Book Review: Mile 8 by David Higgs

March 26th, 2019 § 1 comment § permalink

“AG NEE FOK!” I thought as I fanned through Mile 8. “Wow. Thank you,” I said to my husband who looked extremely pleased with his choice of gift. We watched two seasons of My Kitchen Rules together and at some point during every episode I’d chime in with “David Higgs has a very delicate touch. Incredible palate.” So, why the cloudy face?

Because how am I supposed to pull THIS off in a plaaskombuis?

After Bolognese, pork neck and red cabbage marshmallows is my go-to easy weeknight supper.

With no Thermomix, sous vide machine or dehydrator in sight. What even IS iota carrageenan, I wondered? And can I harvest chlorophyll* straight from the garden? Because I think my local might be out of stock.

I have always admired David Higgs for the restrained elegance of his food. Impeccable technique, superbly balanced flavours and the right note of acidity to ensure the meal rests well in the body. Mile 8 is a true reflection of David’s artistry as a chef. The styling and photography is exquisite but – to the home cook – the cumulative effect could be daunting. It is definitely a book that every young chef (and a few older ones) should have.

Less is moreish

I took a deep breath and started reading. What a good decision that was.  You really should not skip the intro titled A WORD OF ADVICE (READ THIS). Decades of experience condensed into a few pages of common sense, plus encouragement to use the recipes as guidelines. Thank you, chef. Fly the foam and sponge if you like, add elements and plate to your own preference.

Yes, I thought, I’ll make the carrot cake. Except it will be plain and round and smothered in cream cheese frosting. And perhaps some pineapple crisps while I’m at it?** Which I’d normally never do. Let’s be honest, I don’t really bake. But I was feeling oddly inspired.  A possible side-effect of reading books that punch above one’s culinary weight?

 

David’s carrot cake with pineapple sorbet, dehydrated pineapple, carrot foam and carrot dust.

 

Reconstructed, suburban-style. There’s a delicious David Higgs carrot cake under all that icing. I would never, ever ice a ring of bread rolls just for the camera. NEVER!

The book is an interesting read, which allowed me to chill about my lack of ingredients/equipment/courage to perfectly recreate a complete recipe from Mile 8. And then I hit the Fundamentals section. The book has over 90 dishes and 150 recipes, with Fundamentals consisting of roughly 60 concise recipes. From favourites like vetkoek to recipes requiring a bloody siphon gun bit more skill. It is a lovely collection of what should ideally become kitchen staples. Who doesn’t want caper mustard, lemon gel, pork crackling powder or salmon trout skin crisp on hand to add a pop of flavour and some cheffy shine to what you’re making.

At second, third and fourth glance it all seemed a lot less intimidating. Snoek with patat, vetkoek and mom’s apricot jam sounds completely doable, right? Ditto the lamb neck with dumplings and onion. If you want, you could go the extra 8 Miles and make spiced pumpkin brûlée with grilled pumpkin, chiffonade leek and granadilla dressing.

Fortunately I’m not much of a dessert person.

Buy the book if you want to know more about David and his food journey. I’ll share three of the things that stood out for me:

  • He really, really loves eggs so I’m taking all the egg advice on board.
  • During his “salad years” as a young chef he used to wolf down Hartlief’s meat salad or fleischsalat – a mayo-based mixture of cold cuts – which makes perfect sense for a Namibian boy in the big city. This reminded me of all the Hartlief meat salad I stuffed into salzstangen over the years. And now I’m craving German polonie cold cuts in mayo.
  • Reading about Marble’s start is humbling and inspiring. Tempering the beast that is open fire proved more challenging than anticipated. At one point the grill team had to wear special cooling vests with ice pockets.

It’s a beautiful book and I have apologised to my husband for my less-than-enthusiastic initial response. Recipes have been segmented in a clever way that enables the cherry-picking of components. Each chapter introduces a different phase of David’s life, followed by the corresponding recipes. I like the separation of stories and recipes as it can be distracting to pick through memories when you’re navigating your way about a recipe.

