Chefs can do it too

One of the “perks” or side effects of becoming a success at this social media life we all swear by these days is that suddenly commercial companies start taking notice of you and begin sending you freebies.

When I embarked on this journey of demystifying the food world and cheffing, I did it with the sole purpose of being frank and honest. My industry is one full of smoke and mirrors and mind games. Where a chicken pie is called a vol-au-vent and not a pie. Where a simple steak is described in words so beautiful and superfluous that you’d think it came from a magical cow from some galaxy far far away. The blogging and food social media world is the same. People use fancy words and drawn out descriptions just to lure the crowds in. I refuse to do the same here, I will always be dead honest and frank. WYSIWYG as the advertising industry calls it, what you see is what you get.

Bloggers in other countries have been in the game for years so to them this isn’t news but to my ears I was surprised to find out that when approached by corporates to try their products instead of putting their honest opinion down they charge the corporate to do a product write-up…basically advertise the brand on their blog. Yes, we live in a capital society and we creative types also need to eat and make some cash from our skills and I have no grudges against such methods, my gripe comes in where you get a blogger writing positive and biased nonsense about a product simply because they got paid to. I refuse to do that. Any product you hear me speak of on this blog will always be because I honestly like using it and feel it can benefit you.

Anyway, onto the actual reason for this post. Cans. Yep, cans. Tinned stuff. Those things we chefs apparently despise and will never ever use. All a myth. Walk into any kitchen and you’ll find cans here and there. Part of my diploma even involved understanding and studying preserving methods and canning was one of them.

Cans get a bad rep because of the image we have come to associate with them. Corned beef, pasta and meatballs, canned fish etc are some of the things we negatively associate with cans. I won’t lie, I’m on a personal mission and have a vendetta against canned pilchards. I think the stuff is served up in Hell. I dont dislike food (duh) and there are very few food items I will not eat…but canned pilchards is one of them. That distinct flavour and texture they have just puts me off and spoils my day. I could win a million dollars and then be offered pilchards on the same day and my day would be ruined.

We use canned tomatoes when cooking Italian; canned baked beans; canned chickpeas for vegetarian meals and burgers (check out my veggie burger recipe on this blog); canned artichoke hearts; canned palm hearts; tomato puree comes in a can etc etc etc. The canned stuff you’ll find in a kitchen will tend to be stuff you can’t buy fresh and has to come from far away places or will take way too long to make. What you WON’T find in a proper fine dining kitchen though are canned jams, canned soups, canned pastas, canned pasta sauces, canned proteins like fish or beef, canned doughs, canned ready mixes etc. So that whole myth about chefs being anti cans is nonsense. The blogging world has gone and built this myth up too rather unfairly.

I was approached by a follower of mine who I thought was rather weird. She called herself “Mama KOO” and kept telling me she wanted to meet me and give me a gift. I’m usually nonchalant about people asking to meet me on Twitter but somehow my intrigue was caught and I agreed to meet as soon as I got back from my stint in the bush (more about that in another post later). The Mama KOO character (@KOOchakalaka) said she had a bit of a crush on my biceps! I didn’t tell my girlfriend that part.

So we set an appointment and to my surprise Mama KOO wasn’t some big mama but a rather well known media strategist. I won’t mention names (unless she wants me to) but it was fascinating listening to the tales of how bloggers make their money and how the media world is run. Apparently there are hardly any black male food bloggers in South Africa and even fewer food bloggers who are top qualified chefs. Most bloggers are based down in Cape Town and tend to be of the paler female persuasion. As much as I own a blog I honestly do not keep up with what is going on in the blogosphere (as it’s called apparently). In between the conversation about her job we happened to get to the actual reason Mama KOO wanted to meet me… Cans.

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I was asked to do a write-up on cans and specifically on KOO cans. I will say it now clearly, I didn’t accept nor take any monetary compensation for it. I also wasn’t asked to write a positive write-up or advertorial. Just a post about KOO cans and my view. That’s it. My bribe? A jar of golden awesomeness, which I will get into later.

I grew up with my mom using cans for a lot of things. Beans in stews, making chakalaka (a hot relish made with chilli and vegetables), soups and yes, the occasional canned Corned beef meal. When I became a chef I didn’t turn my nose down at them, cans can be very versatile. As I mentioned above we used canned veggies for a lot of things. I make vegan falafel with chickpeas and butter beans for example. I also use chickpeas for veggie burgers and to bulk up vegetarian pastas and add protein to salads. Butter beans are also awesome blended up with some olive oil, garlic and cream cheese as a spread or dip. Hummus itself is a blend of canned chickpeas. When I do my shopping I don’t pick according to label but according to price, so over the years I would just grab the cheapest can of whatever it was and go check out but I’ve discovered that canned food isn’t all equal. There are processes and techniques involved that aid or hinder how good canned food will taste. Beans are one of the most manually intense products to can. It takes a while to cook beans properly…and even longer to harvest. To harvest them you need human intervention, manual labour, machines cannot harvest beans and so it’s one of the industries that our government should be punting as it aids in job creation. There is then a whole process of cleaning, soaking and then cooking the beans before canning. The sauces and ingredients have to be perfect and precise and the temperatures consistent. This is where I have come to realise that not all cans are equal. Whilst working at Ulusaba, being a typically British company, many English people would visit and baked beans were always ordered for breakfast. We had a period where our purchasing manager decided to try out a cheaper version of baked beans. The guests complained and even we in the kitchen started noticing the difference. They were much more grainier and slightly harder than the ones we were used to. They also looked a lot smaller. We went back to ordering and serving KOO baked beans and guests were happy again.

I’m not punting KOO because my biceps were complimented but because they honestly make awesome canned goods. I only used their products when making certain things that require canned goods. Their quality is superior to most other canned food. Honestly.

To grow their market and brand amongst the tech savvy crowd KOO has a campaign running on their Facebook page where anyone can come up with recipes using KOO products, make a 2 minute recording of yourself cooking the recipe and post it on YouTube and then to their Facebook page. Each month a winner and finalist are selected and you can win R10000 as a prize for you and you cameraman. Simple as that.

Ok, what was the Golden jackpot I scored from Mama KOO? This small jar here…

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Best honey ever

For the first time a label on a jar actually spoke the truth. This is by far the best honey I have ever tasted. Its super smooth and doesn’t have that distinct honey after taste. No crystallisation either. It’s as clear as a golden sunset in Johannesburg. Only one of 14 jars made. The bees used to pollinate the KOO butter bean plants also produce honey but they produce such a small quantity that only 14 jars can be produced each year. The honey isn’t for sale, which is a pity because I’d happily sell it and be the poster boy for it, it’s that good. I was tempted to make a nougat with it but it would be a waste. I’m going to keep it the way it is.

Keep an eye on my blog over the next week or so as I will be posting recipes and ideas as to how to cook with cans and what cool things you can do with them.

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