The Hog House Brewing Company

Hog House Brewery

“If you build it, he will come.”

This is the voice I hear in my head as I pull up outside a (quite ugly) industrial office park in Ndabeni. We are here looking for The Hog House Brewing Company and there is a definite parallel to The Field Of Dreams, where our hero built a baseball field in order to summon up his beloved team, the White Sox. Today we are The Sox. Except it’s not baseball we are here for. It’s BBQ. And our hero isn’t a corn farmer. He’s a chef.

When PJ Vadas told me he was going to be opening a BBQ / Brewery concept I was stoked. Really stoked. Then he told me the venue. And I was worried. Would people really drive out to the middle of nowhere to eat smoked meat and drink beer? Well, if the first week of this restaurant being open is any indication, then the answer is yes. And they aren’t even licensed yet. (BYOB for now)

Here’s the thing about PJ. He believes his food is excellent. Because it is. And in an age where most restaurants are offering crazy winter specials just to try and get people in the door, he has the belief that he will simply cook food that is so delicious people will make an effort to get there. That’s refreshing. With a pedigree that includes working in some of the world’s greatest kitchens, before running some of ours, he has managed to take his classic training and apply it to the art of BBQ.

“The art of BBQ?”

That’s what I said. BBQ is a highly specific, highly developed skill. As with any other form of cooking, it needs to be learnt. And practiced. And perfected.

At The Hog House, they are pretty close. With a menu built around brisket, you can also take a pick from pulled pork, buttermilk chicken, sausages and various specials (on my visit it was lamb ribs and a loin of pork). The sides are far more than an afterthought, with mac ‘n cheese, kimchi pineapple, coleslaw, bread and butter pickles and even their house-made hot sauce all deserving a mention as well-executed examples. Bar snacks like burnt ends croquettes and wild mushroom arancini are good enough to be dressed up and served as parts of fancier dishes at fancier restaurants. But here, they are served in a bowl. As the star. Take it or leave it. (I took it, by the way). Indeed, with the exception of one hiccup – a bizarre, overly strong cardamom ice cream – the meal was pretty much flawless.

If you’re looking for starched white linen and waiters in waistcoats give this a miss. Here you’ll get knives and forks in a bucket. And metal canteen trays with wax paper. You won’t have someone wiping your crumbs off your table. You’ll do that yourself. With messy, sticky, smoky fingers.

It’s awesome.

As the category of smoked meat and BBQ grows in this country, there is currently one venue and one chef standing head and shoulders above the rest. If we stick with the Field Of Dreams analogy, someone has just hit a home run.

The details: Hog House Brewing Company, 42 Morningside Road, Ndabeni. (021) 810-4545.

Go forth and eat,

Andy

 

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How to cook steak.

Ribeye

 

Steak. People are obsessed with steak. And how to cook the perfect version is something I get asked more than anything else meat-related. Like anyone who is passionate about what they do, I’ve got my views. And they’re opinionated. I’ve listed a couple of them below. I have unashamedly borrowed from chefs and butcheries across the world for these. I’ve harvested little nuggets of information, tested them, tweaked them and sort-of thrown them together in a kind-of meat mash up. But cooking is a personal thing. It always will be. So this is a collection of what works best, for me. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. Maybe I give a shit. Maybe I don’t.

Choosing your meat:

An obvious place to start, yes? But what does all the jargon and fancy words say about the beef? AAA grade? Premium? Super premium? What does it all mean? Well, it means nothing really. It’s marketing nonsense. Meat is graded two ways in South Africa. By age and by fat content. A Grade meat means an animal was a certain age when it was slaughtered. It HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE QUALITY OF THE MEAT. AB means the animal was slightly older, B means the animal was older still. And C Grade beef means the animal was even older. These ages are determined by the amount of teeth the animal had at the time of slaughter. A number is attached to the letter classification indicating the amount of fat on the carcass. This ranges from 0 (no fat) to 6 (excessively fat). So you can find “A Grade” beef that is nowhere near as good as B or C grade meat. Basically, your job is to try and find a butcher who can give you any indication of the age and fat content of the beef. At FFMM we shoot for older animals and a high fat content. That allows us to mature the beef without drying it out. We also believe older animals have more developed flavour. We like tasty beef, as opposed to tender beef.

