Now you may well ask “Who is Justin Bonello?” I know, there are still a few people that don’t know. Let me explain he is a local food connoisseur of the traveling kind and writes the most fabulous cookbooks. I would say he was a celebrity chef right up there with the best of them… and he is, but not in the demanding: “Buy my products, Live my life, Cook my recipes” kind of way… he is more about: “I love traveling and cooking and you are welcome to join me.” His books are really trend setting travel books, the kind of books that describe life in South Africa better than a travel book and food in South Africa better than a cook book. His books come packed with South African atmosphere and even the paper has a special feel that sets them apart from your typical glossy celebrity chef type cook book.
His first book: Cooked in Africa… describes his life and Travels and Southern Africa and really the trips he took and the food he ate on them… If you have ever eaten anything local in South Africa then paging through this book will bring out the flavor of meals from your past, you will find your self smelling food cooked in the outdoors that you had even forgotten you had eaten!!!
His Second Book: Cooked Out of the Frying Pan when Justin Bonello decided to come in out of the Veld and tour a dozen top South African Restaurants… This book was packed with recipes as he mastered cooking skills from the best chefs in the country. The book left us hunkering after a trip to South Africa’s finest restaurants… And a trip to Gold went straight to the top of our must visit places everyone in our family wants to try out those interesting flavors.
And just recently his Third Book: Justin Bonello Cooks With Friends… And I was lucky enough to attend the launch of his book… And receive a copy for review…
He answered a couple of questions from the swirling crowds…
- How did he become a chef? Well it seems that the man had a childhood immersed in food!!! From cooking pancakes with his granny to fishing trips with his dad… cooking food he had caught on the day on one of their many trips together. He has a passion for food that grew as he grew.
- How do you become a good cook? Cooking is all about having good ingredients and heat, and an understanding of how these two things fit together… lots of practice, plenty of disasters and finally with an alchemy between heat and ingredients you get great food!!!
- Where does he source his food? His big concern is that most of us don’t know where our food comes from and if you don’t know where it comes from then how do we know what is in it. Animals that have been fed well and treated well are the way to go, if your butcher doesn’t know where his meat is from then you are probably not buying from the right butcher. Then he went on to remind us about how good milk used to be, where you could see the layer of cream near the top of the bottle, oh yes!!! I remember that I spent my holidays on a farm in the Cederberg and farm milk was the best… a little tricky to get hold of when you live in the city and certainly in South Africa where most of our shopping occurs at large supermarkets. The point is where you can support your local farmers, they have hopes and dreams and kids to get through school too, you must. The more local farmers are supported the more it will pay them to practice good farming and produce good and healthy food.
- What’s his favorite recipe? Mussels… A man after my own heart… his mussel recipes take me straight back to holidays with my sister when we would trawl the rocks for mussels all day and at the end of a day of sea and sand and sunshine we would cook up a feast of black mussels, dripping with butter and white wine sauce and hunks of fresh bread.
Anyway the next day we were lucky enough to spend some time with Justin Bonello at his film studios at the Waterfront and did we have a good time!!! I like it when someone doesn’t bat an eye when you arrive for an interview with eight kids!!! Especially eight kids with heaps of questions!!! They would have liked to have looked about more but I think the great table intimidated them somewhat… luckily for me. Eight kids more or less seated around a conference table is a lot easier to handle than eight kids exploring a film studio.
From the kids journals:
Hood #1: We went to visit Justin Bonello from Cooked in Africa. We asked him all sorts of questions… How to get from a movie to a book. He spoke about eco-friendly and farmer friendly produce, saying we really need to know what’s in our food.
Hood #2: Last Friday we visited Justin Bonello in his studio. We sat in swish chairs and chatted. We finally learnt how to make his pizza oven from a dust bin. And we got a good recipe for bread from his childhood.
Hood #3: We went to the Waterfront on Friday and asked Justin Bonello exactly how to make a pizza oven.
Hood #4: I liked Justin Bonello’s Jeep. It looks great for traveling through Africa. I told him we like cooking spaghetti and meatballs, and burgers from scratch and he said we should try grilling them instead of frying. He was right they were good and it was so much quicker!!!
Hood #5: Our celebrity chef is a man of few words… until he gets to know you!!! So we will have to meet up with Justin Bonello again for him to get into the swing of chatting. He can tell you that his favorite Justin Bonello recipe is koeksisters, but he may have changed his mind this week as we mastered his Messy Chocolate and Berry Pie!!!
Hood #6: We spent a lot of time chatting about all the twinkling stars you see at night when you are in the country.
Hood #7: We went to his “house” and ate quite a few muffins.
Hood #8: From the child that talks in paragraphs we got one word: Jeep. There was a fleet of them parked outside and they sparked a lot of comment from the shortest person with us!!! In fact we have all decided that that is what we would rather like to do… next time we visit a rural school and supply it with school materials and books we would like to travel “Jeep Style!!!”
And finally this is what Justin Bonello had to say…
- Justin Bonello on Writing Books: I know a lot of bloggers really want to write books, and I know one day I would love to write a book – a real live book with crinkly pages. I wanted to know how he got from his love for food to not one but three fantastic cook books!!! And this is what he said: His cookbooks began with a passion for food but he is a filmmaker by trade. So while he was making his first series, “Cooked in Africa,” he shot material for a book at the same time. He had the first forty pages, when he asked a friend in publishing how to generate a book, he was told he would need an enormous, mind blowing amount of money… so he shelved the whole idea and continued with his film series… Later, after his series had been aired on television, he was approached by Penguin books and asked if he would like to write a book and he was able to say: “Here’s the first forty pages… ” They loved it and the rest is history. His advice if you are mad about something it will get out!!!
