When did you first get in to cooking and do you remember the first recipe you tried?
I spent a lot of time dangling in the kitchen at my mother’s elbow when I was a small girl, watching her cook all sorts of wonderful things. When I was nine or so, I thought I’d have a go, and the first thing I made was a batch of my granny’s peanut-butter biscuits. I wrote the recipe – and my subsequent ‘experiments’ - down in a notebook, which I still have.
What's your kitchen like and how do you keep organized when cooking?
I have a small and compact kitchen, which suits me fine, but I wish there was more storage space, because I have a magpie’s collection of props for food photography, which I have to stash in cupboards all over the house.
I am methodical – even annoyingly fastidious - when it comes to cooking, but I haven’t always been so finicky. When I first took up serious cooking in my twenties, I carelessly flung things together with chaotic energy, but now that I’m older I’ve recognised that precision, calm and order in the kitchen produce the best results.
What tips would you give to someone wanting to become a better cook?
Read more cookbooks. You can learn a certain amount from watching celebrity chefs and reality shows on TV, but the obvious time constraints of television mean that the finer details have to be left out. And the devil really is in the detail when it comes to fine home cooking. I have learned so much from cookbooks, and particularly from the great women food writers of the 20th century, including Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, MFK Fisher, Julia Child, Claudia Roden, Marcelle Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, and so on.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and what would you cook for them?
Richard Dawkins, Rick Stein, Dame Maggie Smith, and – for the South-African-born contingent - Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Prue Leith, cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, talk-show host Redi Tlhabi, and my mum, novelist Jenny Hobbs. I would make garlicky, herby roast chicken with rustling golden potatoes and jugfuls of gorgeous gravy, followed by a nice homely Cape-style ‘Malva’ or brandy pudding with whipped cream and rivers of custard. It’s plain and homely food, I know, but isn’t that what we all love best?
Do you do any other crafts and what are your hobbies?
Drawing, painting, knitting, crossword puzzles, reading and gardening. I’m also learning to play the piano.