Caterer Maia du Plessis' menu for a stylish Italian-inspired feast
With a background in food styling and a catering company housed in a working artist's studio, it's no surprise this Cape Town creative's dishes look as good as they taste
“I don’t call myself a chef because I don’t have any formal training,” says Maia du Plessis, who offers supper club and wine-tasting experiences from her space in Woodstock, Cape Town.
“It wasn’t really a plan to go into catering, but I was raised by a Greek mother, so I have certainly grown up surrounded and inspired by food. We grew up eating dishes ladled with garlic and ate food my friends had never heard of, which was certainly unusual for ’70s SA,” laughs Du Plessis.
Du Plessis’ love of fashion found her “falling into fashion styling and then food styling”, and she spent her early working years assisting food stylist Mari Williams.
“I was exposed to many styles of food, but I also learnt tricks like how to build a rig to get a shot of milk pouring into cereal and how to use mashed potato instead of ice cream because it doesn’t melt,” she recalls.
After a move to New York in the ’90s, Maia found herself living with expats from SA who all had an interest in food, and weekends were spent cooking and discovering new tastes.
Having emerged from the chaotic early years of raising twins, Du Plessis’ love of food led her into menu development and consulting. But when her husband Otto du Plessis, a sculptor and foundry man, bought the downtown studio in 2014, her dream of creating a space for people to experience food was born.
As it turns out, the studio, which is now home to her catering company Provisions, is a true family affair. Otto’s studio flanks her kitchen and is a hive of creativity. Her brother-in-law, artist Jop Kunneke, works from another space, as do artists Charles Haupt, Stanislaw Trzebinski and a movable feast of others.
“They know not to steal anything from my fridge, but they’re constantly swiping my mixing jars and tools,” she laughs. Her 10-year-olds, Bay and Riley, are frequent visitors after school, where they potter around with their father next door.
A petite, esoteric beauty, it’s clear that Du Plessis’ kitchen is the heart of this surprising collection of artists and people. While she nourishes them (she does admit to cooking them lunch regularly), they feed her love of art with exposure to their creations, which are hung on the walls of her kitchen and dining area.
“I’ve always loved the idea of creating a space where people can enjoy food and experience art in a space that is not a gallery,” says Du Plessis.
“I host people for lunches, dinners, brainstorming sessions, or whatever they need, and I want them to know that each time they return they will see something new. So the art is always changing and the space is always evolving.”
Of the décor, Du Plessis says the space differs from her personal style, “which tends to be more cluttered”.
The furniture is also sourced from local designers, such as Gregor Jenkin, renowned for his contemporary pieces that give a nod to SA’s European and Boer heritages. The aura is clean and comfortable, with a palette of cool greys and toned-down white shades, with touches such as a lace throw on the window adding Du Plessis’ undeniable feminine edge.
While Du Plessis insists she is not a foodie (and hates the word), her pantry implies otherwise. Her shelves are packed with bottles of olives (store bought!) that she infuses with rosemary, garlic and other spices, and homemade preserved lemons to make her own.
The free-range eggs she uses are sourced from Hartenberg wine estate where she curates its menu and trains its restaurant kitchen staff, and her olive oils and many other ingredients are speckled with names of Greek producers she hunts out in SA supermarkets.
“They just taste better,” she says.
Du Plessis says she loves creating menus for her restaurant clients, and her work with local wine estates has ignited a new passion for wine and food pairing. But for her Provisions clients, she prefers an open brief.
“I might have an idea for a menu and then change my mind on a whim. It evolves in my head and I’ll wake up in the morning just knowing what I want to create,” she says.
It’s these ever-changing food experiences and the stimulating environment that continues to draw people to her table. — Bureaux
ON THE MENU
“Bloody” Negroni cocktail
Spinach and ricotta malfatti (dumplings)
Beef fillet with tonnato (tuna sauce)
Honey semifreddo with Italian meringue and mini toffee apples
“BLOODY” NEGRONI COCKTAIL
Combine equal parts Vermouth, gin and Campari. Pour over ice and top with freshly pressed blood orange juice.
SPINACH AND RICOTTA MALFATTI (DUMPLINGS)
500g baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
250g ricotta cheese
40g cake flour
1 large egg, beaten
125g Parmesan cheese (or grana Padano or other hard cheese), grated, plus extra for serving
Salt and pepper
200g semolina flour
100g butter, to serve
Fresh sage (about 20 leaves) to serve
Half a lemon
- Cook the spinach in a large, deep pan over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until wilted. Drain and squeeze out all the water. Set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese and flour.
- Add the spinach, egg, grated cheese, and seasoning. Stir well until mixed.
- On a surface floured with half the semolina flour, roll the malfatti mix into about 25 teaspoon-sized balls, adding extra flour as needed.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the malfatti and simmer for 2-3 minutes — they will float to the surface when cooked. Drain and keep warm in the pan.
- Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, melt the butter and gently cook the sage leaves until crispy and the butter is brown, then squeeze in lemon juice.
- Place the malfatti onto plates, pour the sauce over them, and sprinkle with the extra Parmesan cheese.
BEEF FILLET WITH TONNATO (TUNA SAUCE)
800g/1kg beef fillet
Salt and black pepper
Rocket to garnish
1 tin tuna in oil
200ml sour cream
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp capers
Juice of half a lemon
- Rub olive oil into the fillet and season with salt and pepper.
- Sear in a very hot griddle pan or on a braai. Cook for a few minutes on each side until medium-rare.
- Remove from heat, wrap tightly in foil and leave to rest.
- Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a blender and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
- To serve, thinly slice the beef and place on a platter garnished with rocket. Spoon over the sauce. Best served at room temperature.
HONEY SEMIFREDDO WITH ITALIAN MERINGUE AND MINI TOFFEE APPLES
For the semifreddo:
1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
100g best quality honey
For the Italian meringue:
200g caster sugar
200ml cold water
5 egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
For the mini toffee apples:
1 tin mini apples
- Start by making the semifreddo. Line a loaf tin with cling wrap, leaving an overlap to fold over the semifreddo.
- Over a saucepan of gently simmering water, beat the egg and egg yolks with the honey in a bowl until the mixture is pale and thick. .
- Whip the cream until thick, and then gently fold in the egg and honey mixture.
- Pour into the prepared loaf tin, and cover carefully with cling wrap before putting it in the freezer for about 2-3 hours.
- For the Italian meringue, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over a high heat. Bring to the boil, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved.
- Reduce the heat to medium and brush down sides of the saucepan with a wet pastry brush to prevent any sugar crystals forming.
- Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form.
- Bring the sugar syrup to 121°C, then increase the mixer's speed to high and, with the motor running, pour in the hot syrup in a smooth, steady stream.
- When the syrup is completely incorporated, lower the speed to medium and continue to beat the meringue until it has cooled to room temperature (15-20 minutes). By this stage the meringue will be thick and glossy.
- For the mini toffee apples, heat the sugar in a saucepan and melt till light brown in colour. Pour the mixture on to a silicone mat, dipping the mini apples in to coat them, and adding the crushed walnuts. Allow to cool then break into shards.
- To serve, cut the semifreddo into your desired shapes and pipe the meringue mixture on top, using a blowtorch to caramelise the peaks. Serve with a mini toffee apple and extra toffee shards.
• This article was originally published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of the Sunday Times Edit Living magazine. Click here to read this design guide online.