‘A Nice Place to Be’
By Louise Liebenberg
WHEN Eastern Cape businesswoman Penny Sawyer and partner Johan Gerryts travelled to France a few years ago, one memorable culinary experience in the Montmartre district north of Paris lingered long after their idyllic Tour de France-inspired break was over.
Fuelled by their travels and her and Johan’s love of fine food, Penny last year bought Valley Harvest, a popular cafe and restaurant in Sixth Avenue, Walmer, which had been a deliciously laid-back neighbourhood hangout for many years.
Thanks to Penny and her collaboration with new chef Melissa Osmond, product of a top culinary school in East London, Valley Harvest boasts a fresh new look and an innovative menu, but has lost none of the homeliness and warm atmosphere that had drawn clientele in the past.
Penny’s daughter Bridget has also been instrumental in Valley Harvest’s new look, particularly on the store side.
“I acquired Valley Harvest with the overall idea being to freshen up the look and create a ‘somewhere’ in Port Elizabeth that just felt like a ‘Nice Place to Be’; where you could enjoy a mouthwatering breakfast, brunch or lunch that looked fabulous and tasted just like you’d hoped it would,” says Penny.
“It’s a place where foodies can browse and shop for unique, trendy products – preferably those not found in supermarkets; a place where you can find unusual foodie gifts, listen to foodie talks and perhaps even join our cooking school sessions just for the heck of it!
“My daughter Bridget and I have many ideas going forward,” Penny adds. “And, given the uniqueness of Valley Harvest together with our chef Melissa and our staff, we know we can add to all that is special about Port Elizabeth.”
Among the new dishes literally flying out of the kitchen are Melissa’s versions of the home-made potato chip-topped Parisian salad that Penny had recalled so vividly from her and Johan’s trip.
“We now have a ‘stable’ of Parisian salads taking their name from a salad Johan and I queued for a couple times at a pavement café balancing on the slope near Montmartre,” Penny reminisces.
Scroll down to learn how to make one of these Parisian salads using beef fillet as a key ingredient. And don’t forget our blog also has a search function at the top right allowing you to access all our previously featured recipes since The Global Table was launched almost two years ago. There are impressive (but always do-able) offerings from the Eastern and Southern Cape’s best chefs, right down to hearty, healthy, home-style meals you can whip up in minutes!
Chef’s Profile: Melissa Osmond
Melissa’s introduction to food came at a young age, “in an over-sized apron standing next to my Nana with inquisitive eyes peering into pots and through oven doors”.
“My Nana is the typical granny who bakes her traditional four-layer chocolate cake for every birthday and always arrives with a parcel of home-baked cookies – and that’s where my passion for cooking stems from,” Melissa says.
“I was fortunate enough to start my culinary experience as a school holiday job as an apprentice at the (by now famous) Ile de Pain in Knysna, under the guidance of two incredibly passionate people – Markus Farbinger and Liezie Mulder. That’s when I decided I wanted to become a chef. “
After school Melissa decided to follow my dream, and in 2006 graduated with International Diplomas from the Alfresco International Academy of Fine Food & Wine, a top culinary school in East London.
“I went on to work as head chef and kitchen manager at Vovo Telo Bakery & Cafe in Richmond Hill, where some menu items remain big hits.”
After helping friends of hers start up their own cafe – Deli Street Cafe, also in Richmond Hill – Melissa set up her own catering company with her fiance and ran it from Lavender Barn, a wedding venue off Seaview Road.
“I was head-hunted by Valley Harvest last year, where I have added my cafe flair to the menu by creating mouth-watering, healthy meals that reflect today’s lifestyle eating trends. It is important to me that my passion for good food and creative cooking be reflected in every dish that leaves the Valley Harvest kitchen,” she says.
Q&A with Valley Harvest’s Penny and Melissa
1. Penny is a successful businesswoman who decided at a relatively late stage to enter the highly challenging restaurant industry. What inspired this decision and what has the experience been like up to now?
PENNY: I love tackling projects and Valley Harvest came up as such a lovely one, with its existing uniqueness and dignity as a base to build the project on.
2. What is the biggest lesson you have learnt about being in this trade?
PENNY: I’ve learnt to execute my belief in the quantum energy field every day! Everyone and everything in our universe is connected through energy. When you think happy thoughts you have happy feelings and therefore happy, positive molecules of energy are attracted towards you. It works the other way too, so you must be careful what you think!
MELISSA: I’ve learnt a little patience – and that every day has its own special moments.
3. What makes the new Valley Harvest a little different from all the other cafes around PE?
PENNY: It’s got a great history built up from the days when it was down at the bottom of Baakens Valley, as The Good Food store. It is many things to our customers – a health store, a yummy foodie store, a bistro, a premium coffee stop, and my best … A Nice Place to Be.
