Two of my favourite things are good food and the outdoors. Being able to combine the two is an added bonus and Cape Town provides plenty of opportunity for this. The concepts of slow food and foraging have also become increasingly popular here over the last few years.
For me good food should be delicious, natural and part of a cultural heritage, but Fish Hoek-based French cook Nadège Lepoittevin-Dasse has taken this to another level fusing her passion for food and local fresh ingredients with her roots in Normandy.
Nadège has opened her home to offer initimate and relaxed cookery lessons the French way, expanding her classes to include excursions like gathering mussels together before returning to her home to cook them together. I jumped at the opportunity to join her at Misty Cliffs in Scarborough, a seaside conservation village on the way to Cape Point.
The secret, says Nadège, is to pick the medium-sized ones for their flavour and tenderness.
And the ones still covered in water at low tide. Any left in the sun are a no-no.
As always, it was the array of colours that captivated me.
This Cape Cormorant was completely disinterested in the rest of us and swam off into the surf shortly afterwards.
Along part of the coastline breakers were pounding the rocks.
I must confess, Nadège did all the gathering while I snapped away. There was no shortage of material for either of us, but gathering is by (inexpensive) licence only and limited to 30 per person per day. Times the two of us, the 60 mussels gathered was more than enough for three people. Note the Parisian shopping bag in the background!
Her other tip is to clean as much of the mussels as you can on site, removing debris and de-bearding.
The abundance of marine life along the shoreline and in the rockpools was fascinating like this anemone covered in tiny shards of mussel shell in varying shades of blue and grey.
Dune grass, veld flowers and a bicycle adorn the path to the beach, while back home a Speckled Pigeon surveys the view from Sunny Cove over the False Bay coast.
Nadège’s understated elegance flows throughout her home right through to the table setting, where her careful attention to detail comes across as effortless.
As a hostess, Nadège is delightful. She is as effervescent as the French champagne her wine-merchant husband Frederic imports, and her joie de vivre is contagious. The couple are incredibly hospitable and have had over 300 people attending classes in their home in the last year.
The first of the two dishes was Basque style mussels with chorizo and fresh herbs followed by the Normandy classic Moules Marinières. The base of garlic, onion and shallots are sautéed in Graisse de Canard (duck fat) – one of the most common ways of cooking in the South West of France, bringing a very distinctive taste. Both dishes are then lovingly drenched in white wine and left to simmer until the shells open.
To round off a perfect lunch, Frederic pours chilled Hermit on the Hill as we reminisce about growing up and the sounds of Rodriguez, Vanessa Paradis and Patrick Bruel fill the summer afternoon.
And even the cat was licking his lips!
The couple host and arrange culinary tours of Normandy several times a year – check out Nadège’s website http://www.nadegecuisine.com.