Ilse was born in Stellenbosch in the South African province of Western Cape. From an early age she was interested in food and everything that came with it. She always watched her mother and grandmother cooking. The roles are currently reversed as Ilse lets other people watch her cooking in her own cooking program on South African television. We asked her about the diversity of South African cuisine and the special eating habits the country has.
Why is South African cuisine also called rainbow cuisine?
“South Africa has many different cultural influences. We have eleven official national languages and perhaps even more different influences in the food culture. But the one thing we do have in common, is that we love to cook food over open fires. In Afrikaans, we call it to "braai". Our national heritage day on the 23rd of September has also been dubbed "national braai day", because it brings people together. It's a way of life, and a popular way of entertaining friends and family. The things we like to braai are lamb chops, boerewors (seasoned beef sausage), chicken, spare ribs, fat wrapped liver, steak and much more. Besides, often make a ‘potjie’, a meat stew in a cast iron pot over an open fire. It is a social ritual, because it takes quite a few hours and South Africans have specific ways of doing it.”
What other things characterize South African cuisine?
“South African food culture cannot be boxed, because we have so many sub-cultures and they're all very different. I'll speak from my own heritage for now, which is white Afrikaans. I grew up in a middle-class family, where I was the second of four children. So my mother had to cook a lot to feed a family of six. We braaied a lot over weekends. Our firm favourites were meat with potato salad and toasted sandwiches over the fire, sweet and saucy chicken casseroles with lots of chutney involved, and simple, flavourful bolognaise.
And does South African cuisine have special eating traditions?
“Within individual cultures and religions there are very specific foods for celebrating different holidays, so I cannot give only one answer. But we do have a very special love for sweet treats, like ‘koeksisters’, ‘peppermint crisp tart’ and ‘milk tart’, and for sweet and mildly spiced meat, like "bobotie", curried fish, and "boerewors".”
Do you prefer to cook authentic South African dishes or dishes from other countries?
“I have always been very inspired by the Mediterranean way of living, eating and cooking. It may be its simplicity and the less prominent role that meat plays. South Africans are generally obsessed with meat, but my true love lies in vegetables, starches and dairy. Give me an almond croissant or an amazing pizza and I'm in heaven! However, I realize on a daily basis that here in South Africa we are truly blessed with products of incredible quality. We have the best at our doorstep, in every way. The Western Cape in South Africa is one of the most diverse, affordable and spectacular food destinations in the world. Come visit us, check out the Bo-Kaap with its incredible spice shops, visit the city with its unrivaled gastronomic scene, visit the Winelands with its spectacular wine farms and restaurants. In the Western Cape we really have everything.”
In addition to recommendations for these food destinations, you share delicious recipes and cooking tips in your job. Where does this love for cooking and food come from?
I have always loved eating since I was a very young child, so I watched my mother and my grandmother from a young age to see what they do when cooking. When I started waitressing at Varsity, I discovered the tricks of the restaurant trade. I was completely hooked and wanted to learn as much as I could. I spent all my money eating out, and watched the Food channel day and night before even considering a career in food.
Curious about Ilse's platform? Take a look at her website thefoodfox.com.