Chef Rachel Botes is on a mission to make venison a culinary star
Botes wants to go back to a time when customers knew where their food came from
Carlton Café Delicious in Menlyn, Pretoria, closed recently and the woman responsible for creating its magic, Rachel Botes, is embarking on a new journey to win people over to eating more venison.
She says it is the cleanest and most sustainable form of meat available. "Food is my design and my colour; venison is my passion," explains the chef, butcher and future author.
Botes says memories and nostalgia have always been an inspiration for her food. Some of the recipes she plans to include in her book — slated for publication next January — include leg of venison with pineapple peels and banana, wrapped in fig leaves; venison rusks and biltong cheesecake with preserved quinces and goat’s cheese.
She says her choice of venison will be interchangeable with beef, lamb and pork in the recipes she plans to publish.
She is also including sheep-fat rusks, a Karoo special. Because venison doesn’t have the kind of fat necessary for the rusks, she includes shredded impala in the dough mixture. "It pairs magnificently with coffee," Botes says.
She uses pineapple skins and banana as a tenderiser for the meat in her leg of venison wrapped in fig leaves, and loves the way all the flavours permeate the meat. The leaves can be preserved so they are available all year round.
Botes’s goal is to turn venison into the star she and her sponsor, Sollie Potgieter, believe it should be. Potgieter’s passion is Burkea Wild near Nylstroom, where he and his wife farm mainly Livingstone eland, buffalo, sable and oryx.
Botes met the couple when they started patronising her deli 15 years ago. They discovered they had similar food desires and dreams — particularly to go back to a time when customers knew where their food came from. "There were trust relationships between clients and their butchers or grocers," she says.
While it is impossible to recreate this totally, people can still endeavour to create these relationships in the interest of health and conscious living.
While there isn’t yet a regular supply of venison, and a kudu rump or springbok sirloin is not always available, a stronger demand could push up supplies.
Botes’s book will be titled Antelope, and she hopes to start an education process that will inform people interested in food and their health. "I would rather opt for these free-range animals than those injected with hormones," she explains.
When she first started investigating venison recipes, she turned to what she refers to as "compilation albums" — recipe books put together by schools and churches and sold to raise funds.
Her starting point is to respect what she is working with, and with venison that’s not a tough ask — although her first encounter was with an enormous kudu carcass and she had to find a bigger kitchen to accommodate it.
The carcass was quite intimidating, but she realised that she loved working with the extraordinary meat.
"I have such respect for it because I know I’m working with something special," the chef says.
She plans to persuade people to swap from other meats to free-range venison by using her extraordinary ability to create something completely different from ingredients everybody thought they knew.