Choosing your cut:

So you’ve found your butcher. But now what? What do you ask for? I could go on and on about things like flatiron, flank, chuck eye etc. (because they’re all awesome and totally underrated) but, for the point of this article, let’s keep it simple. Let’s go with a thick-cut, bone in ribeye. Why thick cut? It gives you the chance to get a crust on the exterior of the meat while still cooking the steak properly. Too thin? The meat will be overcooked by the time the crust develops.

Grass-fed and dry aged meat:

This is not hype. Dry aged beef is superior. Through a carefully-controlled process which allows meat to age in a humidity-controlled cold room, enzymes are broken down and and converted into proteins and fats. Flavour is intensified and texture composition shifts too. That’s geek speak for “your steak will taste better”. Trust me. As an extra kicker, if the meat is grass-fed, all the flavour benefits are amplified. Expect rich, buttery and nutty tones in the steak. Keep a look out for yellow fat – that’s a good thing. Eat a grass-fed piece of meat for the first time and you will wonder why you have wasted so much time eating grain-fed meat.

Cooking:

So you’ve sourced the best beef you can. Good on you. You’ve done more than most. But you still have to cook the thing. And here’s where you might need to forget a lot of what you’ve been told before. Tear up the South African Steak Textbook.

The first tip is to salt your steak way, way before you plan on cooking it. Salt draws moisture out of the meat, which then reacts with the salt to create a brine. That brine sinks back into the meat. If you want to be fancy you can call it osmosis. But, really, all you need to know is that this will help in creating that perfect crust we are after. You can salt your steak two days before cooking, depending on how radical you want to be with this experiment, but do not do it less than thirty minutes. April Bloomfield (we love her) suggests that black pepper should never be applied to a steak before cooking it, as it can burn and taste acrid. I must say, I have tried this and I agree. Stick to salt and add coarse, cracked black pepper after cooking.

The reverse sear is the next trick I’ve picked up recently. (Thank you Food Lab and Serious Eats). You’ve no doubt read about searing meat first and then turning the heat down to finish it off. That’s to seal in the juices, yes? Well, no actually. Searing meat first has no impact on the amount of juice a steak will retain. The theory behind switching this up (gentle heat first, high heat at the end) has to do with the fact that the amount of juices a steak loses depends on the INTERNAL temperature you cook it to. In other words, the temperature you cook the steak at to get it to that desired doneness makes no difference. Throw a raw steak on the grill (or in a pan), and the cold, moist meat takes a long time to heat up to the point where it can begin browning and crisping properly. By the time it’s well-seared, the outermost layers are already overcooked and you’ll struggle to cook the inside of the steak properly. Conversely, start a steak over gentle heat and you’re in control over the internal temp of the meat. Cook it gently until you’re just about done and the exterior crust will start to develop naturally. You can then stick it over  high heat to really finish it nicely.

Flipping your meat:

They’ll tell you to flip a steak only once or twice. They will also probably burn their steak. By leaving a piece of meat cooking for such a lengthly time, the exterior doesn’t have a chance. Turn your steak as often as you’d like.

Knowing when your meat is done:

Throw your ego on the fire, along with that piece of meat, and buy a meat thermometer. It is the ultimate way to cook meat accurately. Case closed.

Resting your meat:

This one isn’t a myth. You need to rest your steak. This is necessary for the juices (that you’ve worked so hard to create) to increase in density as they cool slightly. Rest your meat. Please. Generally half the cooking time is an indicator.