Mile 8 is a work of hardcore, professional perfectionism. I had to weigh the eggs for the carrot cake as the recipe calls for 75g whole eggs, which I now know is roughly two standard eggs. I’m going to take my time with this book and use it to push myself a bit. Or a lot. And I might ring Wild Peacock to ask if they’ve got iota carrageenan.

* Yes! You can make your own chlorophyll (see p. 319 for recipe).

** No, I didn’t use David’s recipe for Dehydrated Pineapple because I don’t have 24 hours to dry pineapple at exactly 54 degrees. Hence my floppy Pineapple Crisps (I need to change my attitude or this book will whip me).

Mile 8 – A Book About Cooking (R550) available online and at good bookstores.

Do I look bloggered?

December 7th, 2011 § 15 comments § permalink

I haven’t blogged for so long I damn near forgot my password. So I went to Barcelona, ate at some fine restaurants, did the write-ups and stepped away from the machine. I could say it’s because I discovered I was totally iron-deficient and only ate liver, spinach, steak and almonds for a month. Or that I was hopelessly in love for the first time in centuries and turned into the oldest teenager on the block. Or maybe it’s just that I had the one under-whelming restaurant experience after the other.

How pretentious. Go overseas, eat at a couple of great restaurants and now nothing here is good enough? Not quite. It’s just that when I started this blog, restaurant reviews weren’t really going to feature. Due to my involvement with the Expresso Show on SABC3 that changed. The blog became restaurant review-driven. But successive mediocre over-priced meals started chipping away at my initial resolve to not bitch about other people’s efforts.

Now I feel like a cheap vacuum cleaner stuck in a corner. The following must be said.

I am totally gatvol of pseudo fine dining. It’s like a hologram of the real thing. Except for the prices. They are very real. An assemblage of decor, verbose menus, flavourless and overly engineered plated ‘elements’ that add jazz-hands visual appeal with no integrity. I feel so cheated when I eat this crap. It’s the food equivalent of Hong Kong Vuitton. And I don’t even like Vuitton. I know the South African public is gullible and tourists go far far away soon after they’ve been ripped off…

But enough of that. Unlike the predictable big five list of usual suspects that feature on too many mains menus. Hmm…. let me guess: duck, pork belly, springbok, linefish and steak. What do they do with the rest of that pig because everyone is so stuck on pork belly these days. With star anise and five spice? Now where have I seen that before….  EVERYWHERE!

Why is this getting to me now? Am I eating out too much? Probably. Which accounts for most of the bitterbek food critics out there. They’re just not hungry enough. For the record, I’m very happy with simple food, done well. The key is honesty. Walk your talk. Which brings me to my next point. Talk. I know food is bigger than sex these days and chefs are the new rock stars but try and be more like a drummer than a lead guitarist, okay. Just a thought. You never know when humble pie is served again.

Am I done, am I done? No. Dammit. It’s almost too easy to take potshots at waiters in this country but this deserves a mention. I recently ordered shrimp cakes with an avocado salad as a main. Cakes. That’s plural, right? Shrimp. Undefined multitude, maybe? I received one large family-sized viskoek. Shrimp are small, I know. And they come frozen and devoid of mega flavour. But they’re cheap so given the price of the koek (R95) I expected it to be packed tighter than a bulimic’s tuck box.

The koek consisted of kingklip and mashed potato with max 5 fingernail-sized shrimp. I was disappointed. When I inquired as to the whereabouts of the shrimp in my shrimp cake, I was told by a slow and overly-familiar waitress that I should be grateful for the abundance of fresh kingklip in my cake. This pearl of eschewed logic was delivered as she spun her weighty self around on challenged ankles. To illustrate how silly I am? THIS IS NOT A GAME OF WHOTHEFUCKAREYOU I felt like shouting at her. Bring the shrimp.

