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The Locked Down Cookbook: Transforming solo into social

TGIFOOD

KITCHEN SOLITARY

The Locked Down Cookbook: Transforming solo into social

Christine, Heinrich and Hanno Schultz in the locked down kitchen: the trio who started the locked down group. Photo: Supplied

The Locked Down Cookbook page on Facebook has taken off as South Africans have dived deeper into their own personal lockdowns. Wanda Hennig decided to dig deeper, to find out who’s behind the phenomenon, and made some new virtual friends – and unearthed some sweet anecdotes – along the way.

In these deep dark days of lockdown and physical distancing, going on 6,000 people and counting are finding comfort, community, friendship, support, inspiration, love, laughter and a great deal more through the sharing of food. Conversations around food. How-to tips and suggestions involving food. It’s the universal language of food in action. Food that ranges from simply sublime to exotic. Tempting-to-try to worthy of voyeuristic appreciation.

So Tuesday night it’s raining in Durban. Snowing on the berg. A night when gratitude and relief bubble up. Despite the overwhelming surreal “all” of all that’s going on. To have a home. To be warm. To have a roof. To have friends.

Friends who are not right here, right now, of course. Because it’s lockdown.

So I log into my new Facebook fave. I don’t recall ever having had a Facebook favourite before. But now there is The Locked Down Cookbook, introduced to me just over a week ago by Durban chef Marco Nico, profiled in the last issue of TGIF.

The Locked Down Cookbook: linking people via the universal language of food. Photo: Wanda Hennig

First thing I see, below the current masthead picture of luscious green avo freshness garnished with irresistible bite-into-me grilled red tomatoes and corn, is a posting that reads:

“Has been raining non-stop since about midday – measuring 37mm already – and we are expecting quite a bit of snow on the peaks of the Drakensberg tonight. So hubby made vegetable soup (6 medium potatoes, ¼ cabbage, 2 onions and 1 big butternut all chopped and cooked together in 5 cups of water, to which he added two tablespoons of beef stock). Seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper; 250ml cream was added just before it was served with sourdough bread we took out of the freezer earlier. (Half the soup will be frozen to eat on another day.)”

Beneath the recipe is a picture of a rich, silken, wanna-eat butternut-orange soup just off the simmer, still in its pot. A homely scene. A wooden bread board. The crusty bread, some sliced. The bread knife. I imagine a fireplace. Warmth. Good aromas.

There are many “likes” and heart emojis below the posting. I “like” it too. I like these people, I think as I read through the appreciative comments. This intimate sliver of their lives they’ve just shared with me.

A first attempt at Turkish delight. Photo: Sergio Gimenez

“Turkish delights, first try,” writes Sergio Gimenez. There are three pics and what Sergio has created is – beautiful. I am immediately back at a market in Athens, jonks ago, savouring the first non-store-bought Turkish delights I ever ate.

Sergio’s elicit appreciative comments like: “Tricky thing Turks. Looks like you nailed it.”

And “Oooh wow. Looks yum.”

“A little soft. But yummy,” confirms Sergio.

Lots of recipe requests. Sergio shares.

“A dish many of you won’t know,” another group member shares her picture. “Am cooking my famous Tzimmes for tonight’s Passover. This is a traditional Ashkenazi dish – sweet stew made from carrots, prunes, butternut, potatoes and slow-roasted brisket.” Her post is well-received and commented upon. Her recipe is shared.

Then: “Here’s my creamy prawn curry served with freshly baked ciabatta. Prawn recipe in ‘comments’. Ciabatta in previous post. Enjoy.”

Net roosterkoek and vleis for dinner. Photo: Junanna Labuschagne

What are you guys having for dinner tonight? – one of the group admin people asks.

“Net roosterkoek en vleis,” posts Junanna Labuschagne. Sharing a picture of exactly this. Gently tempting and teasing: a boeries-on-the-braai and grilling bread action snap.

