What’s cooking with Ernie?
Durban - Billy Suter talks to golfing great Ernie Els, owner of Durban’s popular Big Easy restaurant at the Hilton Hotel.
Where he talks about his food and drink likes and dislikes, and what he gets up to in the kitchen.
What meal is your favourite - and what is your least favourite?
My favourite meal is steak. Least favourite? That’s a bit trickier because I like most things. I’d say anchovies. I definitely avoid those.
What is your first food memory?
My mom’s home cooking, specifically her oxtail. They’re happy memories. My brother Dirk and I used to eat so much when we were growing up that she almost couldn’t make the plates big enough.
As a child did you ever develop a taste for unusual foods or unusual combinations of foods?
I used to love scrambled eggs on toast with a blob of strawberry jam on the top.
What’s the first thing you ever cooked?
“Choppies on the braai - very happy memories. Thinking about it, not much has changed since then.”
What is the dish you tend to cook most often?
Steak on a braai. As I said, that’s my favourite meal in the world.
What do you like and/or dislike about attending dinner parties?
I’m okay with dinner parties. Obviously, you want a nice crowd in there and to have a bit of fun. If it gets real quiet, I’m not so keen on that.
What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?
There have been a few, but I’ve learnt my strengths and my limitations, so you’ll only find me in charge of the braai these days.
What has been your biggest culinary success?
You won’t be surprised to hear that all my culinary successes have me standing at the braai. It’s something I enjoy doing, cooking for the family or for my buddies; enjoying a few beers or a bottle of quality red wine. That’s the good life, man.
How serious a wine fundi are you, and what is your favourite tipple?
“I’m very serious about my wine; it’s a passion of mine and, of course, also a serious business for me.
We’re producing some wonderful wines at Ernie Els Wines in Stellenbosch and that’s always my go-to choice, especially our signature wine, a Bordeaux-style blend based on cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
We’ve won quite a few awards with that one. If I had to choose something else, it would be a top-quality red wine from the Napa Valley in California.
What kitchen utensil can you simply not live without?
A steak knife … but you probably guessed that already!
What’s the most kitsch thing in your kitchen?
Not really my department, but honestly I don’t think my wife, Liezl, does kitsch.
What are some foods you simply refuse to try?
None. I’ll try any food once.
What is your favourite restaurant in Durban and what do you usually order there?
The Big Easy Winebar & Grill, obviously. We pride ourselves on the quality of the steaks. I’ll take the “Big Easy” burger any day, as well. That always hits the spot.
Fave cooking ingredient?
What marks the most memorable meal you’ve had?
That’s a tough question. Travelling as much as I have these past 25 years I’ve been fortunate to enjoy just about every cuisine under the sun, beautiful food from all around the world. It’s one of the biggest perks of the job we do.
Who is your favourite celebrity cook?
Don’t have one … but one of my favourite restaurants is in the US - the Key Grill in Palm Beach, Florida. They make a spectacular grilled Chilean sea bass, with sauces on the side.
What do you rate as the sexiest of all foods?
They say oysters, don’t they? I’m not really a fan, to be honest.
What do you tip in restaurants?
I’m a good tipper. I really dislike meanness.
Have you/would you send a dish back at a restaurant if you were not happy with it?
It would have to be pretty bad, but yes I’d send something back, or maybe just order something else. I wouldn’t make a big deal of it. Anything with anchovies would definitely go back, though.
I would have to go for chocolate ice cream.