Jackie Cameron with the Hartford House Team
Jackie Cameron with the Hartford House Team

Chef Jackie Cameron with the Hartford House Team

(Photo : Hartford House)


When Mike de Kock’s son Mathew strode to the Equus Awards podium recently to receive his father’s eighth Champion Trainers’ title, he was breaking new ground in a new world. Likewise, when the Summerhill team took to the podium a few minutes later to receive its ninth consecutive Breeders’ title, it had broken its own modern record. Just this past week, the finalists forEat Out’s national “Top Ten” restaurant championships were announced, and for the seventh consecutive year, the name of Hartford House was among them.

Strictly by the numbers, this means Hartford trails, so it calls for some perspective. The cut-and-thrust of De Kock’s world involves more than 200 professionals, the cream of whom could compete with the best anywhere. The breeding world is populated by something of the order of a 1000 players, and the upper end is the do-or-die playing field of some of the nation’s wealthiest families. It’s hot-as-hell in our “kitchen”, but the one Hartford chef Jackie Cameron and her team operate in, is a cauldron of more than 60,000 restaurants across the country. International food critics remind us regularly that South African cuisine stands its ground with the best on the planet, and that makes a place in the national finals worthy of serious festivity.

A glimpse at the list of those that’ve made the cut, tells you very quickly just how tough it is at the top, and especially so for restaurants beyond the confines of the Western Cape. Regular interaction with your colleagues, a proximity that enables you to measure yourself against the best, and the many encounters Cape-based restaurateurs have with a burgeoning international clientele, are the ingredients which underpin their standards. By comparison, the relative isolation of a place like Hartford means having to get up that bit earlier, working that bit harder, and turning it out that bit better than you ever did before, just to keep your hand in the ring. To illustrate the difference, the once-sleepy enclave of Stellenbosch boasts nine of the finalists alone, while Gauteng and KZN are home to just two and one respectively.

Remembering that when Hartford opened just sixteen years ago, there were no skills in the hospitality and culinary environs to speak of, just hope, determination and the creative potential of a comparatively “raw” local population, and you begin to get a taste of what it takes. None of it would be possible though, without the support and the encouragement of those that take the trouble to visit Hartford, from the four corners of the earth. We’re always flattered that  a little restaurant, twelve kilometres outside the dustiest little dorp in the Midlands, at the southernmost tip of what the civilized people in the North call the “darkest continent”, should serve as a magnet for so many from so far.

From one champion team to Hartford’s champions, well done. Visit www.hartford.co.za.