Marinades, sauces, seasonings:

We’ve written a pretty nerdy piece here, using words like “enzymes” and “osmosis”. Let’s not forget though: the whole point here is to create the perfect steak. Crusty exterior, delicious, evenly cooked internal meat. Juicy. Beefy. Balanced. So why would you smear a sauce over that? Instead, try and stick to the salt and pepper. If you’re trying this all in a pan, I’m a fan of using both olive oil and butter. Yup, both of them. Outdoor cooking? Just a lick of oil to prevent the meat from sticking will do the trick. With all the natural flavour of grass-fed meat (and the enhancement of dry aging) that really should be good enough. Slice it off the bone, cut it into strips against the grain and keep it natural.

There it is. How to choose a steak. How to cook a steak. How to eat a steak. In about 100 000 words.

Go forth and eat,

Andy

 

 

 

 

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Call to action: revised National Liquor Policy.

So the newly drafted National Liquor Policy has been issued. It found its way into my inbox through a number of irate restaurateurs. These people are friends of mine, whose livelihood depends on such laws. Hence the…umm…”agitated” tone that was used.

It is a well known fact that running a restaurant is one of the hardest things you can do (many, many more fail than succeed). Perhaps a lesser known fact is how much a restaurant depends on the sales of booze to support it. The successful ones will make delicious food, using clever cost of sales to plate a finished dish. They’ll have mark-ups and margins that enable them to reach a price for the end plate of food. But it is incredibly tight, once you factor in staff, running costs, rent etc.

Imagine taking away any cash made through selling booze.

The restaurant industry would collapse almost overnight. That’s not an exaggerated statement. The industry would die. Your favourite local bistro? Gone. The Italian institution that has been there for three generations? Done. The burger joint that brought some energy into your neighbourhood? Sorry. The second store that the mega popular restaurant on the other side of Cape Town FINALLY announced was opening. Well…it probably won’t anymore.

Never mind the hundreds of hundreds of jobs that will be lost.

Anyway, needless to say the proposal is a massive, steaming pile of shit. Some of the content is outlined below:

“Amongst other things it proposes changes to the following matters that will have an impact on the City’s Control of Undertakings that Sell Liquor to the Public By-law and the enforcement thereof:
• Liquor premises to be located at least 500m from:
o schools;
o places of worship;
o recreation facilities;
o rehabilitation or treatment centres;
o residential areas; and
o public institutions;
• No liquor licences to be issued to:
o petrol stations and premises attached to petrol stations;
o premises near public transport; and
o areas not classified as entertainment or zoned by municipalities trading in liquor.
Places in areas listed above who already have licences should have licences terminated within two years”

In other words, basically every venue with a liquor license will have theirs taken away. It’s ridiculous and unfair and it needs to be fixed. But you can help. You can object. If you agree with any of the above, please say so. Speak up.

You may submit any objections to: nramphele@thedti.gov.za

Go forth and eat,

Andy

 

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Angelo Scirocco.

Luke Dale-Roberts. Margot Janse. Liam Tomlin. Bertus Basson. Any self-respecting South African foodie will know these names well. But who the hell is Angelo Scirocco?

Let me tell you.

He’s the guy who has been hand-picked to represent an entire continent in a global search for the best young chef in the world right now.

That’s quite something.

Quite why this story hasn’t received more attention is beyond me. Angelo has clawed, kicked and scrapped his way to the top of a pile of local hopefuls to now be standing amongst peers from as far as Australia, Norway, Canada and China. He has conceptualised a dish and executed it perfectly. He has remained calm in intense, fierce pressure situations and he has spent every spare second (he is the sous chef at Chef’s Warehouse so his day-to-day life is hardly a breeze) tweaking and trying to perfect an already accomplished dish.

In a few days he flies to Milan to represent the Africa/Middle East region at the San Pellegrino Young Chef Awards. He will be cooking for a panel including culinary powerhouses like Gastón Acurio, Yannick Alléno, Massimo Bottura, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Joan Roca and Grant Achatz. Even to be standing in front of chefs of that caliber is an incredible achievement.

