chef jackie cameronHartford House Head Chef Jackie Cameron
(Patrick Royal/Hartford House)

As weekends go, and with a history of almost a century of achievement involving the Summerhill and Hartford properties, this one will take some beating. On Friday evening, 26 of our team attended the KZN Breeders Awards, and while you might say that having won a national Breeders’ Championship for the fourth time, this is just “small beer’ the truth is, very little beats recognition by your own peers, and the eight prizes awarded to our various Champions mean just as much this year as they did the first time we marched up to the stage almost thirty years ago.

So much for Friday. Sunday evening in Cape Town, our pride and joy, Hartford House, was recognised for an extraordinary achievement. The restaurant made the top ten in the nation, and significantly, it was the only one in KZN to receive this accolade. Embracing as this competition does, every restaurant in South Africa in all categories, this is one of those very rare achievements, particularly when you consider where we are : ten kilometres outside of the dustiest little dorp in the Midlands, at the southern most tip of what the civilized world likes to call the darkest continent, and yet, for the past six or seven years, Pietermaritzburg-bred and raised Jackie Cameron, a waif of just 26 years old, and her team have marched all the way to this very select podium. But it’s not only in the company that they’ve joined in receiving this recognition, it’s also in the quality of those that didn’t quite make the cut, that you begin to realise the immensity of what they’ve accomplished.

For all that, Jackie Cameron will be the first to acknowledge that she’s galvanised a great team around her, not only in the kitchen but in the front of house, and it’s the sum of all these things, and the wonderful ambiance of old Hartford that has brought together an irresistible combination. Putting all of this into context, we should recall the other “victories” which this little team has gained in recent years.

When Jackie Cameron joined us some seven years ago, she was just out of cookery school, yet she was old enough even then to recognise the need to train the people around her, in particular those from the previously disadvantaged community. Instantly, she recruited two ladies who’d been serving as casual cleaners in the horse operation, and taught them to clean dishes. She then taught them to clean vegetables, to make bread and then to cook, pretty much in that order, and three years ago, a third generation Zulu lady with only six years of education behind her, accompanied Jackie Cameron to a world culinary exhibition in Zurich as South Africa’s representative. Just last year, another, with only five years at school, made it to a similar exhibition in Prague, while our Zulu Traditional Dancing team, who’d never set foot beyond the confines of Mooi River ten years ago, made it to the World Championship in Tokyo in 2006, where they finished third.

Last year, in Hong Kong, they finished second in the world, and they’ll be on their way shortly to the United States to go and lift the world crown. Wonderful stories about a wonderful part of the world.

From one champion team to another, we salute you Hartford House!