Taste shapers that inspire
This Cape Town food-writing couple won’t revisit crumbed Brussels sprouts but will queue for genuine Neapolitan pizza
Nikki and Brandon have spent 14 years together, travelling, cooking, telling stories and taking pictures. Released in October 2014, their book Cook. Better. (R395, Quivertree) combines beloved recipes with lashings of know-how on ingredients and techniques. Nikki, a food journalist and consultant, has served as food editor for Fairlady and Women’s Health. A former editor of Compleat Golfer and creative director for Ramsay Media, Brandon was on the curatorial panel for Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 and is now director of storytelling for WhyFive, an insight-driven research company.
They owe their kitchen process to each other: ‘If I hadn’t met Nix 15 years ago, I’d still be conducting strange experiments with phyllo pastry,’ muses Brandon. ‘She taught me to really think about what I was doing; it set me on a very different path.’ Nikki admits, ‘We’ve been cooking in the same kitchen for most of the years we’ve been together. I wouldn’t chop as fine or pass my soups through a sieve if it weren’t for him.’
What’s always in your pantry? Garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, sourdough bread, sea salt (Nikki); and a spare bottle of Chenin… (Brandon). What was your most memorable meal? For a belated 40th birthday moment, Nix took me to Pizzeria da Michele in Naples where locals stand in line every night of the week. There are just two options, marinara (tomato, oregano, garlic, olive oil) or margherita with local buffalo mozzarella, then 90 seconds in an oven that’s hot enough to melt the devil’s toes and flavour-blast a single basil leaf so it somehow infuses the whole topping. I really do think it’s the best pizza in the world (Brandon).
Current favourite restaurant? We’re really excited about our friend Andrea Volpe opening Pesce Azzurro in Woodstock.
Can’t live without? My salad spinner, potato ricer and enamelled cast-iron oval pot (Nikki); my Mouli, mezzaluna and corkscrew (Brandon).
Your most used recipe book? The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (Nikki); Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy and Made in Sicily. I expected him to help me understand pasta, which he did, but he actually got me hooked on veggie dishes like broccoli with almonds and chilli (Brandon).
Who are your foodie icons? Lulu Peyraud, for the way she cooks and lives (Nikki); Keith Floyd (Brandon). Won’t eat? Fake, factory-manufactured flavours (Nikki); Brussels sprouts. Nix tried to crumb and fry them once, basically camouflaging them as arancini, and I still thought they tasted like rhino snot balls (Brandon).
What’s your signature dish? Crêpes spread with chocolate ganache, folded around crème pâtissière, grilled and served with bottled Amarena Fabbri cherries (Nikki); home-made spaghetti with bolognese sauce (Brandon).
Absolute food weakness? Good samoosas (Nikki); chips, no, Nix’s roast potatoes in duck fat… no wait, Nix’s roast taters with a side serving of pork crackling (Brandon).
What’s your entertaining style? I love small gatherings. And my kitchen is a separate room, so I can work in private and then present to my guests (Nikki). Open plan, plenty of liquidity, self-service from central platters: like a communal feast (Brandon).
What would be on the menu for your last meal? Bubbly with warm gougères, Brandon’s risotto, fresh cherries…or grilled bratwurst with my oupa’s German potato salad followed by Black Forest cake from the Dorfstuben at Hotel Bareiss (Nikki); Parmesan crisps for nibbles, with a glass of Vin de Constance, crispy pork belly with
a carafe of Swartland chenin, perfectly rare rib-eye tagliata, and a cheese plate with grappa for dessert. It’s been swell; cheers.