I don’t know Angelo well but I do know this: that guy is a true chef. When I deliver a box of unexpected meat (I do that a lot at at Chef’s Warehouse!), his eyes light up. You can see him thinking how he’s going to cook it. How he’s going to portion it. What he’s going to do with it. He is ambitious, hard-working and humble. He plates food beautifully but he can talk tails, trotters and offal better than most his age. He is part of a young bunch of chefs emerging in this country that we should all be celebrating. I don’t know if his dish will win in Italy but I do know that he should have received far more credit than he has. Just for getting there.

The dish he’s submitted is titled Milk is Thicker Than Water. It is a complex, elegant interpretation of panna cotta, showcasing textures of milk in various forms. By concentrating on milk fat content he has created a light, floral dish with delicate subtleties. It is a beautiful plate of food but – as with any good chefs – flavour was what drove it.

I’ll be rooting for him in Italy. But in my eyes the guy has already won, just for putting South Africa on that stage.

Go forth and eat,

Andy

P.S. You can vote for Angelo’s dish by clicking the link below:

Vote for San Pellegrino

 

 

 

 

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FFMM kitchen staff wanted.

A few months ago I wrote an open letter to a chef. I didn’t know who I was writing it to. I just knew that I was writing it to someone. That someone needed to be fearless, passionate, more than a little bit crazy and ready for one of the hardest jobs in the world – launching a successful restaurant in Cape Town.

I wasn’t ready for the response. It was humbling to see the caliber of people who seemed interested in what we wanted to do. (Simple food, cooked perfectly.)

We were considering our options when I received a reply from a chef based in London. Trained in South Africa, I had already been following her progress with interest. Having worked at some of San P’s top 50 restaurants, she ticked all of the boxes, plus a few more that we didn’t even know existed. Anyway, fast forward a bit. A flight over from London. A four hour meeting. About 25 coffees. We had ourselves a deal.

Needless to say, we are pumped about our plans. We have punched way, way above our weight in getting her on board. But now she needs your help. Maybe. She is recruiting staff who want to be part of the journey, and wrote the below letter as an invitation.

Have a read.

Young Chefs of South Africa,

A few months ago I read a letter written by Andy Fenner. I read it, then I read it again. It was like the letter was written directly to me, I couldn’t believe it. Within the next couple of hours we had changed the course of our lives and had decided to open a restaurant. A rather quick turnaround time, but for those of you who know Andy and myself, you’ll know that we are both passionate people. That being said, when you know, you know.

So here we are. Now I’m writing a letter to you, the young chef looking for their start, that career first, or career maker even. Are you ambitious? Do you want to cook? Do you know where your ingredients come from? Do you want to? Do you want to smoke, pickle and ferment anything your heart desires? You don’t know how to ferment? I can show you. Smoking? Done. Ever wondered what it would be like to break down an entire carcass of an animal? You can.

Now, I’ve been around the block and seen a thing or two. I’m ready for change, a paradigm shift. A step away from pretense and “fine dining”. You won’t find any white table cloths here. Sorry. In fact, we won’t even set the table. There won’t be a waiter dressed as a penguin eyeing out your table, waiting for you to place your napkin down so that he can fold it into a swan or something equally as old school before you return to the table.

We’re going to be about food. And wine. Lots and lots of wine. Twenty items on a plate? No. A foam made from the milk of a virgin goat from the Andes? Doubtful. I’m talking food with balls. Food with heart. Literally, we’ll have heart on the menu.

You’ll be part of a family. A family where the talent is limitless and the opportunity to grow is everywhere. This is your chance to become part of something that may change the way we dine in Cape Town. We, along with Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants and Publik Wine Bar, are going to do something big. A game changer.

It’s not going to be easy. In fact, it may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it will be worth it, trust me.

Have you got what it takes?
Chef.

What do you reckon? Want to be part of something? Drop us a line.

Andy

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Life.

“Carpe Diem.”

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

“Life’s a journey, not a destination”.

These were exactly the kind of quotes that I used to roll my eyes at. For me, they belonged on a laminated poster, peeling off the wall of my Matric guidance counsellor. Throw in a picture of a beautiful sunset, a black and white portrait of a sports star, or a mountain range covered in snow, and you’re pretty much describing one third of the first year students’ rooms I saw at varsity.

