At the Good Food and Wine Show hosted in Cape Town, I got the chance to sit down with the Food Network stars, Jenny Morris and Reza Mahammad, to hear their thoughts on seasonal foods, world cuisines, and the limitations of puff pastry.
Both Jenny and Reza travel extensively; in fact, their Food Network shows involve exploring various cuisine around the world with some suggestions from them on how to re-make the dishes to your own style. Jenny’s shows include Jenni Cooks Riviera, and the current Jenni Cooks Morocco. Meanwhile, Reza explores Indian cuisine through his show Reza, Spice Prince of India. Reza also explores cuisines from other parts of the world such as Thailand and Vietnam.
One of the first things I noticed when I saw them together cooking lamb on stage on the open theatre kitchen at the Good Food and Wine Show, was that they are as genuine and energetic on-camera as they are in person. Watching them cook together is like witnessing the best of friends catch up while putting a meal together – their food descriptions are funny and mildly inappropriate, and they make hilarious jabs at each other the way only close friends are allowed to.
‘Be careful with that meringue now, don’t drop it like the last one,’ says Jenni on stage as Reza helps with the layering the meringues in between a mixture of Greek yoghurt, fresh cream and berries. ‘After that, you drip this red sauce all over for the finish,’ adds Jenny with a naughty smile to the audience.
This chemistry is simply attributed to the fact that Jenny and Reza have been friends for 14 years. With both their cooking shows on the Food Network running successfully, they both travel extensively and spend a lot of time together in between filming. Jenny recalls the day they met at the Cape Town International Convention Centre after doing a show:
‘I was running to the car from doing a show here at the CTICC and it was raining outside, so we were both running towards the car looking down when we bumped heads like goats. We fell on the floor, soaking wet, with me on top of him. We sat on the floor in the soaking rain and started laughing, and we’ve loved each other since then. He’s watched my boys grow up. My parents love him. My cats love him. My dogs love him. He has a home with me when he’s in the country. In fact, he has his own room in my house, called Rez’s room. He is family to me,’ shares Jenny.
They are both into gardening and are constantly on the look out for seasonal food, locally and across countries when travelling. Their seasonal approach to food is informed by the fact that they are both interested in bringing out the essence of food at its most ideal season, instead of overcomplicating and compromising the natural flavours of the food. ‘We don’t over-engineer our food. If we’re going to give you lamb, you’re going to taste the delicious succulent taste of lamb, maybe with a little sauce over it. We don’t cook the lamb out of the lamb,’ explains Jenny.
Although both Jenny and Reza are knowledgeable and particular about their work, part of their charm is their openness to bending a few rules. Given their relaxed and humorous approach to food, I asked, ‘What is the one thing you do that other chefs might frown upon?’
‘Well… sometimes I don’t always make my own pastry. And I doubt many chefs would frown upon that because most don’t always make their own pastry anyway,” says Jenny as she leans forward from the coach.
‘I’m with you girlfriend! I don’t like making puff pastry as well because it’s such a waste of time. I would rather buy filo pastry instead. I don’t have the time or the patience it takes to make pastry. I could’ve done 10 other dishes with the time that it takes to make one bloody pastry!’ adds Reza.
‘But you know what? You can cheat it. You can get butter, make layers, roll it up and they’ll think you made it from scratch it,’ Jenny adds.
When travelling it’s important to learn about other people’s cultures and embrace what the locals do, shares the two stars on how they navigate travelling to new countries.
‘For example, China has such lovely food and when you get there you have the opportunity of trying out the cuisines made by the locals themselves, yet you still get people who go there and all they do is have bacon and egg!’ laments Jenny as she waves a disapproving finger and leans back on the couch.
Both of them are particularly impressed with Asian cuisine and are especially fond of Chinese culture.
‘I take people to China on food trips and we would often have 20 different dishes at lunch and 20 different dishes at dinner. They never repeat a meal. The chefs who cook in the palace really go out of their way to impress the Empress. It’s unbelievably competitive, those chefs would chop your head off,’ says Jenny.
Reza advises, ‘if you go to Asian countries or India for example, make sure to eat cooked food. Don’t eat raw food because your body might not be acclimatised to the water there; or you could get a bacterial infection. It’s always important to only eat cooked food when visiting new countries.’
Watch Jenny Morris at the next Good Food and Wine Show coming to Johannesburg from 28 – 30 July 2017. When she’s not cooking on screen, Jenny Morris spends a deal of her time in Cape Town where she also runs her own restaurant, Yumcious. The restaurant had a pop-up store at the Good Food and Wine Show – where she took me around and insisted I try out the pork belly served on a bed of coleslaw. The crackling turned out as perfectly as she had promised, crispy on the outside and tender inside, sticking to the minimalist approached she emphasised earlier. Make sure to try it out at the Good Food and Wine Show in Johannesburg.
Follow Jenny Morris and Reza Mahammad on the Food Network as they explore and share their food adventures around the world. And if you’re in Cape Town, visit Yumcious, Jenny’s restaurant in Green Point.