Brunch that's in a class of its own
Treat yourself to a gourmet experience provided by the students at Jackie Cameron's cooking school in Hilton, writes Shelley Seid
Institutions lost seldom return; in KwaZulu-Natal over the past couple of decades we've lost the Umbilo Drive Inn, Henry Cele, John Orrs, and the village of Umhlanga.
The loss of the province's top chef, Jackie Cameron, was a lot harder to bear, though, when she left the Midlands gourmet destination Hartford House to fulfil her dream of running a cooking school.
And then I heard that Umhlanga was building another skyscraper and Cameron was offering a series of pop-up gourmet brunches at her Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine in Hilton.
Cameron says the brunch gives her students the workplace experience they need, and at R200 a head it's a steal.
You get a glass of Kleine Zalze bubbly on arrival, a tour around the school, a seat in an intimate restaurant with a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and dales and a generous three-course meal that is as much "brunch" as a Mercedes E class is merely "wheels".
Apparently, one couple came to the first event and promptly booked for every single one thereafter.
The outing is almost a day-long affair.
You are invited to arrive at 10.30am. We did and left more than four hours later, still blathering on about the dessert (and why shouldn't brunch include dessert?) of choux pastry filled with crème pâtissière, almond butter and Italian meringue.
Each weekend offers an entirely different menu. There's a choice of three items for the first two courses, all cheekily creative, all with a local spin, all a taste of pure delight. What she does with Maltabella porridge is as extraordinary as how she flavours Hollandaise sauce with dhania seeds.
The brunch comes with a twist - tapas-style offerings that visit your table between courses, and during our visit included deepfried calamari in cucumber soup, a tiny mound of potato mousse so light it would have floated off my plate if it hadn't been anchored by a sliver of duck breast; oysters; mussels with a mushroom mornay ... the treats just kept coming.
Cameron says the idea was inspired by a dining experience she had in San Francisco, but I doubt the service there was as heartfelt - the six bite-size extras have been created to her exacting standards by this year's students.
When the final offering arrived - a gorgeous gnocchi creation - and we refused, the student looked so personally wounded that I (with very little resistance) happily succumbed.
The cherry on the top is the little student-run deli, that Cameron prefers to call "a school outlet".
It's chock-a-block with the students' current offerings. We bought breads, koeksisters, pickled beetroot and choux pastry.
The outlet also sells high-end products from the area, and Cameron's cookbooks.
• The final two weekends take place on October 7 and 8, and October 28 and 29. Visit jackiecameron.co.za
• This article was originally published in The Times.