Further down on the page someone has posted: “My fellow food lovers. I see that you all love good food. But when you serve it, think of all the senses. The table setting is important, I think. Good food, good wine and good company!”

There are no people in the picture. Recognition, perhaps, that company – for some at least – is absent right now. But the image is evocative. A table set with care, outdoors, in a garden, at night. Candles and strung lights, sawn logs for stools. A reminder that mindful eating, sensual eating, can be for one – or many.

‘Boeremeisie’ Annie Wilson’s daughter and 4-year-old grandson make pasta. Photos: Locked Down Cookbook

How can one not feel warm and fuzzy? I skim through the postings. Am stopped by one. There’s a grouping of four photos. The posting reads: “My four-year-old grandson helping make homemade pasta, to go with homemade sauce.” A delightful little curly-tops lad is riveted. Intensely concentrating on the process of helping his mom make pasta.

The gran’s name is Annie Wilson. I take a chance, not knowing her from Adam, presuming she is in lockdown in South Africa, and send her a message. If she gets my note, can I use the pictures she posted in the story I am writing? And can she give me a sentence or two about herself?

Within minutes there’s a reply. It comes from Littleton, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She is in lockdown, US-style.

Yes, I can use the pictures, she says.

“Ek is ’n regte egte boeremeisie!” she tells me. “I’m so homesick,” she laments. “Even more now after 27 years here. I wish I could come home.”

Chefs, she adds, are plentiful in her family. “My grandpa owned/managed the Russell Hotel in Vereeniging. My son Cameron is an executive chef. He was the corporate executive chef for Boeing! He even cooked for the crew of Apollo 13: surviving members.”

She includes a picture of a young man in uniform. “This is Cammy when he was a sous chef,” she writes.

Then, “I hope this group continues after lockdown. I love to cook good South African food cause food in America, in my humble opinion, is kak! It’s full of preservatives and most of it is GMO so I cook organic.” (Here she inserts two crying-with-laughter emojis.)

Hanno Schultz, his wife, Christine Schultz and his dad, Heinrich Schultz: the trio behind The Locked Down Cookbook. Photo: Hanno Schultz

There are a number of stand-outs for me. More each time I am compulsively drawn back to explore The Locked Down Cookbook group posts.

We’ve become accustomed to people taking photos of their food. At restaurants. Sharing on social media. Sometimes appreciatively. Other times – am I right? – more like: “Look at me – aren’t I special?”

Here, it’s real people sharing often simple snapshots. Of real, often unadorned, food.

And what blows me away time and again: the responses are personal. Caring.

Someone posts a picture and a little video of a vanilla panna cotta with fresh mango and nut brittle. “First time I tried this,” she says. Which solicits 41 likes and hearts, lots of accolades.

Plus: “Can I offer a cheffy tip? When the panna cotta mixture is cooling in the bowl in the fridge, leave it to cool completely while occasionally whisking in between. Only pour into moulds once you feel a change in thickness. This will ensure the vanilla beans are throughout the mixture and won’t settle on the bottom. They will be ‘suspended’ and evenly distributed.”

“Thanks,” says the cook.

Cool.

“My boys aged 13 and 10 made a peppermint crisp tart today from a recipe on the group. Sorry, I can’t remember whose (recipe) it was, to give them credit. It is delicious. Thank you.”

“Today I challenged myself. I made oxtail. The great and scary oxtail that, in my youth for family gathering, was prepared the day before. And oh my – did I not surprise myself.” Thus writes another member. Sharing her first post. And her recipe.

After a couple of days of on and off browsing, my curiosity gets the better of me.

The group’s stated “About” is “sharing what food you’re cooking during this, what feels like, global lockdown. No matter what you’re cooking, what you’re cooking with – or where you’re cooking it. Whether you’re cooking a Madras lamb curry in Germany or making home-made sushi in Cape Town, or just making a home-made condiment, we want to know about it. If you are willing to share the photos, descriptions and recipes of the food you’ve cooked, that’s even better. (Let’s) … spread the love during this difficult time and help bring families together again around the dinner table.”

