Putting a cookbook together is a labour of love. And writer Tayla Blaire and photographer Roelene Prinsloo enjoyed every (delicious) minute.
The first recipe in Our Italian Legacy of Love is for Café del Sol’s famous mayonnaise. And the last is for a Bellini. And in between. Oh gosh … avocado al-ritz and Nonna’s basil pesto and limoncello risotto. Fresh mussel pot and double-cooked chips and stuffed calamari. Panna cotta with lemon curd topping and chocolate tart with pistachio crust and Mamma’s pavlova. Recipe after recipe after delicious recipe from the Café del Sol family kitchen, each a memory Chiara and Ryan Viljoen have of dishes from both their nonnas, as well as their mama, Luciana Treccani.
And while the collection of recipes is a legacy of love, the same could be said for putting it together … the behind the scenes planning, tasting, writing, tasting, photographing, and tasting!
The first seeds of the book were planted in 2019, when freelance lifestyle writer Tayla Blaire was commissioned to write an article about Café del Sol for the end-of-year issue of Get It magazine. ‘I was thrilled, having been a fan of the restaurant since 2008. Luciana and Chiara showed me how to make limoncello gnocchi and then we sat down to interview for the magazine. The interview ended up lasting almost four hours, as we started reminiscing about our respective travels to Italy – I had just come back from a three-week backpacking trip there. I have a passion for Italian food, passed on to me from my mom, which came across, and they asked if I would be interested in helping them write a cookbook, something that had always been a dream of theirs. That December we put together a pitch for Penguin. It got approved. And boom! Suddenly I found myself in the role of ghostwriter for a cookbook.’
So what is it like behind the scenes? ‘A whole lot more chaotic than the gorgeous glossy pages let on! Firstly, Chiara got way too enthusiastic with recipes … I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that about 50 had to be cut from the first draft to the final book. That was probably the worst part – knowing how many exquisite recipes wouldn’t make it to print due to page limitations. The family also had a habit of saying that everything was their favourite family recipe … and I had to repeatedly explain that a favourite implies there’s only one, and they had about 20 with that title. This was a battle they weren’t prepared to lose, so you’ll find a lot of favourites in this book!’
Worried that her knowledge of Italian cooking would lead to her making connections that weren’t necessarily in the recipe, Tayla often dragged her husband into the room to read through a recipe to see if he could follow it. ‘If he could follow it, anyone can – and I say that with so much love! On the boring side … maintaining consistency for method and measurements across every single recipe was tough as it gets really monotonous. But on the positive side … I loved the endless chats to the family, hearing their stories and creatively weaving their narrative into the blurbs at the start of each recipe. My favourite part of the book is the opening pages – the story of the family. It was the first section I wrote and it really set the tone for everything that followed,’ she says.
‘The family would ask my opinion on all kinds of things, from what I thought the cover should be to helping them choose which recipes to lose. That trust is so special to me, as it shows that they knew I held this book as close to my heart as it is to theirs.’
Tayla managed to pop in during one of the shooting days for the photographs … ‘And I happened to coincide my visit with lunchtime (of course she did!). They were shooting the risottos and after taking the pictures, we all sat down amidst boxes and flat-lays to eat every risotto from the book – it was heaven. Gosh, they make a good risotto. The best I have ever had, for sure.’
Shooting (and eating) the risotto was Roelene Prinsloo, a sensational professional food photographer who makes every dish look mouth-watering.
‘I started specialising in food photography in 2002. When the chance came up to shoot the images for this book, I grabbed it with both hands. I love what I do so much it doesn’t even feel like work.’ It can, however, be quite challenging to get a variety of settings and images when shooting a book. ‘It involves a lot of physically hard work, moving studio lights from one location to the next to set up a different set, but so worth it to get a different lifestyle feel. At the end of the day, even when I am exhausted, I am massively satisfied when I go through the lovely images.
‘And shooting a recipe book is such great fun! It’s a wonderful opportunity to be really creative and to work together as a team. After working together so closely for so many days – usually around 10 days, but we did this book in a record of six – we feel like friends and family,’ Roelene says.
Tayla agrees with her. ‘At the launch of the book, I asked Luciana, Chiara and Ryan to sign my copy, and Chiara wrote that I am “officially part of the famiglia” – and it really feels that way.’
Details: @tayla.blaire and @roelene.prinsloo on Instagram. Websites: taylablaire.com and roeleneprinsloo.com
It’s a little unfair, asking the pair about their favourite recipes from a book that’s just crammed with sensational dishes.
