My Kind of Food: Behind the boerewors curtain

Mar 14, 2010 12:00 AM | By Hilary Biller

Out of the limelight momentarily, Evita Bezuidenhout has been busy putting her first cookbook together. Hilary Biller spoke to her on the eve of its launch

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I did not know that a tannie with such long, perfectly manicured nails could cook - or would even get her hands dirty.

I love getting my hands covered in flour and shiny with olive oil, cluttered with bits of parsley and even something delicious under my nails. Someone once said: "A clean cook is a boring chef." I make a hell of a mess and the staff clean up after me. So it involves job-creation as well.

Cooking is often a skill passed down from mother to daughter. Who taught the former barefoot meisie from Bethlehem to cook?

I would spend hours in the little kitchen in Mirre Weg with my mother and watch her bake, scramble, plait, roll and stretch strange lumps into magical tastes: bread, boboties, jams, and, of course, koeksisters. Every daughter must thank her mother or ouma for what she learned in the kitchen and not be shy to go back there and keep her family together with her cooking!

You always wear the most beautiful long dresses. Your make-up and hair are perfect. Do you wear an apron when you cook?

I don't wear long dresses when I cook. In fact, I love being barefoot and wearing a smock, so I don't often bother with an apron. When I do, I wear the one Desmond Tutu gave me. It's the South African flag (not the old one, hoor ?) - proudly South African am I. As you know, our flag's design was inspired by the yield sign. If you yield to the left, nothing is right, and if you yield to the right, nothing is left.

Sophia Loren wrote the foreword in your book. How did that happen?

I sat next to her when I flew first class from Geneva to Los Angeles. Her son Eduardo lives there. Sophia is a good cook and sent me her recipe book. She grew up very poor and hungry and that was a great lesson for me. When I spoke to her on Skype about my book and said that the proceeds were going to The Darling Trust for the upliftment of my community, she was very keen to be involved. Her foreword is a wonderful extra and makes the book so special.

You divide your time between the West Coast village of Darling and the family home in Laagerfontein. What kind of food do you prepare for your husband, Oom Hasie, at home?

Siestog, Hasie's taste buds seem to have gone away. I have a feeling everything he eats tastes like cotton wool. His favourite treat is a horrible, greasy hamburger at the Laagerfontein Worsie En Wyn Café! Can you believe it? But then I will not ever be judgmental about anyone's favourite indulgence. My cookbook does not cater for fans of junk food, but many places out there do. And Hasie also loves my melktert.

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. What dishes do you use to woo Pik Botha, your ageing Romeo?

No need to woo Pik. He is wooed. But he is still trying to create the perfect potjie and I try to match it with the perfect balance of starches, greens and dessert. Pik has a dangerously sweet tooth and I keep him off the sugars and creams. But every now and then, we hide on the back seat of my car and eat droëwors, samoosas and fish-en-slap chips!

What was one of your favourite dishes to make for visiting dignitaries in your 10 years as ambassador to the Republic of Bapetikosweti - and is the recipe in your book?

It has to be bobotie. Everyone has liked it. I have given the recipe to so many: Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, during those trying times when Bill was not with Monica (although he was!). The only person who argues with me about my bobotie is Prince Phillip, who calls it moussaka, but then he is such an old Greek.

The recipe is on page 53, opposite the lovely Nina van der Westhuizen painting of me in the style of Tretchikoff, but holding a plate of koeksisters. Bobotie is my recipe for reconciliation.

You've crossed many cultures in the cookbook and have devoted a whole chapter to putu pap. How do you enjoy it best?

My friend Linda Vicquery helped me compile the book and she suggested we keep the focus on our rainbow nation and include as many of our cultures as possible - Malay, Chinese, European, Jewish, Afrikaans. We just couldn't come to terms with English cooking, which is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Putu pap is the cement that helps you build a wall of friendship and trust, and the combinations are endless. I discovered the possibilities when I joined the parliamentary kitchen in 1995 to help the new ANC government come to terms with African cuisine after a lifetime in exile. I put putu pap with everything: bread-and-butter pudding, sushi, spaghetti. I even do putu pap on the Atkins diet!

As a former South African ambassador, you have entertained presidents and prime ministers. What meal would you prepare for President Zuma, his four wives and 20 children if they came for Sunday lunch?

My skat, it happens regularly! The first Sunday lunch only happened on a Monday because of African time. And there was a bit of friction about who would sit where round the table. With four Zumamas, it all became like an episode of Desperate First Ladies. As for the children, they all have to wear name-tags because Mshowerlozi never knows who is who. But, again, as long as no one bothers me in the kitchen, I can feed the masses with five fish and eight loaves of bread if need be.

Any advice for President Zuma's wives on how to earn the top spot?

I'm careful not to give advice. What I do is try to lead by example. But when I saw his first three wives dressed so beautifully, sitting in the gallery of parliament while he was making his first big presidential speech - all three fast asleep - I was relieved that there was no Hillary Clinton or Maggie Thatcher among his wives. Just loving, sweet and big sissies who will look after him and keep the nation calm.

Cookbooks sell by their pretty pictures of food. Yours is filled with pretty pictures of yourself.

You can't eat pictures. And I have seen how they photograph food for those glossy books: they spray it with glue, they paint it with plastic. They make it look so pretty but taste so horrible that if you ate it you'd die! The pictures of me illustrate that I am on your side and that I am giving you my alphabet to create your own sentence of delights. That's why my recipes are short and to the point. It's like a road map. All you need is the licence of courage to drive your culinary-car!

Compose the ultimate recipe for reconciliation - just in time for the World Cup.

One is tempted to focus on meatballs and such rounded objects that fit in with the occasion. But, frankly, the best healthy, easily prepared snack is a tin of sardines, four gherkins, six slabs of Provita and a glass of orange juice. That will give you the energy to fight your way into a stadium and out without soccer-rage blinding your vision. The ingredients are also cheap and easy to find. Reconciliation starts at home and, as hosts to the world, we must stand back and give them the first choice of everything. Like a Sunday lunch? Family hold back. Viva Bafana Bafana!

Evita's Kossie Sikelela by Evita Bezuidenhout is published by Umuzi. Price: R150

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