There is no name. But I find 10 “admin” names. Choose one. Message her. Send my WhatsApp number. Ask to connect. And a couple of hours later get a message back. It’s from Hanno Schultz. By chance, the admin I chose to contact was his wife, Christine Schultz. By luck, it was Hanno, Christine and Hanno’s dad, Heinrich Schultz, who as a trio spontaneously formed The Locked Down Cookbook group on the first night of lockdown.

Hanno is in Stellenbosch. He and Christine usually live on a small lifestyle farm estate near Wellington. They’re in Stellenbosch to keep Heinrich company during the lockdown.

“The story of how we formed this group is very uncomplicated,” says Hanno when we connect to chat. “On the first night of lockdown my wife, my dad and I were sitting having dinner. We felt so happy together, sharing what we’d cooked, we thought: why not start a group? We asked close friends and family first. It snowballed from there. We were so chuffed. Still are.

“Right now my wife is the only one of the three of us with work. The admin people are mostly family. Some are friends. Some are in the (culinary) industry.” Both he and Christine are too. He studied food science at Stellenbosch. Followed it up with a two-year cheffing diploma from the Institute of Culinary Arts. He interned at the Rust and Vrede restaurant in Stellenbosch. Then owned and ran the kitchen and taproom at Karoo Kraft Breweries near Paarl.

He and Christine met when they were students at Stellenbosch where she did a BSc in food sciences, then a Masters in industrial engineering. She is currently, in terms of formal work, operations manager of a growing ready-to-drink cappuccino company.

Co-founder Hanno Schultz, a chef by training, loves to cook, not least this pizza. Photo: Hanno Schultz

Dad Heinrich, a long-time businessman, had an interest in food going back to his student days in Pretoria. All three of them love to cook. Lockdown has seen them set a schedule. “I cook every second day and they take turns the other day,” says Hanno.

His favourites? “Proper Mexican food. Not Tex-Mex. I have a great honey, ginger and soy chicken recipe. I love a good curry. And of course a braai every now and then.”

He and the fellow admins keep an eye on the site. One applies to join. Anyone with a friend who is a member is immediately accepted. Businesses are scrutinised. It’s not a commercial site. They don’t want people trying to flog their wares.

“It’s about camaraderie. And I’ve been so chuffed at how helpful people are. Nobody hesitates to lend a hand. To offer suggestions.” People, indeed, are supportive. Nice.

Simply butternut four ways: purée, gnocchi, chips and roasted. Photo: Billy Cowley

A couple of mornings ago when I dipped into the Lockdown group, a member had asked about recipe shares.

The first comment was a reprimand. To the entire group. Someone, it seemed, who had just joined was perceiving this all as an elitist bunch of people showing off. She disapproved. She was going to leave.

“You can use the cheapest of ingredients and make it look like something out of a foodie magazine. That’s what I strive to do each time I cook. My partner and child deserve to eat amazing looking and tasting food! I have the time now to properly prepare for and plan an awesome dish using my cheap ingredients,” a group member counters.

“Just because we’re here and enjoy cooking and sharing doesn’t mean we aren’t helping people in the community,” another member says.

The conversation is measured. The comments wide-ranging. After a while, the initially offended member apologises. Says she was hasty and misjudged.

I don’t know if she remained a member. But the conversation was affirming. Caring and sharing. Comforting. Communicating through the universal language of food.  

Lamb rack, pork belly, chicken wings, pork ribs, pumpkin and potatoes cooked in a smoker. Photo: Louise Venter

I ask Hanno to post a question: Has lockdown influenced members’ kitchen or cooking habits?

To share a few responses. Leaving the emojis to your imagination.