- Justin Bonello on Making a Pizza Oven: This is one family project we have been dying to do for ages… and so it was the top question on the list of questions… We have the bin, we have been saving it since we read his first book and since we are fanatical Saturday night pizza makers then it makes sense to cook our pizzas in an oven… So here are the directions: Turn the bin on its side and cover it in sand and clay… (this is my stumbling block… and as soon as I can source a pile of clayey soil to cover our bin I will show you a tutorial – this is a plea for HELP, any ideas!!!), then place a tile on bricks in your oven and make a fire under the tile and you are ready to make pizza. As our celebrity chef says: Pizzas deserve to be cooked over fire.
- Justin Bonello on Eating From Scratch… I wanted to ask him where to source locally produced food. We live in the South Peninsula and there are not many farms around!!! I remember a year ago when we were looking for a dairy farm to visit and we simply couldn’t find one. We settled on a local group of goats… but still… He mentioned a couple of stores in the South Peninsula that do have more than your average share of locally produced produce and while we cannot always get it we can ask for it. If enough people keep asking for food that hasn’t been grown on chemical plants, meat that hasn’t been raised up on hormone diets and fish that haven’t been pillaged from the sea, the better. If ten people make a change and ten of their friends make the change… we could actually make a difference… eventually!!!
- Justin Bonello on Convenience Food: We have been living in an era where people work nine to five and head home for dinner, they just don’t have time to think about food. We have really been sold a lie because the very food that should sustain us and is marketed as quick, easy and convenient… is actually killing us. Seriously, a lot of the food that we grab off the shelves is so packed with chemicals and flavorants and colorants and additives… and oddities…that we wouldn’t actually eat it if we just stopped and read the labels. Take bread for example… we know when we bake it fresh it is best on the day, the next day it is good for toast. So why is it even possible to buy a loaf of “fresh bread” that stays fresh for a week… what is in that bread to make it laaaa…asst… It may be convenient to have a loaf of bread that lasts a week, but really, do you want to eat it?
- Justin Bonello on Cooking With Kids: In our age of convenience cooking people have lost the art of cooking and lessons are no longer being passed onto the next generation. Why teach them how to make bread, when they can buy it in a store and so on. I am hoping as the demand for a better quality of food arises so people will spend more time cooking together and pass on the art. Many students leave home having never seen a meal cooked and they aren’t about to start cooking meals from scratch!!! It is so important – and I am quoting, though you know I could have said it – to teach our kids to cook the basics: how to make a fine sandwich, cook a great pasta, just the basics… so that they have an idea that there is more to food than whatever lands on their plates.
- Justin Bonello on Growing Your Own Food: Like us, he doesn’t have a whole lot of food stored in his fridge. I know we have milk and butter and the father persons condiments: about million mustards!!! Really we don’t have much use for a fridge at all and could quite easily survive without a fridge. However, where we like to buy fresh and wouldn’t it be fabulous to amble down to the “pretend” market everyday… Justin Bonello has a lot of his food growing in his garden. We are working on that and every year we plant more and more vegetables… I have to say this: a lettuce grown in your garden, and they don’t take up a lot of space, is incomparable to anything you have ever tasted from a store… it just tastes like lettuce. My fussiest vegetable eater will eat anything grown in our garden, from the store – not so much, makes sense doesn’t it!!!
- Justin Bonello on Organic Gardening: He doesn’t throw away anything organic, it all goes back into his garden. Gotta grow organic and he spoke all about compost piles and worm farms… will someone please kick me if I don’t make a worm farm really soon… I have taken photographs of how it is done, I have a fabulous pending blog post on it – for months already… I have the containers… I just have to do it!!! Anyway here’s how Justin Bonello suggests you make your worm farm: Grab three bins put a tap in the bottom of the bottom bin. Drill a bunch of holes in the base of the upper two bins and place an piece of old carpet there so that the worms don’t fall through… Stock your middle bin with goodies for your worms, including newspapers and small garden cuttings and organic waste from your kitchen. Don’t feed them too much acid, they don’t like acid… Now you are set and when you have kitchen waste just toss it into the top bin and put a lid on it… the worms will make their way there… Anyway the worms thrive on your kitchen waste and all their waste fall through to the lower bin, which you can empty out through the tap… you then sprinkle your worm waste through out your garden and the results are fantastic… So recycle, recycle, recycle.
- Justin Bonello on Travel: Justin Bonello is a great traveler and along with his green footprint in the kitchen he has a great travel philosophy: “Be open, honest and humble and you will experience the true joys of travel…” Pack the bare minimum and live along side the local people, eat what they eat and learn from their lives. We love traveling with our kids and just recently gave our kids a taste for wide open Africa, with a trip to Lesotho… and I know the travel bug has bitten!!! Hopefully we will have many more adventures in Africa and we will be well equipped to remember Justin Bonello’s wise words on travel.
And the Se7en + 1th: This was the thing I really wanted my kids to take home and remember for ever.
Otherwise in the excitement of the day, we completely forgot to take photographs…
Well: packing for a trip…
The best chest of drawers my kids have ever seen, can you imagine how much they could store in there!!!
And a fleet of Jeeps – I didn’t even know my kids knew what a Jeep was!!! Marketing I tell you!!!
And of course where to find him:
Thank you Justin Bonello for your patience with all the questions you were asked… Thank you for signing our books that makes them even more special to us… and thank you for writing such brilliant books so that we can learn how to cook brilliant food and we can get excited about what we eat… and thank you for making us want to explore our country so much more…
We have been cooking up a storm and a review of the latest cook book, Justin Bonello Cooks for Friends, look out for the follow up post.