Taste was everything to Peter Veldsman, icon of South African food

Taste was everything to Peter Veldsman, icon of South African food
Mentor and friend: Veteran food journalist Barbara Joubert, left, with Peter Veldsman at Leeuwenhof, Cape Town, in 2017. (Photo: Ian du Toit)

Reading about the death of Peter Veldsman, the focus is on his status as a South African food icon, arguably the greatest since Louis Leipoldt. This acclaim from those in the culinary know is justified, but for me he was simply a friend whose presence was taken for granted in an almost one-of-the-family kind of way.

Shortly after my father had appointed Peter Veldsman as food editor of Sarie magazine in 1976, I had the honour of becoming Peter’s perlemoen supplier. Harvesting perlemoen was still totally legal back then. And whenever I phoned my father at his office to inform him that I had dived a stash of “pearlies”, Peter would arrive at our Sea Point house with my dad in tow to inspect the haul and offer me his price – 75c a perlemoen back then was, for me, a big deal.

My dad had tracked down Peter at Silwood Kitchen where he was lecturing and helping with catering gigs. Sarie needed a food editor to assist its readers in embracing the burgeoning foodie culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, by giving them a taste of refinement and elegance and the cosmopolitan, while still encouraging its audience of Afrikaans women to be authentic. Learn to make soufflé, but never forget about the importance of the melktert.

He had the complete culinary skill set, honed by the formidable Leslie Faull at Silwood Kitchen. Taste, food and hospitality were in his blood, courtesy of a mother who cooked at the Royal Hotel in Ladismith, Klein Karoo, and was a disciple of Escoffier. Her kitchen was once rated second-best eatery in South Africa by the Royal Automobile Club – The Carlton in Johannesburg came top that year.

As a young food writer, Peter hit the ground running. He had the looks of a French film star, an outgoing personality and a natural flair with spoken and written words, quickly becoming the hottest name in South African food journalism and helping make Sarie one of the best-selling magazines in the country. 

Cooking and sharing: Peter Veldsman, right, in the kitchen at Leeuwenhof, Cape Town, in 2017 with his business partner Johan Odendaal, centre, and food editor and judge Barbara Joubert, left. (Photo: Ian du Toit)

In his gorgeous memoir Wat die Hart van Vol is, he writes about being overwhelmed as a boy by the taste and texture of a cool cucumber just plucked from the soils of the Klein Karoo. It all began there. Taste was everything to Peter, and he was never shy to say his tastes were simple, and that was that only the very best would do.

And so it was with art, literature, music and his impeccable sense of dress. He embodied the meaning of class and style, together with a terrific sense of humour and a tongue not shy of verging on the acerbic.  A “doos” was not only for boxing cakes in.

Peter fed the readers of Sarie a fortnightly dose of recipes and culinary advice, staying at the top of his game by travelling extensively and eating at the best restaurants, with Paris being his heart’s home. The media profile made him a national treasure, and Peter was roped in by various meat and vegetable boards to promote South African produce and culinary prowess on the world stage.

There was, I believe, an incident in Germany where he procured a couple of live ostriches to accompany one of his South African-themed cooking demonstrations. He loved being the showman, and it came naturally. At his time he was, I believe, one of the most famous Afrikaans men outside of a rugby field.

Upon leaving the media world in the 1990s, Peter showed he could not just write about food, but walk the culinary walk, too, with his Emily’s restaurant in Woodstock being one of the city’s finest. I will always remember his curried tripe at that place. The telephone book-thick wine list. The warm, comforting energy of the place where Peter and fellow chef/business partner Johan Odendaal faffed over patrons, their cigarettes never out of reach and the kitchen one of discipline and control, and perfection.

Peter loved to skinder: about other restaurants serving what he called “crimplene cuisine”. About the more than one occasion his staff at Emily’s would, after closing, find a pair of women’s panties beneath a vacated table. The time, during his Silwood stint, when he catered a grand dinner party in Cape Town’s leafy southern suburbs. The host asked for dessert to be served in the drawing room, and when Peter entered with the pudding, all the guests had transformed from dinner dress into a state of randy butt-nakedness.

He never preached or pontificated about his way with food, preferring to pass on tips when ingredients or recipes or regions were mentioned in conversation. So I was taught that perlemoen, thinly sliced, is the best sashimi. I still want, some day, to have the biltong he told me about, which he had in childhood: the whole leg of a duiker buck, cured in the crisp, cool air of the Klein Karoo, his home and a place he loved more than anything.

When I do get around to this, I’ll try to get a Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Champagne to accompany it, his favourite. Creating taste is a special ability, and Peter Veldsman did it naturally. Because it had created him. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Cecilia Wedgwood says:

    His recipe for chicken liver pate which was in the Woollies cook book is very much the real McCoy.

  • Trevor Gray says:

    As a wine rep visiting the Waterfront Emily’s on a Monday with a wine or two for possible listing along with other reps was incredibly informative. His grace,humour and anecdotes dredged from his vast memory was a treat. A wine palate par excellence along with obvious love of food writing certainly puts him in the pantheon of SA finest bon vivants.

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