  •  Definitely more creative.
  • Yes, we are taking pictures after cooking!
  • Yes. And now it’s a team effort, everybody wants to “help”. Still deciding if I like it or not….
  • Yes. Master Chef at work every day.
  • Totally pushing the boundaries.
  • “Clearly many South Africans can’t boil or fry an egg. Maybe someone should do a tutorial on that.” This comment must be directed at a former post – because a forlorn (my take) answer pops up: “I will have to get some lessons.” Followed by the first person, contrite: “My comment is tongue-in-cheek. No offence meant.”
  • Totally pushing the boundaries.
  • I rediscovered my love of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen.
  • Baking is therapeutic like painting so it is good for you.
  • No. My family are as lazy as ever!!!
  • It’s become an adventure. The group, pictures, recipes and comments. So enjoyable.
  • Learning to minimise waste by using leftovers creatively. Being creative with what is available.
  • Indeed, it’s showing on the bathroom scale!
  • Yes! All the lockdown recipe try-outs. My poor family members are scared of what’s next!
  • I’m delighted to say, I now have a captive audience.
  • For somebody like me, who really did not like cooking or baking, I am now trying – and even get some compliments from hubby.
  • Yes. We have time. To prep, marinate, bake bread, experiment. Fewer shopping trips forces you to rethink the use of every item in the fridge, be it the loose vegetables or the leftovers to be recycled/upcycled. Baking a lot. Sitting together chopping and dicing vegetables.
Calamari salad garnished with a perfectly sliced avo. Photo: The Locked Down Cookbook

I ask Hanno to post another quickie question later in the day. He writes: How many of you have used recipes from our brilliant page and did they work out? Please do give us some feedback.

Again, to share a few responses. Again, leaving the emojis to your imagination.

  •  I did the rösti last night.
  • I made the Cinnabon recipe. It was amazing!
  • I did the condensed milk cookies. (Picture added of little boy stirring the bowl.)
  •   I made the spaghetti and “boerewor” meatballs. Quick and easy. Was very nice.
  • I did the soda bread. It’s a winner!!!!!
  • I had a recipe on hand, ingredients checked, but the finished product was just not right. I had to call a friend over to help. Ha Ha. I really am a bad cook. (Solicitous comments and offers of help follow this one.)
  • Yes. Bread. Naan. Pizza.
  • Pizza base with yoghurt. It worked awesomely.
  • I got feedback from two different ladies who said my carrot Swiss roll and my rusk recipe were a hit.
  • I made crème caramel. It was so yummy. And paratha. Also fab
  • My grocery list will be way different this time (I shop) compared to the last few months thanks to the group! Can’t wait to get started.
  • We did the pizza braai pie. Unfortunately, we got into such a good conversation that we forgot about it and burnt it. Will try again this weekend.
  • “I made the melkkos and it came out wonderful.” This elicits a question. (The postings have many conversations. Like friends chatting.) “Aaah. Exciting. I’m making it this week. Any chance you remember how much butter you used?”
  • Under normal circumstances we make food about three times a week ourselves. The rest of the time we eat out or get take-away meals or Woolies cooked food that is just warmed up. With this whole lockdown, I was not looking forward to cooking every night. But we are moving into week three and the cooking is delicious, thanks to this group. Sometimes there are recipes that I screen-shoot and test out. Sometimes it’s just inspiration. Sometimes it’s ideas. But more than all this I don’t feel like I’m standing alone and making food. We are all in this thing together. And we are definitely going to walk out better cooks on the other side. Thank you to everyone who is part of this group.

Since lockdown started, I haven’t shared any food pictures. The times spent preparing and eating what I’ve cooked, sliced, plated, relished have been special. The magic of flavour, ingredients and the fun one can have with them, even when – or especially when – simple. But the idea of pictures, except for myself or to WhatsApp to a friend, has felt uncomfortable.

But given the pleasure, the inspiration and the lightness of being shared among these people united around food, maybe I will. In the group. Because sharing and caring are nothing if not a two-way stream. DM/TGIFood 

Wanda Hennig is a food and travel writer based in Durban. She has worked on newspapers and magazines in South Africa and the San Francisco Bay Area and freelanced extensively. She is author of Cravings: A Zen-inspired memoir…. Reach her via her website wandahennig.com.

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