Jackie Cameron
250315: Jackie Cameron

Jackie Cameron has had a prestigious culinary career. A graduate of Christina Martin’s School of Food and Wine, she was head chef at Hartford House in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands for more than a decade, winning many accolades before leaving to start the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine.

She represented South Africa at the 2014 Audi Chef’s Cup in Italy, has appeared on television (MasterChef SA, Top Billing, Ultimate Braai Master), is part of the Real Food Movement and is on the KwaZulu-Natal committee of the SA Chefs Association.

What is your cooking style?

I do everything with integrity. Nurturing relationships and saying thank you is very important to me.

In the kitchen I use local suppliers. I showcased the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands long before it was hip and happening to do so. It just made sense to me. I don’t just use local to be able to say “I use local”. I do so because it truly is the best I can find.

My suppliers are great friends of mine and I cherish the amount of love and dedication they put into every ingredient. Their farming styles make me look good.

My cooking is heritage food, it includes my background as well as Indian and Zulu influences because of the culinary impact these cultural groups have also had in the region. I’d like to think I take the time to understand and respect the local dishes and maintain the aspects that make them so popular.

Tell us about the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine?

Where shall I start? Just this week we received news that my students in their first year got 100 distinctions (internationally awarded by City and Guilds) for culinary arts theory. They also received 100 percent distinctions for their pastry theory exam.

So in my first year, my students – Cara Conway, Carla Schulze and Kate Cousins – have each received two international distinctions. I couldn’t be more proud.

Cooking has become a performance in recent times and many of the players are men. Is this why you established the JC Chef Clothing range, for female chefs?

This came about due to the amount of time I was spending with guests. I couldn’t justify putting so much time into my food and then walking out into the restaurant looking shabby and unprofessional. The normal male chef jacket does absolutely nothing for most females. So my mother and I designed these two jackets and most of the top female chefs in the country wear them now, which is very special. My male chef jacket range should be out by the end of this year.

You recently published Jackie Cameron Cooks at Home, and now Baking with Jackie Cameron. Is a good cook a good baker?

I really do believe it comes down to what a person enjoys. For many people, the first book got them back into their home kitchen. Celebrating food at home.

Now we’re putting our audience to the test with something simply-put, but a little bit more challenging. There is something for everyone, and all ages.

What were you aiming to achieve with Baking with Jackie Cameron?

I love documenting “stuff”. From the moment I began to write, I kept a diary. I relish putting things down on paper that I know work and that can be passed on to others to create and enjoy.

The recipes in the book have little twists, almost recognisable and not too far out. You won’t find a chocolate brownie, but you will find a lemon syrup poppy seed lamington with icing running off the sides.

You won’t find a carrot cake but a carrot cake with chocolate chunks. And naartjie and cardamom cake rather than an orange cake. But at the same time, there are some recipes that I am just celebrating for their simplicity, that have been passed down by the generations. Granny Kay’s flourless Christmas Pudding and Granny Dot’s Scones are examples.

Your work has taken you all over the world. Any words of wisdom for the “foodie” traveller? Any gems to share?

Pack light, so you can bring back as many supplies as possible. Take continuous notes and research your destination before getting on to the plane.

Ask locals for top foodie spots and always look out for restaurants that are full of locals. Those are normally the best offering possible. Explore and be open-minded when tasting. You only live once.

What are you favourite foods/dishes?

I love everything about food. I go through stages of cravings. At the moment I can’t get enough of a Tom Yum soup made by a Thai chef and his team in my area.

You’ve appeared on MasterChef SA, Braai Master and won numerous awards. You’re a fully-fledged celebrity chef. Can we expect to see more of you on TV?

I would love to do more on TV as I feel this can be a platform to teach and train so many more people. It is the perfect opportunity to get into so many people’s homes and make a difference to their eating habits and improve their knowledge around food. My sister has her own production company, so we have had many conversations over the years. Watch this space.

* Baking with Jackie Cameron is published by Penguin