She grew up milking cattle – and today she’s one of South Africa’s top restaurant chefs!
Amori Burger, one of the country’s top female chefs, is creating a stir in culinary circles with her latest venture – Van Der Linde Restaurant, which is located in Linden in Johannesburg.
The 32-year-old Burger is originally from North West and graduated from Silwood School of Cookery in the Western Cape.
Here, Janine Walker-Greenleaf sat down with the passionate foodie Burger and asked her a few personal questions…
When did your love of food start?
It started with family get-togethers each Christmas. When I grew up, December holidays were spent on our family farm in Ottosdal in the North West with my 13 cousins and grandparents. For a month, I was surrounded by my best friends whilst milking cows, baking biscuits, making sausages and harvesting veggies. It is a very big farm and my gran was one of those women who made everything herself. She had massive vegetable gardens and fruit groves. And smaller farm animals such as lambs, chickens and pigs were close by so she could keep an eye on them. There was a butchery, bakery/confectionary, dairy and a huge farmhouse kitchen. In all these spaces were people working daily to produce food for the entire farm and the staff. There was a 16-seater table in the middle of the kitchen so all of us could fit around as we were not allowed at the grown-up table for special occasions.
My gran was a brilliant cook and so are all my aunts. It just got passed along and we started helping in the kitchen with Christmas dinner. These days it’s the children who cook, as we all have a passion for food and two of us are qualified chefs.
Who influenced your cooking while you were growing up?
The women in my family. Oh, and I loved the late Keith Floyd on TV.
Was there anything that you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
I wanted to be a landscaper and own a nursery.
Where have you worked before?
Hoi Polloi in Parys in the Free State; River Café in Constantia; The Countess and Morells are some of the places I got work experience.
What is your food philosophy?
Food should be shared which is why at VDL we have meals for two.
What kinds of foods do you think are underrated?
Cabbage – you can pickle it, grill it, braise it and bake it. It is often overlooked as a cheap and not very tasty vegetable but it is what you do to it that makes it incredible. And so many countries have cabbage staples – sauerkraut, coleslaw, kimchi… The list is long.
What are your favourite four dishes on the VDL menu?
The avocado on cardamom rye which we make in the bakery. Who doesn’t love avo toast? The celery herb salad starter on the dinner menu. It’s so simple but seriously delicious.
The rack of lamb with tonnato, salsa verde and deep-fried white anchovy. Lastly the marigold mousse – it’s just such a beautiful light dish.
What are some of the qualities that a head chef must have in order to not only realise her vision, but also lead a team?
Patience, understanding and the ability to teach and communicate. Teaching the love of food and respect for the ingredients is not always easy but these are the two most important lessons young chefs must learn.
What advice would you give to a young, ambitious chef who is just starting out in the industry?
Take as much knowledge as you can from each person you work with. Everyone in the kitchen has a way of doing something that will make your life easier one day. Keep all the recipes you come across and learn. Have many notebooks and read through them every so often, there will be an idea or dish that you can improve on or change to make something brand new and amazing.
Do you do the cooking at home and what is on the menu?
My partner and I share cooking duties. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals. Lately we have been playing with fire (literally) and the different methods and flavours it can give. There’s an average of about 16 cheeses in the house at any given time. Sunday mornings are not the same without soft scrambled egg and a buttermilk pancake.
What is your favourite dessert?
I am not really a sweet person, so nothing that is super-sweet. Something with cheese or a poached fruit. Jenna Short, a friend of mine, makes a naartjie marshmallow that will make you wish naartjies were in season all year round.
Your favourite kitchen tool?
My global spatula. It’s like having a flat hand that doesn’t get burnt.
Is there anything food you don’t eat?
I am not a fan of guavas and fruits with a floury texture.
What other chefs have inspired you?
I have a big crush on Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, the way he adorns the restaurant throughout the year with produce he has preserved in such beautiful ways is incredible.
I also love British chef Simon Rogan’s approach of cooking an ingredient simply to maximise its flavour.
Who are your foodie icons?
Keith Floyd, Rick Stein and Yvonne Short are among the many who have inspired me in my culinary journey.
The one dish you still want to master?
The croquembouche – I think I have tried it about four times in my career but I have never perfected it.
Your favourite three ingredients
Right now, Kashmiri masala, lemon and parsley.
VDL is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sundays and Mondays. The address is 50 4th Avenue, Linden, Johannesburg. Bookings on (010) 594 5443
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