Chef’s profile and recipe: Lu-Ann Moffett from The Plantation

Lu-Ann Moffett, head chef at The Plantation. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

By Louise Liebenberg
SHE is no stranger to The Global Table, having  shared her recipe for a fabulous tomato tarte tatin three years ago when our blog first started.
Lu-Ann Moffett is the head chef at The Plantation, an  award-winning, family-run wedding and functions venue in Port Elizabeth’s scenic Sardinia Bay.
Lu-Ann has served her delectable  and impeccably plated dishes to more than 50 000 guests since joining The Plantation  in 2007. A former chef at the likes of Shamwari Game Reserve and other elite establishments, including overseas, she is now married to The Plantation’s  operations and finance manager, Paul Moffett, and the two have an infant son, Noah.
“We were over the moon when Lu-Ann decided to marry my brother Paul,” said co-owner Sarah Dirsuwei. “Not only was it a good key staff retention strategy, but she’s a wonderful sister-in-law!”
Lu-Ann’s prowess in the kitchen has undoubtedly played a role in The Plantation having been voted SA’s top wedding venue in the Bride’s Choice Awards in 2009 and 2010, and receiving the highest honour of SA Tourism’s national Welcome Award in 2011.
Lu-Ann, who has just launched her 2012/13 wedding menu, chatted to The Global Table about her favourite ingredients, the highs and lows of being a chef, and juggling the demands of  motherhood and cooking full time.

Lu-Ann’s smoked salmon and leek tartlet makes for an excellent starter that can be served hot or cold depending on the season. Picture: Salvelio Meyer

Lu-Ann’s recipe: Smoked salmon and leek tartlet

This recipe produces 12 tartlets. Smallish aluminum foil cases available commercially are the ideal size to use. Lu-Ann says depending on the time of year the tartlets can be served either hot or cold; in winter you can serve them on their own without the accompaniment she had above of a fresh garden salad. 
Ingredients for the pastry
225g flour; pinch of salt; 150 g butter; 1 egg; 25ml water; 100g cheese
Method for the pasty
Mix flour, salt and butter till it resembles fine crumbs. Add the cheese and egg. Mix in a mixer until a dough forms and add water if it’s needed.
Leave the dough to rest for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll out the dough and line 12 individual mini foil pie cases. Fill with dried beans to weigh each down and blind bake for 15 minutes. Bake for a further 5 minutes without the beans.
Ingredients for the filling
250g crème fraiche; 250g cream cheese; 2 tsp lemon zest, chopped; 80ml milk; 4 eggs; 160g Norwegian smoked salmon, chopped; 2 leeks, chopped; 4 Tbsp chopped chives; salt and pepper to taste
Method for the filling
Poach the leeks and lemon zest in the crème fraiche and milk. Season with salt and pepper.
Mix the cream cheese and eggs together; add the smoked salmon and chopped chives.
Fold all the ingredients together.
Fill each pie case with the filling and bake at 120°C for 25-30 minutes or until the mixture has just set.
Don’t over-bake or the tart filling will crack.

Q&A with The Plantation’s Lu-Ann Moffett

Which dish is your personal favourite from the new menu?
Our new menu marries fresh locally sourced ingredients, first grade South African meat and some of the hottest new food trends and cooking techniques.
It’s difficult to choose one dish when there are so many nice options and they are all so different from each other. If I had to choose I’d say the camembert cheesecake as a starter because I love cheese, or the smoked salmon, crème fraiche, rocket and potato rosti stack with caviar and lemon dressing.
When we developed the new menu we decided to have combos, duets and trios for our main course options. We find that brides and grooms have difficulty choosing because of their likes and dislikes as a couple and of course they want to please all the guests as well. One combo I really like is our rack of lamb with chicken fillet Wellington, roast rosemary new potatoes and cranberry jus. Our lamb duet – lamb shoulder ragout and lemon and herb roast leg of lamb with  mint-infused jus  – is also to die for.  We do offer dessert but most of our clients use their wedding cake for this purpose. It saves money and that way the cake is not wasted.
What’s the best part of running a venue kitchen? And the worst?
The best part: Seeing couples so in love and knowing I was part of making the biggest day in their life the happiest.
The worst? The long hours.
What qualities does a person need to excel in this  job?
Perseverance, passion and patience.
Where do your ideas for new dishes come from?
Magazines, the internet and really just thinking things through. It is easy to cook a lovely dish for a few people, but a different story when you have to do it for 200 guests and maintain the same quality and standards.
Which ingredient is one of your current favourites?
Crème fraiche is such a versatile ingredient and I have been adding it to just about anything and everything!
When it comes to cooking in winter, in your own home, what sort of dishes  do you enjoy most?
Stews and curries are hearty and warming and I love anything with lots of gravy.
How do you balance being a full-time chef and a mum?
It is hard to do,  because it is only natural to want to spend as much time as possible with your baby. But thanks to a very good playschool during the week, and wonderful grandparents over weekends, Noah is taken care of very well when I am at work.
You are married to Paul who is also a key part of The Plantation staff. How do you handle working together, and what are the pluses and drawbacks to working  in a family business?
Paul and I cope very well; I say jump and he asks how high! Seriously, the pluses are flexible working hours, and trusting and loving the people I work with and for.  However at times it is difficult to separate work from our personal life.
What is your favourite kitchen gadget or piece of equipment?
Paul and I recently bought a house and redid the kitchen, which I’m loving! My new Whirlpool electric oven with gas hob is the best – what attracted me to the oven is that it is wider than a standard household unit and has a built-in rotisserie.
Is there a style of cooking you are keen to explore further in future? 
Asian, particularly Thai and Vietnamese. There’s nothing like a good tom yum soup.
What has been  a career  highlight for you  in recent years? 
I appeared on and cooked for SABC3’s Top Billing when they were here to cover the wedding of rugby star Vuyo Zangqa to Siyanda Mbasa  at The Plantation in   October 2010.
Are there any celebrity chefs you admire?
I’ve always liked Gordon Ramsey. He might be fiery but he is also very talented.
If you could choose a last meal on earth what would it be? 
Probably a seafood platter with seared tuna, garlic mussels, fresh tiger prawns and crayfish.
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