But that all changed on Saturday.

On Saturday my wife said goodbye to her stepdad for the last time, after a year of fighting Leukemia. I say stepdad, but this is the man who raised her. He made her school lunches, taught her how to ride a bike and – I’m guessing – reacted to her first boyfriend like an over-protective bear. The man was enormous and I know he scared the shit out of me when I first met him. (Nothing a homemade butter chicken and a few beers didn’t sort out though.) Our relationship went from strength to strength from there. Indeed, when I proposed, it was his house that I drove to to ask for permission. 

For a year I have watched my wife and my mother-in-law suffering. They have been victims too. That’s the thing about this fucking disease; it affects far more people than the patient. It affects everyone they know. Everyone they love. Both women have been as strong as possible. Both are not strong enough. Not yet, anyway.

Over the last few weeks, as things deteriorated, I have had lots of time to reflect. Hospital cafeterias aren’t good for much but they’re good for thinking. And those same cheesy expressions, previously meaningless to me, suddenly took on new substance. The exact phrases that used to sound so lame now carry the weight I need. Because there has to be a silver lining to this agony. Surely?

The only one I can see is to stop taking life for granted.

If you have an overseas trip that you’ve always wanted to go on, book it. If you have a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion, drink it today.

Today is that special occasion.

Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Take an extra 30 minutes in the morning to play with your kids. Walk your dogs on the beach. Phone your parents. Hike up a mountain. Enjoy the views. Dress up and book the fancy restaurant. Eat the second piece of cake. Drink the second beer. Worry less about work. Worry more about family.

I’ve learnt a lot through this thing. I’ve learnt that humans are stronger than we realise. And I’ve learnt that humans are weaker than we realise. Nobody should have to endure what I’ve seen two generations of women go through over the last year. But they have each other to lean on. If you have that person, make sure they know it.

We lost a great man this weekend. But hopefully with that loss we can gain some perspective too. Life is there for the living. I drained two pints at Den Anker and ate as many mussels as I could on Sunday. I’d normally be starting to plan my work week, worrying about deliveries, deadlines, clients, orders and basically how I’m going to carry on making enough money to keep a start-up business afloat. Instead, I had a drink. And a laugh. Another cliche crossed my mind… “It’s what Ron would’ve wanted”. Finally, finally I think I know what people mean when they say that. You need to feel it to understand.

Andy.

 

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Open letter to a Cape Town chef.

Dear chef,

How much do you love your job? How much do you love food? These are two questions that are mutually exclusive. Just because you have a passion for cooking doesn’t mean you have a passion for cooking the food you currently are. If that’s the case, listen up.

Together with my wife, I have spent the last few years of my life building Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants. It has been tough. It has been fucking tough. Self-doubt has niggled pretty much every day and there are times when I wonder if it’s all worth it. But there are also great moments taken in small gestures. The e-mail from a customer, with a video of their young daughter singing a song about Frankie Fenner’s “proper meat”. The stranger who stops you in the street to say thank you for giving a shit about the meat that their family eats. These are the moments that give me goosebumps.

As the brand has evolved we have (I think) improved. When I look back at some of the stupid mistakes we have made along the way, I’m not disappointed. I’m proud. We don’t make those mistakes anymore. We are improving every day. And we will continue to improve. We never stop learning.

With our new store, we also launched Publik Wine Bar. A friendship that merges into a business relationship can be a disaster; people a lot smarter than me will tell you it’s a bad idea. In our case it’s been anything but. With an unflinching philosophy towards promoting specific styles of wine, David Cope has revolutionised the way a lot of people in this city drink wine. And I don’t think that’s an overstatement.

The missing piece to this puzzle – we’ve realised – is a chef.  Working with whole carcasses every day I am more convinced than ever that the opportunity is there for someone to grab this city by the throat and start serving the type of food we all want to cook. The type of food we all want to eat. The type of food that nobody is making properly.

Are you that chef?