‘People always ask me if we get to taste the food on shoots, and the answer is yes,’ says Roelene. ‘Tasting the food is the best part, snacking on the delicious cuisine throughout the day is a perk of the job (my hips don’t lie).’ Her favourite starter is the Italian spring rolls with beurre blanc sauce, ‘Since I simply love cheese! The spring roll pastry is stuffed with smoked mozzarella cheese that is wrapped in parma ham. Yum. My favourite main I would say is the limoncello risotto. It is fresh lemony cheesy goodness and really does taste like summer in a bowl.’
Tayla thinks one of the perks of working on this cookbook is she’s had access to the recipes for so much longer than the public! ‘So I’ve made about 70 per cent of the recipes in the book. I don’t think a month goes by without making the Gorgonzola gnocchi, and when time permits, I make the gnocchi from scratch too. It’s our go-to for entertaining friends and family because it has such a gourmet look and taste while being so simple to make! I also cook oxtail stew in bulk so that we can enjoy the oxtail risotto on demand. It’s real stick-to-your-ribs comfort food for winter. In terms of desserts, their panna cotta is perfection and so easy to whip together!’
‘Allow us to set the scene: imagine this with an Italian accent. The sun is rising and the kids are being summoned to the kitchen by Nonna Chiara. Ciao, bimbi! Ciao, Nonna!’
So starts the story introducing the Café del Sol family, and their deliziosa cookbook, which has been released just in time for the festive season (great Christmas gift … hint hint). Ranging from really quick and easy for nervous cooks to a little more involved for those who aren’t afraid to put some time and effort into dinner, the book is full of exceptionally glorious dishes and mouth-watering photos. Buon appetito! You’ll find Our Italian Legacy of Love by Chiara Viljoen with Ryan Viljoen and Luciana Treccani at exclusivebooks.co.za for R409.
For the love of an Italian gin cocktail
Roelene’s Hibiscus Gin
For Roelene’s gin cocktail recipe, you’ll need 30ml gin, 20ml Hibiscus Syrup, 15ml fresh lemon juice and 100ml Methode Cap Classique.
To make the Hibiscus Syrup, combine 500ml water with 2 cups of white sugar and 3 cups of Hibiscus flowers. Heat in a pan for about 12 minutes, stir well, then remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve. Chill.
To make the cocktail, shake the gin, syrup and lemon juice together with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Top with MCC.
Tayla’s favourite gin cocktail … a Basil Smash from Our Italian Legacy of Love
Tayla’s gone straight to Our Italian Legacy of Love for her gin cocktail of choice. It’s named Basil Smash, but the experience is a summer sunset in an Italian garden.
You’ll need 50ml gin, 20ml simple syrup, 15ml lemon juice (or to taste), 8 fresh basil leaves and ice. To make the simple syrup, put equal parts water and castor sugar in a pan on low heat and slow cook until a syrup forms, then remove from heat. It will usually continue to thicken, but shouldn’t be too thick (and make sure it is clear and not caramel in colour). To make the cocktail, combine the gin, syrup, lemon and basil in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Fine-strain into a chilled cocktail glass with ice.
The Negroni – along with the Aperol Spritz surely the most famous of Italian cocktails – is said to be created and named for the Italian Count Camillo Negroni in the early 20th century. While at the Caffè Casoni bar in Florence, he requested that his regular cocktail, the Americano (equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth with a splash of club soda), be made a little stronger, using gin instead of soda, and orange peel instead of the more typical lemon peel. The result is a refreshingly bitter, but fairly lethal cocktail … just the one is perfect before dinner.
Since we love the slightly sweeter taste of orange in our Summer cocktails, we made our Negroni with Ginato Clementino Italian Gin, which has flavours of clementine orange and Nebbiolo grape.
Ginato is the very essenza dell’ Italia, with its effortlessly chic, timeless, sunshine-drenched way of life. It’s the combination of three core ingredients – juniper, citrus and grapes – sourced from all corners of Italy that create Ginato’s trinity of provenance … the very spirito d’Italia. To make our version, simply add equal parts (one tot each works easily) of Ginato Clementino Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth to a glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, then garnish with a slice of fresh orange. For other Italian, gin-based cocktails, try Ginato Pompelmo (pink grapefruit & sangiovese grape flavoured), Ginato Melograno (pomegranate & Barbera grape flavoured) and Ginato Limonato (Pinot Grigio grape flavoured). You’ll find them for R380 at cutlerdrinks.co.za