Cooking for African Pride
The aromas of chilli, paprika and star anise linger in the kitchen, retracing the steps of South African native Matilda Scarfe, who is stoking the fire of homesick bellies with her homemade products, hosting annual African safaris for a delicious taste of her homeland, and now unveiling the tasty delights of the Sunshine Coast through gourmet Hinterland tours.
It’s a spicy Christmas day in the Maleny Hinterland, Matilda Scarfe is dancing around the kitchen preparing the family feast with all the traditional trimmings – including a zesty prawn cocktail to whet the appetite.
“This recipe is a bit boring,” Matilda’s daughter says, looking down at the shelled prawns, mayonnaise and accompanying ingredients strewn across the bench.
Matilda looks around the kitchen, yearning for inspiration when she spots the golden rind of a mango, slices and pulps it and mixes it with some mayonnaise. “Too sweet,” she says, dipping her finger in.
A sprinkle of chilli, taste.
A swig of brandy, taste.
“That was how our mango and chilli mayonnaise was born and it’s still one of our most popular products,” Matilda says, her South African lilt peppering every word.
Matilda had a “very normal” post-war childhood, growing up in Johannesburg, which she says she remembers fondly.
Upon finishing school, Matilda moved to Pretoria (in the northern Gauteng Province of South Africa) in 1959 to attend university, majoring in Criminology, Psychology and German.
“Our German lecturer was very handsome and we all fell in love with him. That was my reason for taking German as a major. It was very nice to go to German classes,” Matilda says with a laugh.
Never one to sit still, Matilda pursued Criminology and Psychology for a year after graduating uni, but grew tired of it and took a job in door-to-door sales, then opened a finishing school for teenagers.
“We taught them manners and deportment, how to cook, about clothing and make-up, it was great fun. That lead to us opening some night clubs for teenagers, with no alcohol,” she says.
What I love is the modern chefs are taking traditional dishes and twisting them and making something else out of them.”
Matilda then returned to Johannesburg and worked at the SABC as a midnight announcer, where she met her first husband, who was a controller/producer at the station.
“I’ve done a lot of things, but there have been a lot of years in my life. I was different from the norm, in those days you left school or left uni, got a job and stayed there until you retired, so I was a wild child doing all these sorts of things. I’ve just been impulsive my whole life, I do what I want to do.”
In 1982, a recently-divorced Matilda and her 12-year-old daughter were invited to visit Australia and stay with a friend for a while.
“I had no idea where Australia was, I looked it up on the map and away we came,” she says. “That was at the end of ‘82, after the Commonwealth Games and Matilda the Kangaroo was everywhere, so I was famous before I got here!”
Arriving in Australia was also a culture shock – in South Africa they had servants, which was the norm there; so to see her friend, a mother-of-two, running the household, was very different to what she was used to back home.
On Christmas day, another surprise was bestowed upon Matilda.
“My friend said, I’ve invited this guy over for lunch but don’t get your hopes up because he’s hopeless with women’, I said, ‘I don’t want a man in my life’. Famous last words! Next thing I was in love and that was it, I went back to South Africa, packed my bags and we got married in March.”
Having grown up in a melting pot of cuisine and culture, moving to Australia further expanded Matilda’s repertoire and introduced her to ingredients she never knew existed.
“My mother and grandmother were both very good cooks, and they loved cooking,” she says fondly.
“My mother encouraged my younger sister and I to cook. Although we had servants, she insisted that one or two days a week we had to cook a meal, which we did, so we learnt.
“Our grandmother, according to us, was the best cook in the world, and when we visited her it was absolutely beautiful cooking on a coal stove, they didn’t have electricity.
“I just loved cooking and when I got married, I loved cooking for the family and expanded my cooking.
I love showing people things and seeing them enjoy food.”
“I arrived here with all of my dried herbs in the container I brought over, my husband took one look at them and chucked them all out. I nearly died. He said, ‘You want herbs? There are herbs in the garden, fresh. That changed my whole idea of cooking, because it’s so different. I thought I was smart having 40 bottles of dried herbs, but then I started using fresh.”
With her daughter and step-daughter grown up, Matilda and her husband moved from Brisbane to the Coast, where her friends convinced her to open a restaurant on their Maleny property.
“I got tables and chairs to put on our verandah and that was my restaurant,” she says. “But it grew and one Mother’s Day it was pouring with rain, I had 18 people booked in and I couldn't put them outside, so we carried our lounge furniture out and put the tables inside and everyone was inside.”
Not long after, they purpose-built a rondawel to run the restaurant e’Afrika (Out of Africa) from, serving strictly African dishes.
“We used family recipes and traditional recipes, which every South African knows, like bobotie and sosaties and koeksisters. And no I’m not swearing at you!
“I loved cooking for people, I loved people liking it. I also loved helping the homesick South Africans. Most are traumatised because of things that have happened there, and they feel they have to justify why they’re here, they feel guilty being here.
“I’ve had people burst into tears when I put a dish in front of them – they’re so homesick and they can’t go back because of the way they left.
“So it was lovely to be here for them, but it was taking its toll on me as I could never take even half an hour off, I had to be here.”
Having run the restaurant for 10 years, Matilda felt it was time to put it to bed and sold the business to a South African family. She then converted the restaurant and main cottage into accommodation and built two new cottages to bring “a little bit of African living” to Australia with the African Cottage, The Rodawel, Cape Cottage (Kaapse Huisie) and Kalahari Cottage. Each are self-contained cottages with an African decor, and guests can order meals from a delicious menu.
But there is no rest for the wicked and Matilda added yet another venture to her name.
