One of the “drivers” of the great energy we feel in our everyday lives at Summerhill comes from the exuberance of youth, and the wisdom of experience. One thing that is very evident in our people is the discovery, sooner or later, in most of their experiences, that there is nothing in life they can’t achieve, and it’s only a case of when the realisation dawns. Just yesterday we were greeted with the incredible news that Hartford House’s head Chef, Jackie Cameron, (a Pietermaritzburg girl of only 24 years) has been selected among the top three female Chefs in South Africa. Knowing the depth of cooking talent across the length and breadth of the country and the achievements of her company, this is an astonishing landmark, even in a career that is already characterised by many glittering accolades.

Let’s not forget that Margot Janse (of Le Quartier Francaise) is among the three awardees, and has already been rated Number One chef in South Africa several times, while the other, Le Canard’s Freda Appelbaum, is one of only four women in the world to be honoured as a Disciple of Escoffier. As an illustration of the extent of the achievement, the country’s “king” of food critics, Victor Strugo, commented ….

Jackie CameronJackie CameronIn the quest for serenity, few places are more tranquil than the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, with its rolling hills, gentle morning mists and bright night skies. This ideal setting for regeneration and self-indulgence contains one of South Africa’s best-kept gourmet secrets. At the ripe old age of 24, Jackie Cameron has already been the executive chef of Hartford House for a good few years. Well-informed gourmets willingly drive for many hours to experience her vibrant and sensitive cuisine.

Achieving such a reputation so young is all the more astonishing when working in a remote rural area that lacks competition with peers and interaction with mentors. Certainly, Jackie has travelled overseas, and for a while she benefited from the nearby presence of South Africa’s luminous avant-gardist, Richard Carstens. But the ability to train and manage a youthful kitchen brigade, and the standard of her culinary output can only stem from a capacity for hard work and buckets of natural talent. And she copes confidently with that curious yet quaint Natal tradition whereby the chef welcomes guests with a guided introduction of the dinner menu.

Jackie’s spark was nurtured in her grandmother’s kitchen. She has a classical cooking style, invigorated by youthful imagination and an abundance of fresh regional produce. Her table d’hote menus are cleverly structured; attractively-presented courses alternate between delicate and intense flavours that delight but never overwhelm the palate. As most patrons are staying guests (Hartford has 15 exquisite suites, a wellness centre, a loch and a neighbouring stud farm), every sitting has a different menu. Jackie sees this challenge as a constant motivation to expand her repertoire and broaden her style. This young woman is one of South Africa’s brightest. Expect to hear a lot more about her.

hartford houseJackie’s award is a tribute not only to her own love affair with cooking and her obvious talent, but it also speaks volumes for the team she has recruited to assist her and for her ability to teach. Several of her Zulu staff were employed from the ranks of casual stable cleaners in the horse division, and two of them have progressed from the scullery to the point of scholarships to Zurich and Prague, as ambassadors for the culinary standards of South Africa.

None of this would have been possible without the encouragement of the many guests that have frequented Hartford House’s restaurant over the years, and in particular the critical support of people like Victor Strugo, Derek Taylor, Anne Stevens and Mechthild Yorke-Mitchell, among several others.

Jackie would be the first to acknowledge the considerable assistance she has had from her leading team members Kezia and Werner, together with those featured in the accompanying photograph.

And let’s not forget the role of the service team in any quality dining experience. We have a remarkable team at Hartford, ably led by Frank Strydom, and punctuated by a brand of hospitality that is unique to the Zulus