JOIN US FOR CHRISTMAS IN JULY
As the masks came off and we returned to normality in July this year, the O&A Team decided it was time to make up for all those Christmases lost to Covid and invited some special friends around for a truly festive meal.
At around the same time, the Christmas angels that appear every December to welcome people to the Westville suburb of Dawncliffe miraculously re-appeared on the pavement, trumpets raised to the heavens. We think that, because Westville and its communities were devastated by the April floods, some kind soul decided to give everyone something to smile about – and, as we have proven, even in the most dismal of times, we can find a reason to celebrate.
Believe it or not, Christmas in July dates back to the 1940’s and so this about-turn festive celebration has
certainly seen the world through quite a few crises over the years. Because Christmas has traditionally become a northern hemisphere event characterised by snowmen, reindeers and sleighs, many in the Southern Hemisphere (especially in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) have rebelled and hosted a winter Christmas in July and a conventional summer Christmas in December. Two for the price of one, so to speak.
We ditched many of the traditions, banned all presents and Boney M carols, embraced sunshine rather than snow and made Christmas well and truly our own for a change. While some team members applied themselves to the décor, others brought out those pesky decorations that retreat into the boxes every year only to refuse to be found when you want them. Think fairy lights and tinsel …
Of course, central to our festivities was Chef Jean Pierre le Roux – who spent many a week trying out taste combinations until he’d settled on a menu that was a little bit traditional, a little bit unusual and 100 percent creative.
Over to him ....
When, at O&A, we decided to host a Christmas in July, we thought that we’d make this a really special day with a southern twist. With plenty of south-of-the-equator inspiration, I dreamed up a feast that not only revelled in all things local but even added a touch of glam from the likes of two other Southerly countries – Argentina and New Zealand.
From Argentina came a taste of the ocean with an anchovy entrée (that were you get the best anchovies) and short rib (the land of beef), while we kept things home grown with classic pork belly and baby mealies. The dessert – a classic Christmas trifle – featured kiwi fruit and strawberries as well as a gingerbread man (or woman) precariously balanced in a perfect whip up of cream with stars and colourful fun.
Then we added another layer of sophistication to our five course meal – a touch of degustation which, in chef speak, refers to the careful, appreciative, tasting of various delicacies. This highlights all our senses – hence the five different courses (called the gustatory) which we presented to our guests. In short, this never was going to be an ordinary Christmas …
CHEEKY CHRISTMAS COLADO
Motivational writer, Dale Carnegie had a very interesting ideology – you make the biggest impression within the first 10 seconds of meeting someone and it is this image that lingers longest. With this in mind, I set out to impress my guests with an old school classic served in a martini glass – a healthy shot of brandy, fresh coconut cream, pineapple juice and a drinkable cinnamon straw to add a little more flavour of the spirit.
START UP SPARKLE
Options are always welcome, so understanding my friends’ taste buds, Í decided to create three different dishes – deep fried Scotch eggs served on grilled beetroot, blistered cherry tomatoes and lemon curd, anchovies served on garlic bruschetta with pitted garlic green olives, grilled Rosa tomatoes, chives and red peppercorn and then, for my vegetarian friends, a sleigh made from grilled aubergine, topped with a mushrooms, vine tomatoes and a coating of coconut cream, served with popcorn.
To create a taste sensation that would a twinkle to every eye and take everyone back to those decadent Christmas roasts whilst still being a little to the left of mainstream, I created a juicy pork belly or, alternatively, a grilled short rib.
Who doesn’t love the sound and the taste of the perfect crackling? To achieve this, you need to rub that underbelly and take plenty of time to achieve perfection.
For each guest, you need a serving of around 300g of pork. Brine it over night with a cup of red wine vinegar, 2 cinnamon sticks, a handful of cloves and plenty of seasoning.
Slow cook your pork in the oven for about an hour at 160°C. When your meat is tender, you can score your fat and give it a good mustard rub, add some salt and drizzle with
some wild flower honey to caramelize the crackling. then, blast that oven on 200 ºC for 10 minutes and crack open this belly.
JUST SHORT OF A RIB
Short rib on the bone takes tender loving care. Roasting it is all about the marinade and the slow oven roast procedure.
300 grams per guest will suffice. Give the rib a dry spice rub with a coating of olive oil, fresh rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper – and, remember, you don’t want to over spice the meat because you want the meat itself to be the hero with its natural beef flavour.
Slow roast for about one and half hours at 170ºC and, then, turn up the heat for 15 minutes to 200ºC until the bone is crusted and the meat juicy, fatty and tender. Let it rest for about five minutes before serving.
Horseradish is the perfect accompaniment to serve with your beef roast.
Just as with any celebratory meal and, especially at a Christmas in July celebration, a good side show is always important – and the compliments of the season from my guests were open-heartedly received!
A medley of grilled baby corn and orange glazed baby carrots together with roasted baby onions made up the sides. A quirky potato gratin mash, in a tiny tea cup topped with star anise (move over roast potatoes) was added as well as the ultimate Yorkshire pud, served with a rich velvet gravy.
TRIFLE WITH FRILLS
Working alongside George Calombaris from Masterchef Australia has evoked my senses and, even when I’m watching those final episodes build-ups, I notice that they always come down to the dessert. So, that it what I did, providing that unforgettable cherry on top.
With a little inspiration of the boys down under, I created a dessert with fun and laughter… a ginger trifle, filled with mascarpone, Swiss roll, Boudoir Biscuits and topped with a gingerbread man or woman set in the snow-like fresh cream – and, of course, covered with fresh strawberries and kiwi fruit. This truly is a dessert that is very close to my heart.
Find the perfect glass bowl – 30cm in circumference and about 10cm deep. Take two packets of gingerbread biscuits, mix in a blender with 100g of melted butter and layer the foundation by pressing the crumbs into the bottom of the dish.
Keeping the beat, mix together two egg yolks and 1/2 cup of caster sugar, add two 250ml tubs of mascarpone cheese. Beat the egg whites and 5ml vanilla essence and fold this into the creamy mix. Smooth this final mix into your bowl.
Then, delicately layer your Swiss roll on top and cover with cling wrap.
Leave this overnight in the fridge to set. When it is time to indulge your guests, uncover your magic and layer the top with whipped cream. Place your boudoir biscuits and fresh kiwi fruit and strawberries on top. Don’t forget to garnish with your gingerbread man. Bon Appetit!
A little port – or is that starboard – to complete the spirit of the day always goes down well.
Because we enjoyed Christmas under the African sun (despite it being winter) and enjoyed a warm day in Durban, we served up some chilled sauvignon blanc and a mellow red blend. The port was the perfect ending to a fun event that went down all the better because it didn’t have all that angst and stress which seems to gather just before December 25.
What we learnt on July 25 was that there is never a specific time to celebrate any event. Instead, create your own event, be spontaneous and enjoy life every day. There’s no need to open a bottle of bubbles only twice a year.
My favourite saying is … life on earth is expensive, but it includes a free annual trip around the sun! So, here is a glass to you… in fact, that’s probably why the gingerbread man is standing a little skew on the top of the trifle.
P.S. If you missed out on Christmas in July, then remember that Christmas in August is regularly celebrated in the Yellowstone National Park in the US and, in the Philippines, Christmas runs for fourth months, starting in September.
So, take a leaf out of our recipe book and have some fun ahead of the clichéd festive season for once …. Just add the glitter.