Talker, actor, writer and joke-machine Melt Sieberhagen talks kitchen melt-downs, flavour fiestas and why bacon should get back to basics. A generous host, he insists any injury-by-artichoke would be unintentional. Also, it is now officially official: Peppadews are not cool.
What is your favourite flavour combination? I’m a total sucker for bold, powerful flavours. And combining them. Strong umami and savoury tastes. The sharp chilli, garlic and ginger in a fresh stir fry, enhanced with a big dash of soy sauce. A feisty vinaigrette, pickles, olives…
What is your most cherished food memory? Walking into a little shop in China Town, San Francisco. The meal was one of my first encounters with proper dim sum, but there was something about the shop itself. The smell of dried fish, buckets full of tofu and hundreds of other unknown spices and ingredients permeating everything. It immediately reminded me of the exact same smell in the Chinese supermarkets in Cyrildene, Johannesburg. So there I was – in a wonderfully new and strange place, feeling strangely comforted and at home because of the familiarity of a smell I’ve experienced only once or twice before, only a lot closer to home.
What food scares you the most? Artichokes. Love ‘em. Hate preparing them. Always afraid I’m going to kill someone with a sharp fistful of thorny bits that I didn’t scoop out.
Which cheese do you most identify with? Goats milk pecorino.
Who are your food heroes? The lady who wrote Kook en Geniet. And Sannie Smit. Her kitchen encyclopedia has helped me try many a new dish/ingredient and lay the groundwork for some experimenting.
What would you say to bacon? Thank you. Thank you very much. Stay perfect – just the way you are. Don’t change. I prefer you salty. Don’t let people smother you in syrup or powdered sugar and stuff.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself as a dinner party host? Having no real appetite when it comes to sitting down and eating. After tasting and fussing and rushing and cooking, I usually just want to sag into a soft, comfy chair. The sense of accomplishment almost overwhelms the experience itself. Although, it’s a great opportunity to just sit back and experience the joy of your food being enjoyed.
What is the trait you most deplore in dinner party guests? Egging me on to eat while I just want to sit back and catch my breath (see above).
What is your favourite food moment in a film? There’s definitely something about the way Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) tackles a Big Kahuna Burger in Pulp Fiction. Also the common connoisseur’s touch goes into The Big Lebowski’s White Russians.
Most recently Fading Gigolo has a lovely scene in which a young Jewish widow teaches her suitor/date/escort how to perfectly bone and fillet a freshly grilled, kosher fish.
What is your most embarrassing kitchen moment?
I still get incredibly angry whenever I burn anything. It seems so basic and entry-level stupid. In front of an audience, I’d have to say the time I flipped a snoek on the braai (with quite a flourish) and the snoek came flying out of the grill. It landed on the freshly-mowed lawn and was covered in little blades of grass.
What do you consider the most overrated ingredients? Sundried tomatoes and Peppadews.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse while eating? “I should have ordered/had….” I get serious menu envy.
What do you regret eating? Sweet carrots. Ever.
What is your current state of stomach? Full and Happy. It was Trinchado night.
What is your essential kitchen utensil? A whisk. Being in the six month limbo between moving to a new city and waiting for my kitchenware to arrive, I’ve made do with a lot of substitutes. But there’s no substitute for a whisk. I now own a brand new one.
What is your most treasured drink? A Bloody Mary. Just the way my dad makes it.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of over-indulgence? Any stuff-yourself-eat-all-you-can buffet. It’s horrible to see loads of bland and mediocre versions of singularly great dishes just rolled out and gobbled up for the sake of quantity.
Who is your favourite TV chef? Gordon Ramsay. For his personality. Heston Blumenthal for his technique. And I’ll always look back fondly on Keith Floyd. Anybody who could drink that much on the job and still do it well, deserves some respect.
What is the quality you most admire in a steak? Flavour and texture.
What is the quality you most admire in a salad? Ingenuity and surprise.
What food or drink do you feel most guilty about? It takes a lot to make me feel guilty. So it is never the actual food or drink that inspires guilt. It’s the quantity.
What is your motto in the kitchen? At the moment (and until I move into a bigger space) it’s “Excuse me…”
Watch Melt in DIS – a new food program on Via TV showcasing cool food from around the country. That’s channel 147 at 7.30 pm every Wednesday evening, starting tonight. Trust me, he’s funny. I’m also in it. Hashtagjustsaying
*The Prost! Questionnaire is this Kitchen Vixen’s tongue in cheeky version of Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire. The Prost! Questionnaire therefore belongs to me, unless Vanity Fair objects, in which case it will be theirs.