Tea and a chat with Justin Bonello

Justin Bonello popped in for tea and a catch up last week, to tell us his news and give us the scoop on his latest book Justin Bonello Cooks… for friends.

The last time we connected with the cooking man of mystery he was embarking on a mission to get people thinking about where food comes from. It was great to hear that he is still passionately championing the cause, speaking at schools educating whipper snaps, planning some thought-provoking TV series for 2012 and more.

Sipping Earl Grey, Justin lamented the death of the butcher, candlestick maker and corner store and shared his excitement at the world’s more recent awakening and return to seeking personal connections in all spheres of life (from where we buy our bacon, to how we communicate). Then we chatted about his latest book.

The nutshell? There is a place in the world for molecular gastronomy, but also for honest, simple food that nine out of ten people can make and with the social fabric of our world rapidly changing, eating good food with friends is becoming increasingly vital. This book is a selection of my favourite recipes for cooking with friends. After all, the test food memories always include special people.

Of the 54 recipes, what’s a good place to start? Mussel dishes. Black mussels are totally underrated, they’re easily accessible and pretty much bullet-proof to cook. Eating is not just about sustenance, it’s also about gathering, and mussels present an opportunity for a day outdoors with sand between your toes harvesting fresh mussels off the rocks. The same applies for forest mushrooms, or even fresh greens from a food garden. The gathering process should be integral to eating.
From the kitchen to the screen, tell us a bit about the next TV series you’ll be working on? We are going to be filming a new series in the Karoo, which will be a gentle comment on a remote space many people see as a wasteland – but is actually an unspoiled place of beauty and forgotten knowledge. I’ve had a love affair with the Karoo since I was about eight of nine years old when my mum was involved in shooting a movie out there. I remember waking up early and wandering into the kitchen to steaming porridge and fresh bread coming out of the Aga… Our world is full of stimulation pollution, out there you have to strain to hear anything at all.

We’ve heard whispers of a cooking competition next year, with R1 million up for grabs? Indeed, it is going to be launching in August 2012 and will span thirteen weeks. Taking a different route to the typical international cooking shows like Masterchef and Come Dine with Me, this competition is shot by South Africans for South Africans and taps in our local psyche.

Local is lekker, as they say. Any kitchen tools in particular stealing your heart at the moment? My Oscar juicer. I love making fresh juice, we grow our own wheat grass at home, and use oranges, carrots, spinach… They don’t always taste so good but you’ve got to do it!

We have daily juice compliments of the Oscar DA900, too. What’s in your fridge at the moment? Butter. That’s it. South Africa suffers from a lack of daily markets! In other African countries, like Mozambique, every town has a great market. We have space at home to grow and harvest our own things, and eat them straight away rather than stocking up our fridge.

So I actually should have asked, what’s in your garden? Much better. At the moment, I have about five types of lettuce, four tomatoes, parsnips, nectarines, apples (they’re just budding now, a bit late), three types of spinach, leeks, spring onions, artichokes,  marrows, watermelons… And of course all the herbs -various types of parsley, fennel, coriander, thyme. And chamomile, that’s a new one. Growing your own food is easy, people seem to have forgotten that plants actually want to grow! You just have to create the right environment, and give them food and water, just like people.

A spontaneous lesson on how to make the perfect omelette: Wipe some butter into a hot non-stick pan the size of a dinner plate. Mix two eggs, a splash of milk and some chopped spring onions with a good grind of black pepper and salt. Pour your mixture into the pan and swirl it until it sets. Dollop on some cream cheese, chopped chives and salmon then fold it in half, press with a spatula to seal for 30 seconds. And eat.

Awesome. All in all, a great catch up, with one of our favourite local cooks. We have a signed copy of Justin Bonello Cooks… for friends to give away – to stand a chance to win it simply post a comment telling us about your favourite dish to cook for friends this week and we’ll announce the winner on our Facebook page on Friday 2 December. Over and out.

Read a review of Justin Bonello Cooks… for friends
Try a recipe from the book: How to make boerewors from scratch