TGIFOOD

BEYOND BAKLAVA

Maro’s Weapons of Diet Destruction

Maro’s Weapons of Diet Destruction
Maro Zaroudoukas and her Loukatina. Photo: Erica Plattrer

When in Ballito on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, pop in to Zaras, where Maro Zaroudoukas’ array of cakes beckons seductively from a table between the inside and alfresco seating. Now its “teal-quoise” and yellow (sea and lemon) colour scheme, its menu and its “make people happy” vibe is about to hit the Highveld – the second Zaras Café opens at Rivonia Boulevard on April 7.

In Ballito, for the best cakes in town, head to a Greek café. Zaras to be exact.

There you will almost certainly meet Maro Zaroudoukas. Except for a few days’ annual leave she is in at 6am daily, and out only at 5.30 pm. Among her many gifts is the ability to make people hungry. And then happy.

Someone intent on grabbing “just a coffee” is a challenge she almost invariably turns into a full breakfast: perhaps a Katcha – pita wedges piled with cottage cheese, avo, bacon, spring onion and a finely poached egg. (The pita bread here is always made freshly, to order. It is delicious. Ciabatta and breads are baked daily.)

Or she will sally out between the tables to persuade a thirsty dropper-in, ordering only one of her Fresh Greens (a gingery, lemony, fresh fruit-and-veg juice which could convert any kale-hater), to sip it slowly over lunch. Which – she has the unsuspecting first-timer eating out of her hand in no time (“I like tantalising”) – might be her five-hour-roasted, pulled lamb flatbread with all the trimmings. These include very fine tzatziki, and feta so superior you will never countenance a wodge of cheap Danish stuff again.

But, delicious and authentic and generous though these may be, I am now going to own up: even at breakfast-time they are a curtain-raiser to what I consider the main event here, beside Maro herself. Her cakes and dessert-bakes. Not dainty little nibbles. These are cakes of substance, weapons of diet destruction; all home-made in the café’s kitchen; donated to local charities in the unlikely event they are not consumed on the day or day after of baking. (And yes, there are some delicious-looking vegan and gluten-free options.)

Of course we eat cakes all day,” Maro says. “We’re Greek.” (She is originally from Limmasol, Cyprus, where her brothers still live.) “It saddens me when people say ‘ooh, I’d better not, I’ll get fat’…”

The 16-or-so-item array beckons seductively from a table between the inside and alfresco seating. There’s my favourite, traditional Loukatina – a base of nuts and cinnamon, layered with custard, fresh cream and roasted almonds. There are various of Maro’s own inventions, including a lush mille-feuille sort of Greek custard slice; and a modern riff on an old favourite, her baklava cheesecake. There is a splendid plain vanilla pound cake. There are three very different chocolate numbers. And so on. She is currently test-baking a tiny milk-tartlet to serve alongside her coffees instead of the usual complimentary biscuit.

Her non-negotiables include farm butter, free-range eggs, local cream, fruit and veg. Fresh herbs, never commercial flavourings, no microwaving, and whatever the dish, “you need to love it”. A roast chicken for example, and this was the advice she gave to her daughter, cooking one for the first time: keep visiting it in the oven, keep basting it, keep lavishing it with attention. It will respond. And it did.

Maro has had a faithful fan base for 22 years, ever since she re-invented the boerewors roll for a Durban flea market, turning it Greek overnight. She’d brown onions, make fresh tomato sauce, reduce balsamic vinegar, whip up tzatziki and hummus the night before, and serve them with the wors. Instant approval, giving her the confidence to move on to several coffee shop franchises before opening Zaras. (Named after her late husband.)

Its “teal-quoise” and yellow (sea and lemon) colour scheme, its menu, its “make people happy” vibe is now about to hit the Highveld. The second Zaras Café opens at Rivonia Boulevard on April 7. But how will this singular place travel? What’s the secret here, I ask the breakfasters at the next table. “Maro’s personality,” she says. “Hands-on direction,” he says.

But Maro is confident the Joburg Zaras will live up to her motto: By family for family. Because it will be run by her twin sister’s children, Alexia and Silvio Beretta.

The only bakes not made from scratch on the premises are the croissants. Maro imports these from Belgium, because, she says, they’re better than any she has been able to make. DM

Zaras Café, Lifestyle Centre, Ballito.

Open 6-17.30 daily, Sun and public holidays 7-17.00.

Tel: 032 586 3204

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