4. Valley Harvest traditionally had a strong focus on healthy food and foodstuffs, including on the shop side. Is this still the case and what sort of products do you stock nowadays?
PENNY: We continue to search the Internet and to try source unique products. We’vejust managed to source Essene Bread, which is based on the Middle Eastern bread of Biblical times. Gluten free, it’s made from spouted wheat seed, but the wheat uses up the gluten for energy while it sprouts, leaving it gluten free in the end. So we have a natural, truly healthy bread!
5. Of all the dishes on your new menu, which ones are your personal favourites and why?
PENNY: Mine is our table of Parisian salads. Johan and I followed a queue up the Montmartre three years ago and found it led to a pavement cafe specialising in this delicious salad style. I swore then that if I ever had my own cafe I’d serve these salads and name them after the city that begat!
MELISSA: I’d have to say our Buongiorno Breakfast – a typical Italian breakfast on ciabatta with ricotta, poached eggs, sauteed spinach with seeds and a hint of garlic, topped with a good glug of extra-virgin olive oil.
6. How would you describe the style of cooking you are going for?
MELISSA: My passion lies with cafe-style food that is simple but always tasty. My favourite is watching people’s reaction when their food arrives and the joy it brings them when they’ve just had their first bite … bliss.
7. Tell us a bit about the cooking demos and talks you are hosting. Have you done a couple of them already and what else is in the pipeline?
MELISSA: We’ve already begun our cooking workshop – we call it our “school”. Our last one was a lot of fun and we had a delicious three-course meal. It was with a group of architects and they were very creative – the design skills showed in their food presentation! We plan to offer classes every Thursday of the month and try and get a class of eight to 12 people together. The school also plans to invite guest chefs to demonstrate their favourite dishes. We will bring outside foodie speakers – last year we contacted Rolene Sher of Rawlean Foods from Cape Town, and she will be here on March 2 and 3 doing three three-hour demonstrations opening our minds to the pleasure and benefits of eating and serving raw foods. She will be demonstrating a decadent chocolate mousse made with avo – this one’s legal, girls!
8. What are the five ingredients you are never without in your own kitchen?
PENNY: Lemons, cream, garlic, water chestnuts and bacon.
MELISSA: You can create any meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian meal with the following five ingredients: Fresh herbs, spices, olive oil, parmesan and lemons.
9. Which kitchen tool or gadget do you treasure most and why?
PENNY: That wooden spatula thingy with holes drilled in it to measure pasta portions – very accurate, I find!
MELISSA: I’d have to say my Kenwood Cuisine food processor.
10. If you could choose a last meal on earth, what would it be?
PENNY: An enormous crayfish done on the coals with lemon butter – on a balmy beach of course! There will be no knives and forks; maybe just a spoon for the nutty saffron rice that will accompany it. Pud will be a bowl of chilled, fresh berry-type fruits to pick on and Melissa’s sticky Lindt chocolate brownies!
MELISSA: I’d start with a platter of parma ham, fresh ciabatta, my homemade Egyptian dukkah rub with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. For mains, a home-made pasta with prawns, fresh chilli and a handful of fresh coriander, followed by my mom’s granadilla cheesecake.
Beef Fillet Parisian Salad: The Recipe
The best part about making this salad is that you can let your imagination and creativity run riot, says Melissa. “I’ve made a simple yet tasty salad which compliments the flavour of the fillet well.”
Start with the potatoes as they need to cool slightly before frying. Slice one potato thinly on a mandolin slicer and place in a bamboo steamer for 7 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
In the meantime, slice 150g of mature fillet into strips (about the thickness of your baby finger). Marinade the strips with 2 tbsp of oyster sauce, half a teaspoon of freshly-crushed garlic and a splash of olive oil (for a more intense flavour, marinade overnight in the fridge).
Start with half a head of washed and dried organic iceberg and Lola Rosa (red frilly) lettuces. Scatter a handful of plump, sliced rosa tomatoes together with some crisp cucumber (sliced in a half moon shape). Toss in some grated carrot and chopped spring onion for colour.
Heat a non-stick frying pan for your fillet. Wait until it is almost smoking hot and add your fillet to the pan. Cook on each side for only one and half minutes for a medium cooked fillet. Place on a separate plate to cool while you make the key ingredient to complete your Parisian salad with a South African flair!
Shallow fry the potatoes in a little sunflower oil until golden brown and crispy. Remove and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and perhaps even some herbes de Provence (for instance by mixing dried fennel, basil and thyme).