Serving up chef school skills

Student Jamie-Lee Kashula with Chef Jackie Cameron.

Student Jamie-Lee Kashula with Chef Jackie Cameron.

Published Jul 7, 2024


Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine

Where: 241 Old Howick Road, Hilton

Call: 076 505 7538

“Can I write about your delicious dinner?” I ask student Jamie-Lee Kashula.

“I would like that,” she replies confidently.

I had been invited to the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine for Kashula’s final exam, a four-course dinner for eight people, designed and executed by each student on different evenings.

Around the table is Chef Jackie, who has had no input into tonight’s menu, and is as surprised as her guests by what the students produce. With her is Chef Renzo Hamblin, of Hamblin Catering. They’re marking the food for the evening. Laurie Cooper from Abingdon Wine Estate in the Midlands is here to assess the wine pairing. Molly Staats, from Indigo Fields, is marking the presentation and table decor. Yes, the students have to know how to set the table. And in the kitchen is Chef Christine Burgess checking everything from prep techniques, to time management, hygiene, organisation and costings.

So, no pressure on Kashula.

I’d be a nervous wreck.

Sweet potato and cumin bread with garlic and herb butter and chimichurri.

The student can invite a couple to the dinner, and proud Mom and Dad had flown in from Zim that morning. They wouldn’t miss this for the world.

The students at the school do an 18-month or three-year course. Kashula is doing 18 months. They undergo a year of intensive training at the school. Chef Jackie tells us how when they do scones, the students have to make them every morning until they get them right. Such is the rigour of her training.

It stems from her days at Hartford House. “Some people could only afford to come for a scone, had saved up for tea and scones,” she says. “You made sure they were the best scones they have ever tasted.” It’s the same with pulling a coffee.

Smoked trout symphony with cucumber, avo and smoked paprika and horseradish cream.

The students are then placed at a restaurant for six months’ practical experience and on-the-job mentoring. Kashula was at Epice (meaning spice in French) in Franschhoek where she tells me she learnt exponentially.

They then “come home” to produce their masterpiece.

Braised lamb neck and chicken mousse roulade with mashed potatoes, pea purée, baby carrots and onion fondies.

The first thing that struck Mom and Dad was her confidence when she introduced her bread course. It was a warm sweet potato and cumin bread with herbed garlic butter and chimichurri. A lovely dish. Cumin is a spice that needs to be used lightly, and Kashula got the balance right. I liked that the chimichurri wasn’t heavy with chilli, so you got the hit of fresh parsley. It was something she wanted to share with us from her time at Epice. I thought it paired well with the pink blush of the Waterford Rose-Mary.

Citrus chocolate fusion with mandarin curd, orange meringue, cinnamon namalaka and bitter chocolate sorbet.

Kashula followed up with a smoked trout symphony which was ribbons of smoked trout with fresh cucumber (“for crunch,” she says), avo (“for creaminess”), capers (“for zest”) and a smoked paprika and horseradish cream. Lovely stuff. It was paired with Vrede en Lust riesling, and might have benefited from a dryer white ‒ a good chardonnay perhaps.

The conversation turned to final dinners past, with Laurie telling one story of a student who had ordered too much wine for the dinner. As they get marked on left overs and wastage, his parents now felt obligated to ensure it was all drunk. It sounds like a riot of an evening.

Today, Cameron tells us, the students have proper budgets.

Kashula presents a brave main course, a roulade of pulled braised lamb neck around a chicken mousse. She describes her one moment of nerves rolling it up like a Swiss roll the day before. It came out well, the croquette in a nice crisp crumb, was served with mashed potato, minted pea purée, baby carrots, onion fondies and a good lamb jus. That mouthful of sweet onion pulled the whole dish together. I’m still not sure I’d pair chicken and lamb together, but I enjoyed it. We sipped on a good Fat Bastard cabernet sauvignon.

Two of my favourite dessert ingredients featured in Kashula’s citrus chocolate fusion ‒ a pretty plate with mandarin curd, cinnamon namelake, orange meringue, chocolate tuile, vanilla passion fruit gel and bitter chocolate sorbet. What’s not to like? Daddy thought so too, stealing off Mommy’s plate. Guess what Jamie-Lee is making when she gets home after graduation.

Afterwards Kashula tells me she’d come to the school because she had always wanted to cook. “I went to Peterhouse, did my A levels and came here straight after school. I wanted to learn about it. I didn’t come from a foodie family. My mom doesn’t cook, my dad braais, but doesn’t cook. The first question we were asked is if we know how to make a bechamel. I had no idea what a bechamel was. I didn’t know anything.”

She particularly enjoyed her placement at Epice describing it as the “best thing in my life”.

“It was a woman-dominated team and everyone mentored me so well. Everyone was kind, everyone wanted to help me.” It was there she learnt how to make the bread we had enjoyed so much.

She says the last year was the “hardest year of my life”.

“I was so homesick, I had moved to a different country, I missed my friends. And the course was so intense. I phoned my parents crying ‘I can’t do this’. They said I had to carry on ‒ and I’m very glad I did. Looking back I’ve come such a long way. I couldn’t do what I’ve done today three months ago.”

And her future. “Hopefully I pass,” she says. I assure her there’s no doubt about that. “But after graduation on the 20th I want to spend time with my family before I start university in September at Plymouth studying dietetics and nutrition. I want to learn more ‒ to boost my passion.”

I thank her for a lovely meal.

I apologise to Kashula’s fellow students. I know it’s unfair to focus on one. Chef Jackie will have had the pleasure of 10 such meals, each highly individual, with each student having their own tale of growth and development over the course ‒ from the terror of day 1 to the confidence of producing a gourmet feast.

And I’d probably still be making scones.

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