Today’s recipe for a rich and tasty winter starter is demonstrated by Shaun Halvey, head chef and co-owner of The Estate Deo Volente in Chelsea, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. Shaun and partner Christo Botes, a talented dress designer, make-up artist, florist and event co-ordinator, transformed what many will remember as the old Chelsea Tea Garden (and where Louise also enjoyed a pony ride or two many, many moons ago) into a popular wedding and functions venue in 2001. They say they’re allergic to “the dreaded boring wedding food scenario” and together have strived to change viewpoints by putting the accent on a quality dining experience, always guided by their own passion for “food, flowers and the beautiful things in life” . Scroll down for a printable version of today’s recipe, and a ’10 Questions’ interview with Shaun.
Cream of Asparagus, Bacon & Lettuce Soup: The Recipe
Shaun’s recipe makes for a hearty and satisfying mid-winter soup and Salvelio and I enjoyed our servings in front of a cheerful, crackling fire at The Estate this week. The addition of the lettuce brought back memories for me as cream of lettuce and bacon soup was always a part of my late father’s wide repertoire of winter dishes; the asparagus is indeed a fitting addition. The use of the Smash (powdered mash potato) as a thickening agent is a clever trick I’d never heard of, but you could probably also thicken the soup with normal potato. The recipe mentions the addition of salt to taste, but do let your taste buds guide you as the bacon, brine and chicken stock will all add some saltiness to the dish.
2 large onions, finely sliced; 2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped; 1 tsp mixed herbs; olive oil for frying; 250g bacon, chopped; 2 tins asparagus salad cuts and their brine; 500ml chicken stock; 250ml cream; salt and black pepper to taste; ½ – 1 cup of Smash; 2 cups finely shredded lettuce (icebergs are fine).
Heat the olive oil, add the onions, garlic and mixed herbs and caramelize lightly. Add the bacon and pan fry so that all ingredients are moist and separated.
Add the asparagus and chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Add the cream and simmer for a further 2-3 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
Add the Smash, sprinklin it lightly on top and allowing the liquid to draw it in without too much stirring, otherwise lumps will form. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for a few more minutes.
Only add the finely shredded lettuce when you are about to serve the soup. This won’t need cooking as the heat of the soup will wilt the lettuce. Garnish with a few slivers of fresh shredded lettuce on top and serve.
10 Questions: Shaun Halvey from The Estate Deo Volente
1. Running The Estate is an opportunity for you and Christo to combine your respective fortes. Who is responsible for what aspects of the business?
Its important to work as a team. Christo does front-of-house and I am behind the scenes cooking and making sure the wheels stay in motion.
2. What got you into cooking in the first place and why do you enjoy it so much?
I grew up in a large family and my mother was always in the kitchen, conjuring up food for us four boys and my dad. I was often harnessed in to help with the cooking and baking, and I loved it. You could say I grew up in the kitchen – for me it’s a happy place of aromas, laughter and friendship.
3. You worked as a chef on the Blue Train for about five years, then left the industry for a good couple of years before getting back into it by buying The Estate in 2001. What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed when it comes to cooking “then” versus cooking “now”?
Having been out of the trade for some time, it was quite an adjustment at first as food is like fashion – it’s always changing. In those years it was all about sauces and complicated flavours; today it’s more about the simplicity of food and the availability of produce to present a delectable meal.
4. What are your favourite winter dishes at the moment that you would typically serve to guests at your venue?
For a starter, pear and blue cheese soup; for mains, fillet mignon and for dessert, mixed berry compote.
5. What in your view is the most important quality for a chef to have?
To have a passion for the culinary trade is most important.
6. The Estate has hosted some high-profile receptions over the years. Can you share one or two highlights?
We were commissioned by celebrity party planner Colin Cowie to do his niece Leigh-Ann’s wedding a few years ago. The planning and the fun we had was awesome, not to mention the great exposure on SABC’s Top Billing. We’ve done quite a few high-profile events, but for us it all boils down to having clients that have a great time at The Estate Deo Volente.
7. What’s your best advice when it comes to cooking?
Always think of what your end result should be, then just work backwards.
8. What’s your favourite kitchen tool or piece of equipment and why?
My stick blender – I can’t live without it – and sharp knives.
9. Which five ingredients will one always find in your store cupboard, fridge or freezer?
A variety of cheeses; olive oil; butter; salad ingredients (tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber) and garlic.
10. When cooking at home for you and Christo, what type of food do you both enjoy?
We love to cook for ourselves and friends, and enjoy experimenting with flavours. We also like seafood such as prawns and oysters, as well as steak. I’m a sweet tooth, by the way – I love desserts.