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Meat Poultry Seafood Vegetarian Pasta Bread Dessert

Elsu’s self-engineered burnt lemon tart

11 December 2013

Country Cuisine: from corporate to country

The old-world Coach House Hotel in Agatha, near Tzaneen, doesn’t exactly strike one as a likely home for haute cuisine. One would somehow imagine tasty, yet unexciting, more conventional dishes. But that was before Elsu Gerecke arrived on the food scene, with fresh ideas and tastes that guests rave about.
Text: Leilani Basson
Photography: Jannie Herbst

“Elsu. An ornate name for an equally ornate cook. Imported from Johannesburg with a culinary background as extended as a multi-course meal and as varied as the lip-smacking creations she concocts, Elsu is no ordinary chef.

“Kos moet ’n ding hê,” says Elsu as she comfortably strides between the steel tables in the kitchen of the hotel’s Zeederberg Restaurant. She talks effortlessly as she prepares three of her authentic dishes.

Her previous job was to do corporate catering for Absa in Johannesburg city centre.

“On my way home one day, stuck in the customary sea of traffic, I decided that this was it. I was siek en sat of the city and wanted to do the klein dorpie thing. Now I’m in Tzaneen to stay.

“Being a chef is such an old profession that it really is hard to come up with something new. So all of us take ideas from one another in an attempt to create our own identity. But if food doesn’t have that certain something, you have failed to make your mark.”

Food is not a random thing, Elsu continues philosophically. “The secret of making good food is keeping the palate awake. Senses become complacent if there’s a sameness about a meal. Textures must vary. If the food is too soft, the mouth becomes lazy. If it is too hard, the mouth becomes tired of all the hard work. To keep a palate entertained right through, you need a combination of all these things.”

The pork fillet with macerated prunes that Elsu creates is a perfect example of this. Although a lot of the ingredients are of Greek origin, no one would classify it as a Greek meal.

“What makes South Africa such a wonderful foodie destination and the ideal place for chefs to develop their potential is the more than 30 cultures that we can draw on for flavours. If inspiration is what you’re after, you need look no further than South Africa.”

Elsu is the first and only chef in the family. “Maar ek eet al lekker vandat ek baie klein is,” she laughs. “Unfortunately it is difficult to hide. My mom’s food was delish. I have, however, made peace with my weight. I can’t imagine anything worse than lying on my death bed thinking I should have had more chocolate mousse.”

Working with food stimulates Elsu’s creative spirit. “Everything about food is creative. I love food. I can honestly say that food rules my life. If my hands are not in it, it is in my mouth. If I don’t think about it, I dream about it. If I don’t talk about it, I write about it.

“Food really nourishes my soul.”

Elsu’s self-engineered burnt lemon tart

What you need

500g unsalted butter
250g castor sugar
100g egg yolks
75g cake flour

What you do

Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl. Cream the butter and icing sugar in a kitchen aid with a paddle attachment.

Add the egg yolks gradually. Remove the mixture from the machine. Place on a clean, sanitised surface. Cut into the dough with a palette knife. Bring pastry together. Do not knead as you don’t want to develop gluten. Rest the dough, wrapped in Clingfilm, in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before use.

Line a greased, loose bottom pastry case with the pastry. Place wax paper on top and fill with dry beans. Blind bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 180 degrees. Remove the beans and continue baking until the pastry case is a golden colour.

*Blind baking is the term used when beans or rice grains are placed on top of a pastry to keep it from shrinking.

Lemon Curd

What you need

300ml lemon juice
300g butter
300 sugar
4 eggs
6 egg yolks

What you do

Place lemon juice, sugar and melted butter over a double boiler and whisk until the sugar has dissolved.

Mix egg and yolks and slowly add into lemon mixture while whisking. Whisk over double boiler until pale, fluffy and thick. Cool with cling wrap directly on surface. Pipe the lemon curd into the pastry case.

Sprinkle with castor sugar and burn with a burner. Scoop honey and rosemary ice-cream onto the tart and serve with fresh strawberries.

Honey ice-cream

What you need

750ml milk
750ml cream
450ml honey
6 eggs
6 egg yolks
50g castor sugar
2 sprigs rosemary

What you do

Bring the honey to the boil until it turns a dark caramel colour.

Place the milk, cream, rosemary and honey in a saucepan and bring to simmering point. Mix the eggs and yolks together with the castor sugar. Remove the milk mixture from the stove and temper into the egg mixture.

Return to the stove and cook (not boil) until it coats the back of a spoon. Let it cool down.

Put in an ice-cream machine to freeze. Transfer to a container and set in the freezer.

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