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Cyrus Todiwala in South Africa – Postcard from the Chef

11 December 2009
Cyrus Todiwala in South Africa – Postcard from the Chef

In the second of our series featuring postcards from top industry names, Cyrus Todiwala, proprietor and executive chef of Café Spice Namasté, London, gives a first-hand account of his trip to Durban, South Africa, where he took part in the city's second Good Food and Wine Show.

This summer, a group of fellow "masterchefs" and I travelled to South Africa to participate in the Good Food and Wine Show in Durban. I was struck by the warmth and enthusiasm of the attendees, the fine organisation, and, when it was over, the supreme luxury of the bush.

This was only the second year that the Good Food and Wine Show was held in Durban. It's already hugely popular in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Unfortunately, the normal frontman and undisputed "King Pin", of the shows, chef Brian Turner, couldn't be there this year.

However, our UK team had another pin-up boy and a real crowd-puller in Reza Mohammad from the Star of India on London's Old Brompton Road. Apart from Reza, the UK was represented by Mike Robinson, Arthur Potts-Dawson and me. Together with a host of other chefs from South Africa, we were determined to do our bit to make the show a success.

Having been to Cape Town before and knowing how good and well-organised these shows are, I thought I knew more or less what to expect. However, Durban blew me away with its warmth, hugely passionate public and overwhelming foodie enthusiasts. In short, the show was a great success.

Sitting at the helm of it all is Christine Cashmore of Gourmet SA (www.gourmetsa.co.za) who runs the company along with her daughter. They have a fantastic, totally dedicated team and their shows are something that people really look forward to.

Chefs like us enjoy very good coverage through these events and with that comes a certain celebrity status, which the crowd simply loves and laps up. It's quite different from the UK, where the "super celebs" dominate to the extent that other chefs and talents don't often get the opportunity to surface to show off their skills or enjoy the publicity and exposure they deserve.

Despite all the publicity, one has to realise that going to and cooking at one of these shows is no light matter and, contrary to what people presume, it's no holiday! There is a seriously hectic workload and the crowds are hungry for your knowledge. They want to share and digest it. Never is a demo undersold and never is the theatre or demo area filled with people not hanging on your every word.


KEPT INTERESTING

The show is kept interesting by Christine and her gang. You can imagine going into a food show and finding the same stalls over and over again, the same vendors, the same tricks each year - but not here! On top of all the usual products and vendors, there were least six to eight cookery demo areas where events ranged from food demos and classes for coffee brewing, drinks mixing and cocktail making, to gardening tips.

The crowds are kept entertained across the halls and this is indeed a great day out, with success displayed at its best all around you.

I was overwhelmed by the crowds and their enthusiasm and interest in all I did. The pressure is really on and at times you do feel totally exhausted, like I did one day when I had eight back-to-back sessions from demos to hands-on classes. By the time evening came, a massage was my only refuge. A cab hauled me straight to the spa.

But it's the South African people that I really gained a deep respect and affection for. Friendliness is common, with smiling faces everywhere, and their love of food and knowledge is amazing. The affection that pours out for what little you can give them is unthinkable here in the UK.

Durban, of course, has a huge expat Indian community - some fifth and sixth generation or more - but their affinity is immense and their "South Africanisation" is wondrous for someone like me to see. "Oh! I do not eat beef but I eat kudu and venison and buffalo and other game but no rabbits - how can you eat rabbits?" They have evolved very well while still adhering to their cultural background.

It's also a pleasure to have an audience that can be inspired but that challenges you, too. The organisation, the immaculate planning, the execution of a well-greased machine and then the great people you cook for and meet - it all makes for a wonderful experience.

Sadly, one never gets enough time to truly visit a place when the object of your visit is work, but we had the most magnificent reward at the end of our stint in Durban.

AMAZING EXPERIENCE

A three-night stay at "Thanda", the award-winning private game reserve, three-and-a-half hours drive out of Durban: it was an amazing experience, but you need to look at it (www.thanda.com) to understand where I'm coming from. This place is a dream resort with fabulous facilities and a reserve as wild as you could wish it to be.

It is most definitely a gem in the heart of wild land and an absolute asset to the hospitality industry. In one 11,000-hectare piece of land you are at once in tune with nature in all its glory and with absolute five star luxury! This is an intelligently and well thought-out respite from urban life, created with love and affection and much thought for the most important person there - you.

The staff here stick true to the ethos of the name "Thanda" which, in Zulu, means love, and are ever-ready to please you and serve you to the best of their ability. It took me straight back to the Goa of old, when everyone there dwelled on friendly and first-class service with total dedication to the needs of the customer. Nothing is too much and there is no scurrying about or rush. It's all done so that you realise that you are firstly on a break and winding down is the key. I would recommend all my industry colleagues to experience this for themselves just so I don't go on and on.

Anyway, as always I yearn to return to Britain after a while, knowing full well that all the great memories will become a blur just as soon as you begin to think of, let alone actually return to, work. But would I have it any other way, scurrying about frantically from pillar to post trying desperately hard to get and stay on top of it all? Probably not!

Do you have a postcard to share? If so, please e-mailjames.stagg@rbi.co.uk

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