Blaauwbosch Private Game Reserve in the Little Karoo is a five-star luxury destination where head chef Judy-Lee Thompson creates inspired dishes drawing on the finest produce the province has to offer. In today’s video Judy-Lee shows how to make one of her signature dishes, gemsbok fillet served on a cabbage and wild mushroom fricasse with port jus and some deep-fried leeks for a bit of a show. There’s a printable version of the recipe below – and you can scroll down for a ’10 Questions’ interview with Judy-Lee.
Gemsbok fillet: The Recipe
Judy-Lee’s gemsbok fillet, which she serves on a wild mushroom and cabbage fricasse with a port jus, is a magnificent winter dish. We’d never tried gemsbok before but decided there and then that this was one of the best venison steaks we’ve had. Gemsbok is not always available, but try a good butcher or speciality meats store and they should be able to assist. Alternatively, any good-quality venison fillet should be a fair substitute.
1 gemsbok fillet, about 300g; olive oil and butter for frying; ½ onion, sliced Chinese style; 1 clove garlic, crushed; 1 cup mixed wild mushrooms such as shitaki and porto bellini; 1 cup shredded cabbage; 1 cup good beef stock; 100ml cream; 1 cup port; a few sprigs rosemary; olive oil; salt and freshly ground pepper; deep-fried leek for garnishing (optional).
Clean the fillet and cut it into two portions of about 150g. To make the fricasse, heat a little olive oil and a knob of butter in a pan. Slowly cook the onion until it is slightly caramelised. Turn up the heat and add the garlic and the mushrooms – you may want to add another knob of butter at this stage. Fry on a high heat until the mushrooms are just cooked, add the cabbage and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add a tablespoon of beef stock and the cream. Leave to simmer until the cream has reduced. Season.
Heat a heavy based frying pan until almost smoking. Add a dash of olive oil and a knob of butter. Seal your meat well; depending on how you like your meat done, lower the heat and leave to cook a little. Remove the meat from the pan and leave it to rest.
Deglaze your pan with the port, add the stock and a sprig of rosemary and let it reduce until thickened.
To serve, spoon the fricasse into the middle of the plate, top with the sliced gemsbok and pour over the port jus. Top with deep-fried leek if desired.
10 Questions: Judy-Lee Thompson
Judy-Lee, 27, completed her studies at the prestigious Silwood Kitchens in Cape Town at the end of 2002. She worked in several five-star hotels and restaurants in London before becoming an openings manager for a catering company and winning a chef of the year competition in 2004.
She returned to South Africa in 2007 and started her own company, Simply Entertaining, specialising in private catering and cooking demonstrations, besides offering training in aspects like financial development and the running of establishments. She was initially contracted to conduct staff training and stock control at Blaauwbosch in February 2008, but “fell in love with the place and here I still am!”
1. When did your love of cooking start?
I seem to have always enjoyed cooking. I remember sitting on the floor in the kitchen and making ginger-bread men with my mom when I was just a toddler. It seemed to really take of in my teens – when my family were subjected to some weird and wonderful dishes!
2. What is the best part of working at a game reserve like Blaauwbosch?
The excitement – no two days are the same. Then there’s the peace of the bush – the only traffic jams are the elephants that constantly block your path!
3. There is quite an emphasis at the reserve on imparting skills to staff from the local community. Have you been involved in this process from a culinary point of view, and do you have any success stories to share?
Yes, I have. I currently have two chefs who started at Blaauwbosch as cleaners; it is exceptional what they have achieved. It has taken a huge amount of effort on their part as well as those involved in the training. I have also just started another two ladies in the kitchen who will hopefully be our new breakfast chefs for the upcoming season.
4. Which of the signature dishes that you make at Blaauwbosch do you consider your current favourites?
Mmm, that’s a difficult one – I seem to change my mind so often! At the moment I must say the beetroot and goat’s cheese tart is my favourite starter. The pastry is so rich and the sweetness of the caramelised onions, the beetroot and the tartness of the cheese make a wonderful rounded dish that’s great for a winter’s evening. For mains, I’d say the springbok loin served on savoury gnoesh (samp) with a port jus. The heartiness of the baked samp with the wonderful, sweet flavours of the springbok and port jus is unbeatable. For dessert, any parfait is good. One of my favourites is an espresso and chocolate parfait with a honeycomb centre.
5. Being on a game reserve in the Karoo means the nearest supermarket isn’t just around the corner. How do handle the challenge of sourcing fresh ingredients?
Planning – you need to be well organised. We have really good suppliers in Port Elizabeth, who either deliver or we pick up once a week. I have to improvise a lot, too, when we can’t get stuff.
6. Foreign visitors to Blaauwbosch want food that is consistent with international standards but which still reflects some sense of their surroundings. What sort of dishes appeal to them most?
They definitely go for venison the most and anything “African” like samp, mielie meal choc pudding, wors with breakfast and so on.
7. What is the best advice you can offer someone who is considering a career as a chef?
It is hard work, but well worth it. Put your head down and give it your all – it will definItely reward you. Oh, and write down all the recipes and ideas you get from different places, even if you think you’ve made it so many times that you’ll never forget!
8. Which ingredients are your current favourites?
Fresh herbs are a definite! Then there’s beetroot. It’s so versatile and it’s great in sweets and savouries as well as being good for you. A good stock is the base for any dish and wild mushrooms are always a favourite.
9. Which kitchen tool or piece of equipment can’t you live without?
My knives. I have a set of Global and Victorinox knives – one set at home and one at work. There’s nothing worse that battling with a blunt knife.
10. Where do you find inspiration and ideas for your various dishes?
All over – all you have to do is look at what’s in season and you’re halfway there. I page through recipe books and food magazines constantly – they are full of ideas and you can take a little from one and match it with something else. I also still use a lot of the stuff i learned while studying. I was lucky enough to work in some of South Africa’s top restaurants and some of those classics will never get old.