When it comes to food, a well-travelled Nikki Werner and Brandon de Kock love cooking at home as well as dining out.
Werner has, in her career as a food editor and now food researcher, writer and consultant, expanded her knowledge on the subject matter exponentially. And De Kock has, in his career as an editor, public speaker, curator, photographer and storyteller, been exposed to this world, too.
On their passion for cooking, she says, “I’ve always been fascinated with cooking and baking and the magic that happens when people gather around a table to share food. Originally, I wanted to become a chef but found my way into food through writing.”
He adds, “I was also interested in food from a young age. But my cooking was more abstract art than science. Meeting Nix 17 years ago was definitely a passion turning point, in more ways than one.”
And that recipe for love, life and food, manifested itself beautifully in Cook. Better.
Werner reveals, “The thoughts and recipes had been accumulating for some time and it’s the book I wish someone had handed me when I was just starting out in the kitchen.
While working as a food editor I once did a quick canvas around the office, and it revealed my colleagues cooked from a handful of recipes yet didn’t feel particularly confident about their abilities.
“For example, they knew how to cook a specific chicken dish, but when faced with a raw chicken breast, had no idea how to cook it and keep it tender. I hoped to share skills that would liberate people from recipes.
“So rather than roaming the supermarket aisles clutching a shopping list because their dinner party depended on it, they might start in a different place: finding the best available ingredients and then applying techniques they have internalised.”
De Kock chips in, “Then we had the Steve’s sauce moment – the story we tell at the beginning of the book, where two different techniques produce very different results from exactly the same ingredients.
“When he (Nikki’s brother Steve) texted ‘OMG!’ it was the moment of validation for us that there was value in the concept.”
While the idea was simmering, the partners in cooking needed to agree on the content.
“We only included recipes that are true to us and what we cook,” she says.
“The salad is a case in point, we make that at least once a week.”
He adds, “We also aimed for ‘borderlessness’. The most exotic ingredient we use is chorizo sausage, so for me it’s about showing people it’s possible to do extraordinary things with ordinary ingredients you can find pretty much anywhere.”
Cook. Better. takes people back to basics.
Werner nods, “The real art of cooking lies in simplicity because if it’s less than perfectly executed, there’s nowhere to hide.
“We deliberately ordered the chapters as a progression, warming up with the simplest concepts and building towards more complex techniques.
“So if readers work their way through it in order, they should gain confidence with each chapter, and feel ready to move on to the next one.”
Technique is as important as having the right utensils.
“Some I read about, some were trial and error, some were inherited and now we can’t live without them, some we sought out because there’s nothing else that does the job better,” Werner says.
“We have a small kitchen so we’re constantly doing a ruthless edit of what gets real estate and whatever tools stay need to earn their keep.”
How do they split the cooking responsibilities?
De Kock offers, “We’re interested in different aspects of cooking, so our skills dovetail nicely I think Nix is more analytical where I’m still more, er, free-form. So I would never tell her how to make a white sauce.”
She adds, “And I would never tell Brandon how to braai. I’m naturally drawn to slow cooking, baking and working with fresh produce, while he loves heat, meat and anything involving a good sense of timing – or a bit of showmanship.
“As a closet origami artist, he’s also incredibly precise, which manifests in his knife skills.”
* Cook. Better. is published by Quivertree Publications and retails for R395.