London-based pastry chef relishes happy memories (and food) of South Africa as a very special breakfast treat
Former Kloof resident, Isla Rechner, has been obsessed with cooking all her life. Today, she’s the Group Pastry Chef for celebrity chef Bill Granger’s Granger & Co restaurants across London, but in her heart she still hankers for the special breakfast rituals she shared with her mum at home in South Africa. She lets us in on some of the memories and recipes inspired by her mum.
‘I started dabbling in the kitchen when I was young, gaining more confidence with each passing year. In my teens and throughout my 20s I hosted many a dinner party, testing out recipes on my friends and family.’
Although she’s a long way from Kloof, Isla still refers to herself as a ‘proud Kloofian’ and confesses that the Shongweni Farmers’ Market is always one of the first places she visits whenever she returns home on holiday. It was there that she ran a little pastry stall after studying her craft – first at 1000 Hills Chef School in Bothas Hill, followed by a patisserie diploma under Chef Eric Beruiller at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Durban campus.
In 2013, with the itch to travel too strong to resist, Isla made the big move to London, working initially at one of acclaimed chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s eateries, before being hired as a pastry chef at the King’s Cross branch of Granger & Co. She has since become the Group Pastry Chef – a role she says she utterly relishes.
‘Whenever my mother comes to visit me in London, I always try to recreate the morning breakfast rituals we had in South Africa. They were a magical time, sitting on the stoep and sipping tea while overlooking our big acacia tree with birds chirping in the background and the occasional monkey raiding the herb garden. Among my go-to breakfast staples were buttermilk pancakes, a dish my mum and I tucked into with relish. I’ve tried to bring in the warmth of those mornings by pairing my pancakes with an orange raspberry syrup and crème fraiche. When I have my mum here in my little London kitchen and we’re tucking into those pancakes, we’re transported back to that veranda and those warm African sunrises.’
I believe food has this amazing ability to bond us. It’s also the perfect way to express love. The look of delight in someone’s eyes when they tuck into their favourite meal that you’ve concocted is, for me, magic. My dear mama is positively obsessed with chicken in any form – Southern fried chicken is very high up on her poultry priority list. It’s of utmost importance that I make this for her whenever we’re together – a task I happily undertake. Who else deserves food made with love more than your mum?
Subhead: Buttermilk chicken
For the chicken – 250ml buttermilk; 300g deboned chicken thighs; 120g plain flour; 5g cumin; 5g paprika; 5g oregano; pinch of salt; 300ml vegetable oil
Sour cream mashed potato – 500g potatoes, peeled and quartered; ½ cup sour cream; 45g butter, cubed; salt
Red cabbage slaw – 100g red cabbage, very finely sliced; juice of 2 limes; 1 carrot, peeled and grated; 1 Tblsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped; 15g olive oil; 5g Dijon mustard; 5g honey
Place chicken thighs in buttermilk and marinate for at least two hours. In a small container, mix the red cabbage and lime juice for the slaw. Leave it to macerate in the fridge for a few hours. The lime juice slightly pickles the red cabbage which results in the cabbage becoming a vibrant shade of pink. Preheat the oven to 170°C, then get cracking with the mash. Boil potatoes in salted water until cooked through, strain through a colander and place back into the pot. Mash until fluffy, add the sour cream and butter, mixing gently until smooth. Heat vegetable oil in a wok until the temperature is about 170°C
Mix the flour with the spices. Dredge buttermilk-soaked chicken in the flour. Place in the hot oil, frying for a few minutes each side to get a crispy exterior. Pop into a roasting tray, place in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
In a small bowl, place olive oil, Dijon mustard and honey, whisking slightly to emulsify. Add the cabbage, carrot and parsley tossing together. Over a low heat, slightly warm up the mashed potato. Spoon a hearty dollop of potato onto a plate, then pop fried chicken on top, finishing with a side of slaw.
Makes 7 pancakes
For the pancakes – 125g plain flour; 15g castor sugar; 5g baking powder; 2.5g bicarbonate of soda; 250ml buttermilk; 1 egg; 25g melted butter
In a medium bowl place flour, castor sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Whisk in buttermilk, egg and melted butter until you have a smooth batter. Place a frying pan on medium heat and drop two tablespoons of batter into the pan, cooking until little bubbles form on top (around 3 minutes). Flip over, cooking evenly. Place in oven on low heat to keep pancakes warm while cooking the rest.
For the raspberry orange syrup – 150g fresh raspberries (1 punnet); zest and juice of 1 orange; 50g syrup (honey, syrup … whatever you have on hand is perfectly fine, even agave)
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until raspberries begin to break up. Leave to cool slightly. Serve stack of pancakes drenched with the raspberry syrup and a decent dollop of crème fraiche.