“While I had the restaurant people kept saying, ‘I wish I could cook like you’, and that’s where the products started, I said, ‘I’ll put it in a bottle and you can take it home and you can cook like me’.
That was 20 years ago, when Matilda started bottling her Gourmet Afrika products in her home kitchen – the first batch conjured up on that fateful Christmas day with her daughter.
I said to my friend, ‘I’ve got to show this to people, I’ve got to share this with the Australians, to show them how beautiful South Africa is’.”
“It just kept evolving,” she says. “Last Christmas I brought back smoked salt from South Africa and I thought, if they can make it, I’ll make it, so I started smoking salts with herbs and garlic to give to everyone.
“Then I was talking to my friend at the Ginger Factory, they’re my biggest customer, and I told them about the smoked salts, one with rosemary, the other with chilli, another with fennel and dill, and they wanted 48 of each – we were in business.
“Another product we brought back was a tomato jam, but jams are for old ladies, so I added some brandy and ginger and other ingredients and our brandy and ginger salsa was born. When you like cooking you create.”
And when you enjoy and appreciate food, you share that experience with others, as Matilda has done for the last 10 years, through her annual African Safaris.
“I was sitting in Stellenbosch (in the Western Cape province of South Africa) having lunch and it was a beautiful clear day like today. In the Cape, because of the mountains, you have this incredible blue sky and those majestic mountains all around you,” Matilda says, panning her hand across. “I said to my friend, ‘I’ve got to share this with the Australians, to show them how beautiful South Africa is’.”
The safaris have become wildly popular, booking out well in advance thanks to glowing referrals from past guests.
“The food in South Africa is outstanding,” says Matilda, “I try to get them to experience all of the different tribes and their traditional food, Malay, Xhosa, Sotho, African, English, German, French, Indian, the eating experiences are out of this world.
“What I love is the modern chefs taking traditional dishes and twisting them and making something else out of them. Take bobotie for example, it’s a mince dish with spices, ginger, turmeric, and you bake it with raisins, apricot jam and chutney. Then you make an egg custard with eggs, milk, turmeric and pour that over and stick lemon leaves in, and bake it in the oven.
“That’s the most traditional dish in South Africa, now the chefs are making samosas or spring rolls with the bobotie mixture. Every time I go back I want to see what they’re doing with the traditional things.”
And then there are the animal encounters –“That’s why people go to South Africa, to see the animals. The last time we were there, we were out on the game drive and 10 minutes out of camp there were 26 elephants by the side of the road. To come face-to-face with an elephant is an incredible experience!
“I do miss South Africa, but I wouldn’t want to live there, I’ve been here for 33 years now. The minute you land in Johannesburg, it’s like, ‘Yes I’m home’, and the minute you land back in Brisbane, it’s, ‘Yes I’m home’.”
FAVOURITE SOUTH AFRICAN DISH?
“I love the Malay curries, because I don’t like hot curry. I have a curry tree in my garden and one day I was sitting in the garden and the wind was blowing and I got the aroma from the curry tree and I thought, I’ve got to do something with this, so we picked branches and branches and dried it in the oven and we got that much (holding hand out) and I thought if this takes off I’m not going to have a tree left!
Once we got the curry leaves, I started mixing it with fennel, cinnamon and other spices and we came up with this fantastic Kalahari Curry Paste and we make a seafood curry with that and real coconut, that’s my favourite.”
Now, this extraordinary 75-year-old grandmother is champing at the bit to show people around her second home and has launched a Gourmet Safari in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. The first one held this month and a second booked for 3-11 September (two days later she’s off to South Africa for the next safari!).
“I’m very excited about it because I have discovered some fantastic places over the years, we all know of the well-known restaurants, but there are some hidden gems,” she says, with a glint in her eye.
The safaris will see guests indulge in delicious food and award-winning wine from across the Sunshine Coast, take part in cooking classes, meet producers and farmers, and revel in the beautiful scenery of the Hinterland, while meeting new like-minded friends.
“I love showing people things and seeing them enjoy food.”
Matilda’s genuine love of cooking, feeding people and sharing the local secrets from her two treasured homelands is ingrained, it’s who she is, and it’s magical.
Sitting at the round kitchen table, in the heart of Matilda’s warm African cottage-style home, she takes a sip of rooibos tea with cinnamon and orange, fragrant swirls of steam evaporate into the air.
“We raise our babies on rooibos tea, they get it from about two months because it’s so good for you,” Matilda says, cradling the elephant-printed mug in her hands.
It’s true what they say, you can take the girl out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of the girl.
For traditional African recipes and to find out more about the safaris, Gourmet Afrika products and Matilda’s African Cottages in Maleny, visit www.profilemag.com.au/gourmetafrika
GOURMET SAFARI PROGRAM - 29 JULY – 7 AUGUST, 2016
HIGHLIGHTS: Visit to local farms and meet producers; Maleny ‘Bites & Sites’ walking tour; guided tour at Crystal Waters Eco Village.
Cooking class and demonstrations at Spicers Tamarind Cooking School, The Ginger Factory, and with Pete Wolf from Cedar Creek Bush Foods; and tastings at Maleny Mountain Wines and Flame Hill Winery.
Lunch at the award-winning Pomodoras, French restaurant Maison de Provence in Cooroy, and degustation at Spicers Clovelly; dinner at Bella Cucina, The Imperial Hotel, Eumundi, Mexican fiesta at The Lane, Palmwoods, and African dinner night at The House of Laurels.
Exclusive dinner by the fire pit, a ‘Music under the Stars’ night and dining experience with live entertainment; and Noosa River Cruise and BBQ seafood lunch with award-winning Noosa River and Canal Cruises.
COST: $2500 per person (twin share)
BOOKINGS: 5435 2445 or email@example.com