I recently attended the 2017 Cape Town Good Food and Wine Show. In anticipation of encountering every kitchen gadget known to humanity, I equipped myself with a wallet full of cash and, with eagerness, raced off to indulge in some retail therapy. And, of course, to see Marco Pierre White.
For those of you in the culinary-know or, like me, are fans of MasterChef Australia, you will no doubt know who Marco Pierre White is. I always jump with glee when ‘Marco Week’ arrives on MasterChef. He is the stuff that legends are made of and an unwitting pioneer of the celebrity chef genre. I highly encourage you to read White Heat, his book, and reflect on his incredible contribution. As such, I could not wait to see the maestro in action.
My hopes were quickly dashed when I realised that every other culinary enthusiast in Cape Town had the same idea. Every chair was taken in the auditorium and long lines of standing participants created the feeling of being at a rock concert waiting for the demigod to appear. And when he did, it was thrilling to say the least. I must admit that I did a loud ‘wooohoooo’. Yet, as a straggler on the side, I could only hear the mumble of the speakers warbling in the voluminous space and he was a speck in the distance. After a few minutes I gave up.
The next step was to blow all my cash (obviously). I was soon to have a problem in that department as well. There was almost nothing to buy. It quickly became obvious that the Good Food and Wine Show had aligned itself very closely with its name – food and wine. Once our appetite had been satiated and a few rounds of wine teasers were down the hatch, that was pretty much it. I remember in shows gone by, there were many culinary supply companies displaying their wares and offering great specials. Alas no more. With my detailed shopping list crunched up at the bottom of my bag and the wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket, I did the next best thing: I bought books…. loads of books.
I decided to wait it out and have my 25th anniversary copy of White Heat signed by Marco Pierre White. The signing queue was already 30 people deep and with an hour to go before he arrived. We duly waited…the patient crowd eagerly anticipating that special signature as we all clutched our copy of White Heat. In true professional style, Marco was early. And by the time the clock struck five and it was time to sign he was already greeting his third customer. It certainly felt as if we were cattle waiting to have our little nibble in the trough and I felt a great sense of empathy for the gentleman as he duly signed, one by one, every single copy presented.
One wonders what goes through his mind in a time like this. Each person eagerly awaiting his signature, thinking about the Facebook or Instagram post he or she will do shortly thereafter, and the real person hidden behind the mask of celebrity. When it was my turn I was incredibly nervous. I can only imagine how a MasterChef contestant must feel when he is actually tasting the food that you have prepared for him. Here I was just getting a book signed and I was quivering. The people before me had stood next to his table as he signed, leering down over his shoulder. For me that didn’t feel quite right. It felt like he was the commodity not the other way round. So, when it was my turn, I knelt at his table so that I was below his eye level and had to look up. What a gentleman. No matter what might be going through his mind or how much he might love or loathe this process, every person had the chance and he asked kindly for my name and how to spell it, and started to write his message.
And then came the loooooooong pause of me watching him writing and me wondering what I should say, if I should say anything at all. In moments like this, as is characteristic for most of us, the most awkward and inappropriate thing tends to arrive first. All that popped out was: “My mother really loves you.” He looked at me with a completely blank expression, and I wonder to this day whether he thought: “oh my goodness, other people’s mothers are all who are left to love me” or “well, here is yet another psycho, thank heavens for the security present”. I then shook his hand and thanked him for his kindness and left. I was terribly delighted, as you can see from the glow on my face. And yes, I’m one of those Instagrammers who could not even wait 20 seconds before the photograph was shared. It was a great moment for me – maybe not a great moment for him – but one that I will cherish for a long time to come. Thank you Marco, the gentleman.
Another great highlight of the show was the chance to see Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen in action. Jan Hendrik is a South African chef who is our first to be awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant in Nice, France entitled Jan. I had heard about him in the press yet it was my first time to experience him through his demonstration and to learn a little bit more about his personality and his philosophy. What a joy! A true South African who is true to South African tastes and ideals, out on the world stage. His affable, down-to-earth and almost self-deprecating humour was great to experience and I immediately felt what a wonderful role model he is for what it means to be South African and to represent us internationally. Hence, in my massive book acquisition, two were his. Here are both Jan Hendrik and Marco in one shot.
Next year at the show I will know what to do. I am seasoned and prepared (pun intended). For now though, I have just under a year to build yet another book shelf.