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African Relish Unique Culinary School and Cooking Courses
Head to the countryside recreational cookery school to get a sumptuous taste of the Karoo
Prince Albert, the quaint Karoo town just four hours away from Cape Town where locals retreat to their homes in the early evening, is the perfect place for languid holidays and weekend retreats. What you don’t realise is that there is so much activity under the roofs; the churches, galleries, restaurants, B&Bs and antique shops, most of them historic buildings that hold fascinating tales and facts about a time or person in our history.
Central to the town’s activity and under one such roof is African Relish, the recreational cookery school and cottages owned by Philip and Lisa Key. “The cooking school developed from experiences that Philip and I had around the world, in Italy, France, New Zealand and Portugal,” says Lisa.When they decided to bring the foodie travel experience to South Africa, it was to Prince Albert, a town abundant in flavours and fresh produce, from the dairy and the meat to the olives and the wine.
The Key’s created the cooking school to offer travellers a culinary Karoo experience. Since 2009, when the kitchen started operating, local and international guests have been booking in for the cooking courses. African Relish offers half, full-day or weekend courses which specialises in, but is not limited to, traditional Karoo cuisine and hosts small and large groups. The cookery school provides Anytime Cooking Courses, perfect for the passing traveller, as well as Scheduled Cooking Courses for which you’d need to book in advance. You can learn how to make classic South African dishes, bake bread, prepare sauces and pickle and preserve among many other cooking activities.
So you would be remiss, even if you were just passing through the Karoo, to not go and play at African Relish.
It all happens at the culinary hall. Though it is a modern, state-of-the-art kitchen, it’s still complimentary to the town’s history and aesthetic. The sunny, airy hall with high walls, is intimate enough for a couple and expansive for groups (it can seat 100). It slides open to the dining room and the organic vegetable and herb garden with a pool and has a cosy nook at the back for winter evenings.
You should come, too, to try out one of the many fascinating courses:
The Anytime Cooking Courses
Anytime cooking courses are available for passing travellers looking to sharpen their cooking and knife skills, but they are really best enjoyed as a group activity with family or friends. So while the avid foodies cook with the chef, others can sit back and chat over the local wine. One can imagine one group laughing with the chef over the counters as they pick up tips on carving meat or julienning vegetables, while the others quaff wine and the kids tumble in the garden or splash in the pool in full view of the adults. Resident chef Jaco Fourie, who used to be sous chef to Reuben Riffel, is a charming host. He teaches anytime of the week, for a half day or full day and even over weekends. “Some people have booked for 10 days or over two weeks,” he says. There are 15 courses on offer, and details can be found on the African Relish website. According to Jaco, some favourites are the Adding Flavour to Food and Karoo Classics cooking courses during which you’ll play with flavours and mix earthy herbs with meat.
The Scheduled Courses
An option to create your own course or book a scheduled course is also available. Vegetarian – A Healthy Life is a full day course loved by vegans and enjoyed by meat eaters, too. It will give you some ideas if you want to introduce some super foods into your diet. Or you can take the Tapas course in the morning and Karoo Classics in the afternoon. Both these classes, like many others, teach you how to play and match-up local flavours. Jaco’s smoked carpaccio starter enjoyed with pickled cucumber (an easy-peasy recipe to repeat at home) is a complementary combo of flavours. So are the lamb chops over roast vegetables. Plus you pick up skills on everything from how to skin hardy vegetables, to chopping, dicing and julienning. The chef gives an interesting twist to a malva pudding dessert that makes all the difference to this South African classic.
Lisa is most pleased that African Relish will be hosting master charcutier Neil Jewell, who will present his first master class in charcuterie on the weekend of the 5th to the 7th of August, where you will learn to cut a whole pig and make pork products. The course will run from Friday lunch to Sunday breakfast. Booking guests will stay at the African Relish cottages. This is one to get in on soon.
Cyclists coming from Johannesburg love the Gourmet Cycle Tours. This is a five-day tour, riders start from anywhere, Johannesburg and Cape Town and when they get to the Karoo, they make African Relish their food base. They get breakfast, but they also get to play in the culinary kitchen and take courses.
Lisa adds that African Relish is developing its own family orientated cycle tour with a culinary focus. “This will take place around Prince Albert with visits to the farmers and producers.” Visit the African Relish website for an update on the dates.
African Relish and Prince Albert is a hot spot both in summer and winter. One of those activities keeping the town buzzing is the Indie Karoo Film Festival, which is in its second year over the weekend of 1st July and 3rd July. African Relish will host a food hub at the school including various stalls.
All of these activities require accommodation; African Relish owns cottages in town. “We had a wedding (they host nuptials, too) take place outside our cottage Akkedis,” says Lisa. Akkedis is one of four cottages the Key’s own, all just a walk away from the African Relish culinary hall. It sleeps four; Doringbos and Deurdrift 1 sleep two and Deurdrift 2 accommodates three.
All of them reflect the simplicity and architecture of the Karoo in the exterior, and you’ll appreciate the attention to decor detail when you enter into their coolness away from the Karoo heat. Lisa is as proud of the accommodation, furnished using local craft and designers with the help of her friend Jacques Erasmus of Hemelhuijs restaurant in Cape Town. “He is incredibly talented. He was my choice to help us develop the kitchen. He then helped with the décor. It’s all local aesthetic. We’re not trying to be something else.”
Neither is the Karoo, which is why any visit to African Relish or Prince Albert has to last a weekend or more. Not just because they allow you to experience delectable cuisine but simply because there is so much history there – and food.
Tip: Make a meal out of your trip and stay longer. You can custom-make your classes and choose as many as you like and use the non-cooking hours to explore Prince Albert. Don’t leave town without having Old Eden’s Lemon Ice Cream and driving over the majestic Swartberg Mountain.
Bill: Half-day courses are R750 per person and come with lunch or dinner. For full day courses the cost is R1250, including lunch and dinner. The cost for the cottages can start from R500 per person per night, depending on the cottage, to R1500 for a full cottage sleeping four guests.
Eager to read more about other quirky and cool spots? Here’s the lowdown on Awesome and Unusual Places to Stay in Cape Town and Surrounds.
Also, if you have been inspired to try something new in the kitchen, check out our Cape Malay Biryani recipe.
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