeps everyone going through the day, and finally there’s a spicy, aromatic crab curry – cooked from a family recipe – with the priceless view of Table Mountain in the background. A fitting end to another rewarding season of Cooked.