The way we love to eat

Ilse van der Merwe, standing, with her husband, Schalk van der Merwe, and her sister Erna Compaion. Picture: Tasha Seccombe

It’s not every day that you’re asked to write an article about your sister, so when Bolander editor Carolyn Frost sprang the request on me during our yoga class, I jumped at the chance.

You might have heard of Stellenbosch resident Ilse van der Merwe’s award-winning food blog, The Food Fox (winner of the Fair Lady Best Food Blog of 2014), or seen her on Via, DSTV Channel 147, on the popular new series called Klankbord.

The series is based on the concept of pairing food and music. Ilse takes famous South African musicians to the best local restaurants, where the chef creates a dish paired to one of the musician’s songs.

Ilse’s latest venture is her first cookbook. And like all of her other ventures, this book is an inspiration and a work of love.

The book is called Cape Mediterranean – the way we love to eat. In the introduction she writes that the Western Cape is well known for its Mediterranean climate.

“It is the perfect habitat for vineyards, olive trees and other Mediterranean produce and we have award-winning producers to prove it.

“Over the past 10 to 15 years, our way of eating and entertaining in the Cape has evolved away from huge plates of rys, vleis en aartappels (rice, meat and potatoes), towards a style that is increasingly similar to classic Mediterranean cuisine: a love of olive oil, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit, a love of herbs and spices, eating fresh fish regularly, consuming delicious local wines (well, we’ve always loved wine) and following an active lifestyle where we make the most of the outdoors in summer.”

She adds that in contemporary South Africa, especially in the Western Cape, so many of us love long lunch tables that start with breads and spreads, going into smaller bites or tapas, onto generous salads and vegetable dishes served alongside beautiful roasts or freshly grilled seafood.

“We savour the process of coming together around a table, many times next to a fire, sharing conversations and creating new memories,” she says.

The above paragraph perfectly reflects our relationship. We were best friends as small girls and grew up to be best friends in adulthood, sharing a love for good food and spending quality time with our friends and loved ones.

Ilse is one of the most positive, hard-working, generous, determined and motivated people I know.

Her interest in food was sparked at an early age by our mother, Erna Uys’ baking (she baked rusks and mosbolletjies for a Stellenbosch home industry) and our grandmother, Naomi Uys’ cooking (she exposed us to specialty deli foods and exotic dishes such as beef tongue and fancy terrines).

Ilse started keeping a recipe book of her own while she was only in primary school, and we still use her fudge recipe from this little book to this day.

She is really approachable and down to earth. This shines through in her recipes, where she explains all of the chef’s jargon in plain language and makes it feel like you’re getting tips from your best friend.

The lay-out of her recipes is also super user-friendly and makes for easy reading. Ilse shares great tips about local produce and where to source the best ingredients – which is another bonus, as I often find it difficult to cook from overseas chefs’ cook books because I’m unable to find the same ingredients in SA.

Local is lekker for more reasons than you might expect…

Ilse’s book is chock-full of recipes she has shared on her blog over the years, that have become staples in my house and my entertainment repertoire.

And then there are the photographs each dish has been photographed in her book in exquisite style and colour that makes it pop, and serves as fresh inspiration with every turn of page.

Ilse’s background in graphic art, her degree in food and clothing (from Stellenbosch University), years of work on her blog, and recipe development for various clients, have all come together in this beautiful book to showcase her passion and creativity on every page.

I’ve asked Ilse a few questions:

Q: What is your best food memory from childhood?

A: Christmas lunch in Buffels Bay with Ouma Naomi’s exotic spreads. Gin and whiskey for the adults and a five-litre box of Fruitree for the kids. And of course the huge amounts of cookies that we made before we went camping for the December holidays.

Q: I know you have a sweet tooth and that you often bake home-made almond croissants for breakfast. What is your favourite comfort food?

A: Definitely French pastries. I always have some in my home, and I love eating takeaways in my car.

Q: If you could give someone only one cooking tip, what would it be?

A: I could think of so many tips, but people are scared of adding too much salt, and often the only thing a dish needs is a little more seasoning.

Cape Mediterranean – the way we love to eat is published by Struik Lifestyle, an imprint of Penguin Random House South Africa