I realised from a pretty young age that some skills and talents come quite naturally to me. I have a proclivity for language, instruments and most things that can be done by hand. As I aged, the list seemed to get longer. I figure things out rather quickly. This had been a huge problem growing up since being able to do many things often precludes settling on just one.
To make a long irrelevant story short, I became a chef. A French trained one.
When I started, surrounded by French chefs, looking at me with that- we’re gonna cook you and eat you -French chef habitude, I realised I would have to pull out all the stops to impress upon my new masters and stand out from the trainee or commis chef brigade!
So I decided to learn to cook but also in their language!
They certainly did not see that coming! With above average speed I rose through the ranks, leaving my monolingual peers behind. Writing about it now in retrospect, I can smile at those long and gruelling days. Professional kitchens are notoriously sadistic learning environments. So it would only be reasonable to assume that people who survive in such places have sadomasochistic inclinations. We like the pain. The abuse and the cruelties as it has been passed down from generation to generation of new chefs. There’s a sanctity to the humour in asking a pink-faced apprentis to carve intricate patterns into a potato under the guise of higher learning and the mastery of the old ways of cutting frites. Only to throw their 6 hours of labour into a pot for mashed potatoes. This sort of acquired humour is often the norm in kitchens. The pleasure of realising that you have moved up a few ranks and are no longer the tormentee but the tormentor fills every chef de parti with tearful glee!
I think it is safe to say by now, 4 years on the farm, that mother nature too, has a sadistic sense of humour. Perhaps I’d been, for far too long, the Chef in charge in the places I worked. Where worship of the Chef is natural and expected. Everyone knows how important this job is! If you do not don a chef jacket, the proper etiquette for getting the Chef’s attention is to prostrate yourself or leopard crawl into the kitchen. Don’t look him in the eyes and start each sentence with Chef! On your way out, don’t turn your back on him and make submissive mewling noises as you reverse your unworthy carcass out of the kitchen.
I came here to the mountain with the same attitude. Certain that nature would bend to my will with a simple wave of my knife or a nod of my toque. I insisted that my neighbours address me as Patron. Or Chef on a good day. The strange looks were unknown to me then, as I’d only been familiar with obedient cooks and contrite underlings. These arrogant hillbillies had clearly been living without a strict -yet benevolent- hegemony for far too long..
I’d arrived just before the winter and would soon realise that my inflated opinion of my own prowess had been a delusion of grand and biblical proportions!
It is worth mentioning now, that living in cold places is not unknown to me. Early on in my career I lived in Scotland. The only other place I’ve lived since my career began for more that 3 years in one place. I ended up staying there for 5 years.
But back to my current situation, Dayle’d still been working and I was forced to spend the first couple of years alone here. In truth, it was only a month or so but it certainly felt like years!
Over the ridge of Corsican- and Scots pine to the north-west, across the river I watched, over a few short weeks, as the setting sun changed its seat. Taking with it the warmth of autumn, its clear skies and mild, windless days.
The cold came abruptly.
In my hubris, I drew on my memories of Scotland. Walking to the hotel at 4am, mid winter, through 8 inches of snow. A short 15 minute walk. From a room with a central heater to a kitchen. Over the years I’ve embellished my tales of cold Scottish winters as I regaled my friends. In colourful prose, I alluded to how I walked for hours before dawn with a bow. Hunting deer and fighting off belligerent packs of feral wolves, as my daily route to work. Seemingly, my days of fictionalising the truth to those who could only listen, were over.
It is hard to describe what spending the winter on your own in the windy Amathole mountains is like. We inherited a ramshackle wooden house, more akin to a stable, which would eventually become our home. At the time, I’d wake up in the morning with 4 inches of frost on top of my down duvet, unable to hear my own forlorn cries over the drafts of wind as it howled through the numerous crevasses in the house. The only heat source a fireplace designed, clearly, by a generation of people familiar with burning entire forests on a single evening. A fireplace with the efficacy, that can only be described as aesthetic. The flames provided no heat or respite from the cold. I’d have had better results setting myself on fire in an act of immolation to the gods of winter!
Nonetheless, those early days were spent cocooned in numerous layers. My trusty MacBook kept me sane with unlimited episode of Fringe while I tried to come to terms with the gravitas of my decision to come and live out here in the wintery woods of the Amathole Mountains.
After some time, drinking, crying and screaming myself to sleep, I realised that my situation would only improve if action was taken. My first thoughts leaned toward torching the house! If only to provide my feeble body with the necessary heat required to see me through the night.
And so started my journey and the origins of Organic Origins.
Apart from the aforementioned wooden house, there wasn’t much going on here. A derelict car park with a shanty tin roof and 2 outbuildings that looked like it had housed 3 generations of crack addicts. Before we refurbished it a few years later, we had it exorcised and washed with holy water from the Pope’s personal toilet cistern. That is a story for another time, however.
But time, as it does, went by and work was done. Tears were shed in frustration. Profanities were hurled in every direction along with knives and emptied whiskey bottles. It was during these days that I sanctioned my neighbours to call me by name. My days of Patron and Chef were over. Large helpings (and seconds) of humble pie were consumed. I now had but one way forward. To assimilate with these bumpkins and rely on their aid. Nature has a way of kicking your ass until you come around.
Were it not for Dayle’s timely return, my mind or what remains of it, would have been entirely lost.