Candles and red bric-a-brac create a festive air. Pictures: Diane de Beer
Candles and red bric-a-brac create a festive air. Pictures: Diane de Beer
Red tomato lollies served by Emily Vosloo.
Red tomato lollies served by Emily Vosloo.
Warming the heart and the soul with tomato macchiato.
Warming the heart and the soul with tomato macchiato.
Chef Renette Vosloo. Picture: Diane de Beer
Chef Renette Vosloo. Picture: Diane de Beer
A sweet trifle to share.
A sweet trifle to share.

Pretoria - Anyone who is familiar with Renette Vosloo and her Red Tomato brand, will be thrilled to hear she’s back in town and popping up all over the place with her Red Tomato Supper Club.

This passionate self-taught chef started her public food journey 20 years ago in Middelburg when she cooked at home and invited everyone in town to come to her (popup) “restaurant”.

She’s come full circle. The Red Tomato Supper Club is now travelling all over Pretoria – and you could even host her in your home.

The first Red Tomato opened in Cullinan a few years ago. She moved to Pretoria with her husband Emile and their three children. “I always want to involve the children,” she says – and even with some “out of the house”, it’s still a priority.

Her Pretoria Red Tomato’s final destination was in their Brooklyn home before they moved to the Cape for two years. In that time, Renette was on a steep learning curve improving her skills. She started a Red Tomato in the CBD, but as is the case all over the country, people didn’t want to travel into town for food.

Then she cooked for the dynamic Naomi Heselman at Searle’s Trading Post in Greyton but she was living in Stellenbosch with her family and the travelling became too hectic. In-between she worked at a hotel and was sent to their guest house in Stellenbosch to cook a meal for 50 people. “I wondered who was coming along,” she says. But she discovered she had to do it herself, and found out she could!

Most of her Cape Town experiences were in other kitchens which she hadn’t done before but she kept learning and developing. Sunday popup lunches on a Stellenbosch wine farm was another bonus – and finally Renette’s children persuaded her to enter for the KykNet Kokkedoor competition in which professional chefs are paired with something they call an onthou (recall) or a home chef. “I’m neither of those.””

For the first competition, the entry dish was a twist on boerekos – and she wanted to do a steak tartare with sausage meat. Only when she was encouraged to audition a second time, not having made the cut at first, did she discover the importance of the self-promoting essay to accompany her entry.

This time she rocked up with a quartet of bizarre puddings – all reworked. And it worked. She was into a competition that only recently finished with Renette part of the latest cookery book Kokkedoor Versamelresepte edited by Errieda du Toit (Human and Rousseau, R265).

She learned a lot and picked up some handy prizes like a Defy stove, Le Creuset pots and a stay at the Sun City Palace. “I discovered that I could bite my tongue and hold back,” she notes as she reminisces about times when she was too quick to react. “I can also cope under pressure.”

She also knows now that it took her longer to understand the competitive game. “I could have done better,” she says. Her visibility has risen and she’s been presenting on television with short food demos.

As for her return to the capital city, she shares, “I’ve always loved the popup concept,” and when you look back at her career, much of what she’s been doing is exactly that. “I don’t for example want to be bothered with wine. I want people to bring their own. The meal at this point in time costs R300 and I’m not currently looking at changing that,” she says, even though diners have encouraged her to ask more.

But she knows how difficult it is to market yourself out there.

The concept is one that she hopes will “pay forward”. We were at a Groenkloof home last Saturday. “Mostly it is the hostess’s friends, but then they are encouraged to ask their friends so that you have people who know one another and some who don’t.”

The ideal is that someone at the party might suggest to the chef that her house is next in line.

How does that work though? “Some kitchens are small; others don’t have big ovens,” she says. So the first thing she does before planning a menu is to visit the premises. “You want to find the best way to present the best meal,” she says.

The dinner we attended was a Christmas in July. It started with a yummy eggnog and funky tomato toffee apples with a basil cream cheese that immediately raised a festive mood. They were smart, but tasty. It was followed by a rich tomato macchiato, normally an espresso with some foamed milk but reworked here as a soup.

Renette has always been an interactive chef. “I like getting involved with the people and the food I present,” she explains. Kokkedoor took this a step further. “I’ve been made more aware of shared and interactive food,” she says, both of which were part of the night’s menu. It’s good to hear a chef talk about the food, how she got to a specific dish, the changes and what she was thinking.

The mains were still a dot on the horizon and the first meaty morsel of the night was duck liver parfait with a smoked tomato jelly. The fact that tomatoes starred had to do both with her brand but also the Christmas theme. A salmon mousse quenelle in a heightened prawn bisque completed this part of the menu – which was really delicious and adventurous with diverse tastes.

As always, Renette’s food scored high when talking to the tastebuds. Even better, she’s added to her presentation skills that which emphasised her particular brand.

Her food has always had an earthiness about it, but now she has found a way to up her game without moving into the fine dining stratosphere. “That’s not who I am,” she explains. And she’s right. Her food is about bringing people together. It’s joyous, which reflects her personality.

Turning to one of her favourites for mains, French classic cooking, cassoulet was her counter to the chilly weather. Emile had shot a rooibok the week before which she smoked in tea and hay to accomplish very specific qualities.

She mixed this with duck and a boerewors chorizo. She also added mock gammon by smoking pork shanks. This became the interactive bit of the night, as someone at a table had to carve. This was served with potato and pear croquettes and broccoli made two ways; a puree and steamed with sesame seeds.

It was a spectacular meal concluding sweetly with a dessert for two (shared) of magnificently flavoured trifle with hints of rose water, sherry and pomegranate.

She was surrounded by family, her husband and youngest daughter Emily who was a waitress, and in her element. At some stage during the evening, the dog of this particular home also got a special bone. That’s simply who Renette is and why her food is served and savoured with such generosity.

For more information on Renette’s popups, go to her Facebook page by typing Renette Vosloo on Google. It’s fantastic value for money, tingles the tastebuds and offers yet another delightful food escapade.

Diane de Beer, Pretoria News