Chef Cass Abrahams
Of all the chefs in South Africa, Cass Abrahams is possibly one of the most legendary. Self-taught, she is the ultimate master of Cape Malay cooking. Often described as the “queen of spices”, Cass grew up in Halfway House in in the 60’s where she was not exposed to cooking. ‘Nobody cooked back then. Even my mother couldn’t cook to save her life!’ she laughs. ‘It was only when I got married and saw the passion for Cape Malay cooking in my husband’s community that I knew I had to learn how to cook like them… and better.’ Her chief inspiration was her mother-in-law, and Cass spent ‘lots of time in the kitchen and hours reading food books’, all of which no doubt paid off. She has cooked all over the world, consulted to numerous restaurants and authored two exceptional books.
Spekko Rice asked her some questions:
Spekko: What is your favourite local ingredient?
Cass Abrahams: One my most favourite local ingredient is Waterblommetjies which I love because it is so South African and not found anywhere else on earth. Because it is a Khoisan food, it speaks to me about the history and the heritage of our country.
SP: What would you cook when the days are dark and everybody needs a lifting of the spirits?
CA: I would cook a soup on a dark depressing day. A thick vegetable soup a freshly baked bread and butter lifts the spirit, warms the heart and fill the house with tantalising aromas. Makes you think of your Grandmother’s table on a cold dark depressing day and wants to make you sing.
SP: What is your family’s favourite everyday dish?
CA: Anything served with rice, because rice is the staple food of the Cape Malays and nothing is as nice as a curry and rice or a bredie served with rice. I consider these as true soul foods. They are what I call “huiskos.”
SP: What would you eat in Paris if budget were no issue?
CA: In Paris I visited the castle of Versailles and had lunch at a tiny restaurant where the chef was a very elderly woman and her elderly husband was the waiter. I ordered a dish called Pot au feu which turned out to be beef simmered in an aromatic broth. A very simple dish but the flavours of the broth made my toes curl with such delight that as I am typing this, I can still taste the flavour and love in the dish. I would order this dish again if ever I should go to Paris in the future.
CA: This was my best meal ever.
SP: Your personal best recipe ever?
CA: My personal best recipe is the one for a Biryani which I received from the Cape Malay community and which I have refined and twisted to make my own.
SP: Favourite restaurant here in South Africa?
CA: My favourite restaurant is a small Thai restaurant in Claremont where I eat the most delicious dumplings and crispy duck breasts. It is called Hongs.
SP: Your greatest achievement?
CA: My greatest achievement is having my children who are also my greatest loves.
SP: If not cooking, what are your “hobbies”?
CA: My hobbies are experimenting with flavours in food, reading and watching TV.
SP: Your favourite author – fiction?
CA: I love reading autobiographies. My favourite authors are those who write “who-dunnit” fiction, as well as crime fiction eg Patricia Cornwall
SP: The most underrated ingredient in local cuisine?
CA: The most underrated ingredient in local cuisine is Allspice which I use in nearly every dish I cook.