 

Exhibit A: half a cake splayed open to reveal its shrimp content

 

Another attempt at shaming her into admitting that the dish was a farce resulted in an explanation that the shrimp was chopped finely to ‘spread the flavour’. Micro-science is alive and well in Seapoint. No, I don’t want a complimentary dessert. Bring me a drink.

I first coined the term food fraud in Stellenbosch in the mid-nineties when I ordered a toasted baguette with mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and basil and got a floppy supermarket hot dog roll with cheddar cheese and tomato, microwaved to a radio-active pulp and then artfully wrapped in tin foil to resemble a giant metal sweetie.

I hate it when pretty words pimp nasty food.

Like a dessert I had at an otherwise nice establishment in Constantia recently. Don’t you think ‘Thyme brioche with lemon cream, blood orange jelly and meringue’ sounds nice? I did. An interesting departure from the usual dessert line-up which always includes some death-by-chocolate tart or fondant, pannacotta and/or crème brûlée and a berry mess.

 

Exhibit B: Trifle with borderline personality disorder

 

In the words of the late great Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this? Scatterlings of dry left-over breakfast brioche with not a hint of thyme, instant pudding-like custard with a limey twang, rock hard segments of blood orange jelly and the inexplicable addition of micro greens as garnish. Bwegh. As mentioned, this is an otherwise nice establishment so one can only hope this colourfast flavour-conundrum soon finds its way to the recipes-never-to-be-repeated file.

Does it feel good to get my bitch on? Not really. I’d rather have good food. I stopped blogging at about the same time Another Damned Food Blog appeared. It’s hilarious. An anonymous author rips into everything that’s fake, faddy and fraudulent in the food industry. No, it’s not me. I’ve been asked a few times and though flattered (bitch can write) I would never use the word fuck so much. Because I know like…you know, lots of words, like, adjectives and shit.

 

O where was I where was I… am I done? NO!!! How could I forget?! Cookbooks. Dear Lord! Please save us from the tsunami of mediocre google-cut-and-paste easy-as-microwave-pie bullshit books hitting the shelves roundabout now to fill the Christmas stockings of unsuspecting folk that really don’t need another potato bake recipe. I recently looked at a food author’s work and got the sneaky feeling a brief sleuth session on google would deliver most of her recipes, with minor adjustments. I didn’t bother. I did however bother to make a dish from a recently launched cookbook by one of our very own celebrity chefs. Much like Anthony Bourdain’s most recent literary offering Medium Rare, I got the feeling this chef was prompted by his handlers to produce a cookbook because it would be the money-savvy thing to do, rather than the expression of a soul brimming with culinary inspiration. I made a lamb knuckle dish that asks for 100g sugar to 600g of knuckle. What the… protein rich malva pudding? All I’m saying is people are gonna wise up. So surf this wave of indiscriminate consumption but just keep an eye on the rapidly approaching shoreline.

Funny how the guys at the top – apart from being really good because they are simply propelled to care more, try harder – usually don’t indulge add-on fuckery. Thanks David Higgs for creating a truly delicious and well-priced menu at your new joint in Joburg, thanks Bertus Basson for keeping it rock and roll real, thanks George Jardine for your individualistic flavour profile, thanks Richard Carstens for being the bravest food dreamer, thanks Luke Dale Roberts for spinning the funk into fine dining (your gourmand menu remains top of my bucket list), thanks Kobus van der Merwe for your articulate take on our orphaned food history, thanks to the Italian family who own Asta la Pasta because I eat there more than anywhere else, thanks Toerie from Umami for the best lunches in town, thanks Baker family from Wild Peacock for being real time food heroes, thanks Margot Janse for being the only woman to have truly given the boys a run for their money. There are many more… especially cooks rather than chefs, that feed us nicely.

Cheers to you

 

Your ever-lovin Kitchen Vixen