There are some brilliant restaurants in this city. Shit, there are world-class restaurants in this city. And they are being run by world-class talents. If you are working as a CDP or a sous and you are learning from these people, then I applaud you. This letter isn’t for you. Stay where you are. Develop your skill set. Learn from the best. And one day you’ll be ready to do your own thing.

But maybe that day is today. Maybe you’re ready to do your own thing right now. If you think you are, we’d like to make you an offer. With an existing kitchen, and access to some of the best meat in the country, we want you to step into two established brands and have some fun serving simple, delicious food. You want to make the best burger in Cape Town? Cool, let’s make that happen here. You want hanger steak on the menu. Done. You want to pickle and you want to smoke? So do we. Roast chicken for four? Yes please. And you better believe there’s going to be some steak tartare action.  Forget about the fact that on any given day you can grab a boning knife and help break down a carcass or two. That’s something not too many chefs get to do nowadays.

Let’s put all our cards on the table. This isn’t a salary-based job. It’s a partnership. With turnover percentages. You get the space for free. And you do your thing. With some hard work you’ll be clearing more than you are now. If you want it badly, you’ll be taking home a lot more. You’ll also be having some fun hopefully.

Think about it. If you’re hearing a voice whispering that this could be for you…well, maybe you should listen.

Andy.

 

 

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Profile: Nikki Albertyn.

A newspaper that recently asked me for a recipe and a few pieces of advice on lesser-fancied cuts, decided not to use the recipe I submitted. I was pretty bummed about that. Forget the fact that they asked me for input and then ignored it. Forget that. They had their reasons, I suppose. I was more bummed because the talented photographer that shot the dish never got her pic in a national newspaper. And she deserved it.

Nikki Albertyn is one to watch. As a stylist and a photographer her star is on the rise and I’m tipping her for big things. With a killer eye, Nikki has that exciting skill set where the lines between design and cooking blur. Photographer, stylist, cook. Triple threat.  You could say she likes all things aesthetically superior. You could also say she likes nice stuff.

Check out her pic below for my sherry-vinegar braised lamb neck risotto. (I’ve thrown in the recipe too). You might also want to check out this link for an event she’s hosting in Stellenbosch.

Nikki Albertyn. Remember that name, people.

Lamb neck risotto:

Recipe (serves 4):

 Ingredients
  • olive oil
  • 2 whole lamb necks (leave whole if your pot is big enough, otherwise get your butcher to slice them into discs)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots, or small onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped leeks
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 litre homemade vegetable or chicken stock; more as needed (alternatively, just add water if you need)
  • 1/2 cup capers, to garnish
  • A few high-quality anchovies, to garnish
  • One lemon, peeled, to garnish
  • Parmesan, grated, to garnish.

Heat the oven to 140 Degrees Celsius. In a deep pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Season the lamb neck with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides; transfer to a plate. Pour off all but a few tablespoons of fat from the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, leeks, celery and carrots to the pan. Cook until the vegetables are tender and  just starting to brown. Stir in the garlic, thyme and rosemary and cook one minute more. Add the vinegar and simmer until it reduces to about half a cup.

Return the meat to the pot, and add enough stock to barely cover. (Use the water if you need to). Bring to a gentle simmer on the stovetop, then transfer the pot, uncovered, to the oven.

Braise in the oven, basting and turning the meat occasionally for 4 – 4 1/2 hours. The lamb is done when they’re tender enough to cut with a fork and the meat easily comes away from the bone.

Transfer the lamb to a plate, let the liquid cool, and spoon off any fat. (Meanwhile, strain the liquid and return to the pot.) Bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Shred the meat from the bones and roughly chop.

When ready to serve, warm the meat in the sauce, basting frequently.

Make the risotto as per normal. When it is the right consistency, stir in the lamb and sauce. (You can use some of the braising liquid to make the risotto) To serve, spoon lamb risotto into bowls. Garnish with anchovies, lemon rind and sprigs of thyme.  Finally, finish with cracked black pepper and sea salt.
Go forth and eat,
Andy

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