Seaside attraction Liezie Mulder’s acclaimed family restaurant in Knysna has reopened after burning down in 2015. The recipes in her second cookbook are the most popular from the menu. Picture: SUPPLIED
Seaside attraction Liezie Mulder’s acclaimed family restaurant in Knysna has reopened after burning down in 2015. The recipes in her second cookbook are the most popular from the menu. Picture: SUPPLIED

Liezie Mulder and her family’s restaurant, île de païn, in Knysna, are legendary. Her second cook book, île de païn anytime (Quivertree), has recently been published.

If you love food and playing around in the kitchen, take note. Mulder talks about her way with food and how best to replicate her passion.

If you have been to the restaurant, buying into Mulder’s latest (second) cook book will be easy. She says it herself in the introduction: "As a chef I borrow, share and am inspired by the works of others and I absorb what is happening around me, at home and on my travels, and then make it my own. What is important is to use my own voice, to be honest, to be unique and true to myself."

Liezie Mulder. Picture: SUPPLIED
Liezie Mulder. Picture: SUPPLIED

She wants to improve on creations she discovers, by using different techniques or using ingredients in a way that is different, or by introducing unique flavour combinations. Sometimes she simplifies the dish to express her style and philosophy more emphatically.

Travel is a huge source of inspiration for Mulder. It gives her a chance to breathe far from her immediate surroundings, to experience, listen and be influenced by different cultures. She scribbles notes while watching cooking shows and collects food memories when she travels, here or abroad.

The restaurant menu is constantly evolving, but for Mulder the important ingredients are simplicity and wholesomeness. She adds: "There has to be a party in your mouth with every bite!"

The past 15 years at île de païn, which have included much heartache and joy, have taught her to have more fun and not to take work and food too seriously.

Asked about her recipes, she says they should be fresh, simple and fun.

"I like to keep flavours in a recipe clean, working within the flavour palette of one region or country. I like to combine unexpected flavours and present it in a way using few components on a plate, so as not to confuse the palate."

It’s about celebrating her favourite food memories … and food! "I wanted to create something lasting, beautiful but also useful. Something that captures the essence of what we do, and at the same time inspires others."

If you’re interested in the food world, watch food programmes or speak to foodies, you will already know that sourcing ingredients is hugely important.

"It is vital to use quality, healthy, fresh produce that offers high value in terms of both vitality and beauty."

All of this will contribute to the quality of food in a way that saves both money and time in the long run.

The restaurant is a family affair, with Mulder and her partner and master baker Markus Färbinger at the helm. What they initially set out to do was a village bakery, which has now turned into a fully fledged restaurant that works around the clock.

"It was only after five years that systems began to flow. Better qualified chefs joined the team, we changed our working hours, took a step back, and grew as a result of becoming more aware of what needed focus," she says.

Because this was their family’s life, they had to adapt the running of the restaurant to suit their lifestyle. Everything was going well at the 10-year mark and then something dramatic happened — a fire in 2015 burnt the place down.

But this gave them time to rethink their lives and their restaurant — and whether they wanted to start again — from scratch. The answer was yes, but this time they could take a deep breath and design a new île de païn, which she describes as "confident, lighter, happier, sophisticated but not perfect".

This time it’s all about quality and not quantity, in their food and their lives. The recipes included in the book are the most popular from the restaurant menu, her personal favourites and those of her family. Each one comes with a story of where the inspiration for the dish came from and how it became part of the menu. It could be cooking with her mother-in-law or sharing a meal with a Vietnamese farmer, or even something as exotic as being invited to cook with the chef of the king of Bhutan.

Before she gets into the real recipes, Mulder has some advice: basics, basics, basics. Only when you have mastered the basics can you play around. That’s the rule with most creative endeavours.

One of this chef’s strengths is organisational skill. She advises cooks to work with checks and balances. Take the time to read through a recipe, weigh out all the ingredients, organise your work area, get all your equipment ready, and clean as you go.

Besides quality ingredients, Mulder also prioritises detail and consistency in everything she does in the kitchen.

Speaking as a professional chef, she believes a passion for food, people, creativity and a need to be of service are what you need to make it in the hospitality industry.

There’s much to like about the book, but with bread and baking a strength of this restaurant, whose name translates as "island of bread", pay attention. And when she notes that the concluding chapter — Prep Time — is her favourite, also take note.

Mulder loves sauces, relishes and dips, almost all of which can be made ahead of time and are guaranteed to deliver a punch at every meal, she assures. So perhaps that’s the right place to start. She believes a great start to any successful meal, menu or dinner party is in the planning and preparation. Especially if you cook and entertain mainly on your own, here’s heartfelt advice. And if you listen to what she says and how to go about it, your kitchen can become a great source of joy.

What makes this such a special book is the fact that Mulder spends most of her life thinking about and working with food. It’s not just the recipes that are precious, it’s also everything she has to say about the recipe and how best to prepare a certain dish or bake a brilliant loaf of bread.

Get thee to the kitchen!