Cooksister is one of the longest standing food blogs around and has gone from strength to strength in the last decade. I’ve been reading for several years, so it’s with great pleasure that I interview Jeanne Horak-Druiff for this week’s Monday Meet The Blogger.
Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.
Hi – I’m Jeanne! I am a South African who has been living in London for the past 14 years and loving it more with each passing year. My blog started as an outlet for my writing more than anything else, and has morphed into an outlet for my cooking, writing and photography. Although I started as purely a food blog, I now see myself as 50/50 food and travel. I try to post a recipe, a restaurant review and a travel piece per week – so expect food, photos and faraway places!
Is there a story behind your blog’s name?
A koeksister is a plaited, deep-fried, syrup-soaked pastry that is hugely popular in South Africa. I figured that I needed to anglicise the spelling a bit to make it non-threatening (!) but I knew that any South African looking down a list of Google search results seeing my blog name would definitely recognise a kindred spirit and click on it.
What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who / what inspired you to cook?
The first thing I ever learnt to bake were scones – I was probably not ten years old yet and it became my party trick to back them after school at friends’ houses without a recipe. It was definitely my mom who taught and inspired me to cook – she was always a working mom, so she did not bake her own bread or make preserves. But she loved to cook and taught me that there is no shame in customising an out-of-the-box or tin ingredient. She said her greatest achievement as a cook was to cook dinner for the family year in and year out and not bore herself (and them) to death. I now get what she meant ;)
What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?
A combination of what’s in season, what’s being harvested on our allotment, and what dishes stuck in my mind from our travels.
Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!
Hah – there was that time when I we had dinner guests over and had been drinking rather a lot by the time I went to get the Schweinsbraten pork roast out of the oven and prepare the gravy, I clearly should not have been operating heavy machinery. As I poured the gravy out of the roasting tin into a small saucepan, the heavy roasting tin slipped, tipped over the saucepan and sprayed hot, fatty, meaty liquid all over the countertop, the cupboards, the floor, the skirting boards… you name it. How I missed my feet, I do not know. After hubby mopped up a bit, I made Bisto gravy and served the roast. Entertaining under the influence: don’t do it, kids!
Which food or ingredients could you not live without?
Salt, cheese, garlic and olive oil.
Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?
I love everything about Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries – from the ethos of using leftovers to make stuff to eating seasonally, to the simple but beautiful photography. I also love his recipes. Donna Hay’s books inspire me visually but I have yet to cook from one of them…
If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?
For the starter I’d keep is simple with these astonishingly good tomato, olive and basil bruschetta; followed by chicken in a creamy mustard, rosemary and preserved lemon sauce; and to finish, a South African classic: coconut tart (klappertert).
What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without? (It doesn’t have to be electrical)
Excellent sharp knives, and my WMF boiled egg shell chopper (a sheer indulgence, I know!)
What’s your kitchen white elephant?
A piping bag and some nozzles. A baker, I ain’t!
Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?
I have a long-standing love affair with French cooking. But I have never yet been known to turn down an Italian meal!
Which single dish could you not live without?
An excellent Caesar salad topped with a grilled salmon fillet. Simple heaven.
What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?
Rude staff, and too much noise (either from music or from fellow-diners)
Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)
Club Gascon (their set lunch is outstanding value for money); L’Atelier Joel Robuchon; Vinoteca Farringdon
What’s the strangest / funniest / best / worst (pick one or more) thing that’s happened to you in a restaurant?
I once took some visitors to the capital out to dinner and was obviously keen to make a good impression. We ordered sole and what arrived, at the premium price of sole, was quite obviously cheap plaice. We complained to the waiter who looked like a bunny in the headlights and fetched The Most Supercilious Manager in London. His opening gambit was: “Is there a problem? Because the fish you ordered is almost exactly like sole… [pregnant pause] but it is in fact plaice”. When we objected to being served a substitute without being given the choice of ordering something else, he blamed the fact that sole was not “in season”. When we then objected to paying the price of sole for cheap plaice, he disagreed that there was a price difference until we Googled both from a fishmonger and showed him the results. He then grudgingly agreed to comp us desserts. It was a total PR/service fail from any angle you care to look at it and I have never been back.
What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?
This is a non-topic as far as I am concerned, wheeled out by the press periodically when they need a bit of blogger-baiting to increase their engagement. It’s my food; I paid for it and I will photograph it if I like. I am not using my flash and I am not taking pictures of other people. I am not expecting other people at my table to wait for me to do my thing – I only photograph my own food. I cannot see how this is any more distressing to fellow-diners than somebody checking their text messages at the table. And restaurants who panic about it need to remember that free publicity is a rare and beautiful thing.
Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that appeals to your readers / differentiates you from traditional journalists?
Bloggers are not constrained by available column inches like print journalists are, so I can give a blow-by-blow account of a meal, with accompanying pictures. I have often said that I am not a restaurant critic – my intention is for you to feel as if you are there with me, experiencing everything I experienced. In my opinion, this gives people a good basis for deciding whether to spend their hard-earned cash on an expensive meal at a restaurant I have visited. When I am booking restaurants in foreign cities, I often seek out blog reviews rather than critic reviews, because I want this sort of blow by blow account. And I figure if this is what I look for, then there may well be other people looking for the same kind of thing.
If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?
The Swan at the Globe – both for the view and the consistently excellent, unpretentious food
What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?
The seafood trip I took to West Sweden. I had never thought about Sweden as a food e destination and this trip totally changed my perspective. On the first afternoon we went on a mussel safari, which involved going out into the archipelago in a boat to look at the baby mussels on their ropes, and then mooring up beside a tiny island where we stopped off and hosts Adriaan and Lars made us some of the freshest, most delicious moules mariniere I have ever tasted. We sat on the rocks eating mussels and sipping wine in the late afternoon sun. Bliss.
Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (Make it a top 3 if you prefer)
Canada, Japan, India.
What’s the very first trip you remember taking?
The first overseas trip I took was with my parents when I was 14. We flew to Nice from Johannesburg and rented a car; and then we drove around France for 3 weeks, Chevy Chase-style. Nice to Bordeaux; Bordeaux to Brive; Brive to Rennes; Rennes to Mont St Michel; Mont St Michel to Paris; Paris to Chamonix; Chamonix to Monte Carlo; Monte Carlo to Portofino; and then back to Nice. It gave me a passion for France (and for travel) that I cherish to this day.
Where are you going next?
Jersey, Paris and Australia!
What three things can you never travel without?
My phone, my camera, my earplugs
What’s the best/ worst travel experience you’ve ever had?
Best travel experiences have been my stay at the utterly breath-taking One&Only The Palm in Dubai; and my Business Class flights to Singapore. I have not had any utterly appalling travel experiences – other than the odd bit of delayed luggage.
If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?
Japan! Because you could show me the ropes!
Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?
My style of writing has become less like a diary and more like a magazine –I now prefer to write something that might still be relevant in 5 years (e.g. a city guide) rather than breathlessly telling you where I’ve been.
What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?
I never ever have enough time to do all the things I want to do. I always feel there is some aspect of my blog that I am neglecting…
What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?
It’s the satisfaction of creating something from nothing. A dish, a story and a photo, all combined together. It cheers me up even if I have had the worst of days. And of course the fab friends and connections that I have made through blogging!
What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?
Loving the deluge of sweet, home-grown summer tomatoes. There is also much barbecuing going on while the weather holds…
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
Sautéed Brussels sprouts. Who knew?
Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?
Oh there are loads. But I will restrict myself to this one: gem squash with a cheesy, spicy creamed sweetcorn filling.
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