Chef Karen Hart
Our chef of the month, Karen Hart, has a tasty chicken recipe for every day of the year. Author of “Toor met Hoender”, food editor at Kuier magazine, and successful blogger of Toorkombuis.co.za, Karen is a household name among foodies.
We sat down with Karen to find out when her passion for food began. Read the full interview, below:
Spekko: When and what was your first culinary effort?
Karen Hart: I was a late starter – my mom liked to have the kitchen to herself. But then I had to learn quickly, when my mom had a serious back operation and I took over her duties at 14.
I tried to impress my dad one night after he’d returned from a hospital visit. I made him “Sneeu-eiers” (Snow eggs) from one of my mom’s recipe books. You cut a hole in a slice of bread; fit the yolk in that hole and make a meringue with the egg whites to spread over the bread. Then you bake it. It was disastrous to say the least. The yolk was still raw and the meringue burnt black. My culinary effort ended up in the rubbish bin and I made my dad plain scrambled eggs on toast.
SP: How did food become your passion? And at what moment did you know that food was your future?
KH: I’ve been fascinated with the kitchen and food ever since I can remember. My grandmother had an Aladdin’s cave of a pantry that she kept locked. She carried the keys on a band around her wrist. The pantry had the most delicious dried fig cakes, dried peaches, milk tarts from aunt Issy, and a cake ordered from the bakery. I think that it’s also because my mom tried to keep me out of the kitchen that my fascination for food grew.
I realised that food was my future when I started my blog ten years ago. I was inspired by the novel “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell, long before the novel became a movie featuring Meryl Streep as the inimitable Julia Child. Before then I was basically a closet cook, forcing my efforts on friends and family and waking up in the middle of the night to try out a new recipe before work.
SP: Who inspired you to become a chef?
KH: I cannot really name one person – I was influenced by so many. Ouma Drienie, my father’s mother, let me help her in the kitchen. She died when I was only eight years old. My aunt Minnie was famous for her cookies and biscuits and my cousin sent me some of her mother’s recipes.
I was also really inspired by Keith Floyd who hosted one of the first cooking shows I ever saw. I loved how he made the most of his ingredients and focused on flavour.
SP: How did you become Kuier Magazine’s Food Editor?
KH: Willem Breytenbach, the former manager of Family magazines, saw my blog and when the new magazine was launched, he challenged me to freelance as Food Editor. I was quite scared and reluctant to, but I’m so thankful that he was willing to take a chance on me.
Tell us more about Toorkombuis, and all its inhabitants.
KH: Toorkombuis has 18 miniature kitchen witches watching over me from the walls and shelves. Maswazi is my right hand man. I met him rummaging through my garbage and now he’s almost like a son to me. And then there is the beautiful Zuki, whose smile can brighten up the darkest day. Maswazi and I watch and smile as she dazzles the delivery guys. And, of course, Chef Sagrys, the cat who is fascinated by everything in the kitchen and loves, loves, loves chicken and fresh cream.
It’s important that my kitchen exudes an atmosphere of peace and harmony – you can’t cook and bake surrounded by negative vibes. I also work on myself to try and find beauty and happiness in the smallest of things around me.
Some of Karen’s Kitchen Witches watching over her…
SP: What about your baking and market activities?
KH: I bake for several shops – mostly Romany Creams and ginger snaps. I make nougat, Turkish Delight, marshmallows and a selection of sweet breads, cookies and mini cakes for my table at The Market at The Palms in Woodstock.
My Moroccan Lemon and Rosemary Cake is quite popular and so are the decadent chocolate blocks I make. I love the market – it’s not only business; I love chatting to people about the things I bake and sharing my passion.
Karen with her delicious sweet treats at The Market at The Palms…
SP: What is your favourite local ingredient?
KH: I have so many favourites, but Amasi and coarse maize meal top the list.
SP: What would you cook when the days are dark and everybody needs a lifting of the spirits?
KH: A rich, slow-cooked bredie on some fluffy fragrant white rice, or a hearty pot of soup.
SP: What’s your favourite dish to prepare at home?
KH: My no-knead bread that tastes almost like sourdough.
SP: Your favourite “Toor met Hoender” recipe:
KH: So hard to choose – but it would be the Chicken, Leek and Blue Cheese Quiche. I’ve spent years developing that recipe.
Karen with her very own cook book…
SP: Favourite restaurant?
SP: Where do you see yourself in five years?
KH: I’d love to continue the work that I’m doing now – cooking, baking, writing for the magazine and publishing more cook books.
SP: Your favourite food blogger?
KH: Nina Timm – she’s such a generous person.
SP: Aside from cooking, what are your other hobbies?
KH: I love listening to opera, classical music, reading, writing poetry and bits of gardening – mostly growing my own herbs.
SP: Your favourite author?
KH: It’s a toss-up between Turgenev and Dostoyevsky.
SP: Your pet hate in the South African foodie business?
SP: The most underrated ingredient in local cuisine?
KH: Prickly pears