Damhuis Restaurant in Melkbosstrand is a popular West Coast eatery that serves up fresh seafood and traditional South African cuisine. But it’s more than just a top family-friendly restaurant; it’s a piece of South African history. So to capture the essence of the Damhuis Restaurant’s past and present, the owners, Dirk and the late Reinet Nagtegaal, along with executive chef Stèfan Meintjes, compiled Damhuis: Recipes and Memories of a House – a stunning South African recipe book that incorporates historical essays, mouth-watering traditional South African recipes and breath-taking images.
We chatted to Executive Chef and co-author Stèfan Meintjes to find out how this collector’s item came about and why everyone should have a copy in their kitchen or on their coffee table.
It’s a South African recipe book, yet so much more…
1. Can you tell us more about the journey of how this South African recipe book came about?
The Damhuis cookbook idea came to light when Dirk, myself and Reinet had discussions about the Damhuis Restaurant’s success and (Reinet) Nagtegaal’s previously published award-winning books.
We worked literally for years into the early hours of the morning: Reinet on her beautiful stories she coloured in with facts and fiction, and Dirk and I putting recipes on paper as well as testing the methods to make sure we have the perfect match for each particular chapter. The feel, taste and presentation needed to tie into Reinet’s stories. We tested each recipe and made sure the styling tied into the stories of each chapter. I have to say this is by far the most exciting project I have ever worked on.
This would never have been possible without Dirk and Reinet. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to have my name on the cover of a beautiful South African recipe book.
2. The Damhuis is an iconic part of the West Coast – what would you say makes this area so exciting and unique?
The West Coast is indeed a special place in South Africa. I feel that the people living in the area are kind-hearted, salt –of- the- earth kind of people. Our pearly white beaches and turquoise waters make it very special as well. There is also a tremendous amount of history behind the West Coast and the Damhuis itself, which makes it a great attraction for locals and tourists.
Damhuis was built in 1785 and is the oldest building in Melkbosstrand. The town itself is a very close-knit community that cares about each other and supports local businesses. Melkbosstrand is the doorway to the beautiful West Coast and is situated close to Cape Town and the Southern Suburbs.
3. Who inspires you on the culinary and literary scene right now?
I enjoy reading unique cookbooks, but not just the everyday ones. I like books that tell stories and draw on history. I am inspired by new cultures and food trends that I see in various cookbooks. I enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s books and shows. As a chef, I can relate to his stories and way of living – he tells it how it is.
4. What are some of your highlights or best memories of running the Damhuis Restaurant?
There is too many to mention, but opening the restaurant in 2009 was a dream come true. The journey has been tough but incredibly rewarding. When Dirk, Reinet and Bev came on board, everything was taken to the next level.
I have learned so much from Dirk and Reinet with regards to business, ethics, believing and looking after the company and the people working for you.
From meeting my wife at Damhuis, launching the Nagtegaal’s book “Loorita’s Greek Kitchen” to breaking records and now, at last, launching our book, all I can say is I am truly appreciative.
5. What are your favourite South African recipes and history stories from the book?
I have to say I love chapter 7. It documents the British giving the Cape Colony back. The news reached Christiaan and Gesina Brand (the first owner of the Damhuis), and there were parties held all over the Cape Province. It is a joyous and inspiring chapter.
Regarding recipes, my favourite is the pork belly. It wasn’t as popular a few years ago, but our chefs took this delicious cut of meat and turned it into a delectable, yet unpretentious meal. It incorporates tender meat and crispy baked pork crackling, which, if prepared correctly, is fit for a king.
6. What are you hoping readers will love about the book?
Everything about the recipe book, the way I love the book. At first glance, I fell in love: the feel, passion, stories and images will all put a smile on your face. I also hope they love the experience of picking a recipe from the book, preparing it and then indulging in a delicious homemade meal.
7. What’s next on the cards for the Damhuis Restaurant?
Every day at the Damhuis restaurant is unique and exciting. That is what makes working in this industry so enjoyable and unpredictable. We strive for consistency and growth. Providing a safe, sanitary environment for our patrons, and specialising in unpretentious, casual fine dining.
Damhuis: Recipes and Memories of a House is a South African recipe book published by African Press Publications and is available at Damhuis Restaurant, selected bookstores and online.