Amori Burger – one of South Africa’s top restaurant chefs
Amori Burger, one of the country’s top female chefs, is creating a stir in culinary circles with her latest venture – Van Der Linde Restaurant which is located in Linden in Johannesburg.
Thirty-two-year-old Burger, who grew up in the North West and graduated from Silwood School of Cookery in the Western Cape, explains the concept behind VDL: “The menu is simple yet well executed. We have some daring and interesting flavours and then we have classics with a twist.“Our aim is to make people feel part of the whole process which is why we have open cooking spaces and prep areas. We also have different spaces in the shop such as our Bakery and Deli, a Gin & Juice Bar and our fabulous Wine Room.”
On the dinner menu are dishes such as rack of lamb with tonnato sauce, salsa verde and deep-fried white anchovy and home-made ravioli with black truffle butter, sautéed mushrooms and Grana Padano. There’s also pan-fried sea-bass with a dill butter sauce, white wine braised leeks and steamed brussels sprouts. A favourite with diners is Burrata with confit garlic and charred grapes.
Burger talks about current culinary trends: “Vegetarian and vegan foods are making their way onto menus more than ever before. No one is just dishing up a plate of ‘sides’ or some steamed broccoli. Chefs are creating vegetarian and vegan dishes with balance and flavour.” Burger is proud of VDL’s vegan menu and pays as much attention to those dishes as she does on the regular menu, with options such as harissa paneer with roasted pumpkin breyani and fried curry leaves as well as delicious roasted cauliflower with savoury green pesto and citrus. “I also think simple cooking, where a great ingredient is treated with the utmost respect, is making a comeback. A leek should be a leek and a beetroot should be a beetroot,” says Burger.
We sat down with the passionate foodie and asked her a few personal questions:
When did your love of food start?
It started with family get-togethers each Christmas. When I grew up, December holidays were spent on our family farm in Ottosdal in the North West with my 13 cousins and grandparents. For a month, I was surrounded by my best friends whilst milking cows, baking biscuits, making sausages and harvesting veggies. It is a very big farm and my gran was one of those women who made everything herself. She had massive vegetable gardens and fruit groves. And smaller farm animals such as lambs, chickens and pigs were close by so she could keep an eye on them. There was a butchery, bakery/confectionary, dairy and a huge farmhouse kitchen. In all these spaces were people working daily to produce food for the entire farm and the staff. There was a 16-seater table in the middle of the kitchen so all of us could fit around as we were not allowed at the grown-up table for special occasions.
My gran was a brilliant cook and so are all my aunts. It just got passed along and we started helping in the kitchen with Christmas dinner. These days it’s the children who cook, as we all have a passion for food and two of us are qualified chefs.
Who influenced your cooking while you were growing up?
The women in my family. Oh, and I loved the late Keith Floyd on television.
Was there anything that you thought you wanted to do before you started cooking?
I wanted to be a landscaper and own a nursery.
Where are some of the places you have worked?
Hoi Polloi in Parys in the Freestate; River Café in Constantia; The Countess and Morells are some of the places I got work experience.
What is your food philosophy?
Food should be shared which is why at VDL we have meals for two.
What kinds of foods do you think are underrated?
Cabbage – you can pickle it, grill it, braise it and bake it. It is often overlooked as a cheap and not very tasty vegetable but it is what you do to it that makes it incredible. And so many countries have cabbage staples – sauerkraut, coleslaw, kimchi… The list is long.
What are your favourite four dishes on the VDL menu?
The avocado on cardamom rye which we make in the bakery. Who doesn’t love avo toast? The celery herb salad starter on the dinner menu. It’s so simple but seriously delicious.
The rack of lamb with tonnato, salsa verde and deep-fried white anchovy. Lastly the marigold mousse – it’s just such a beautiful light dish.
What are some of the qualities that a head chef must have in order to not only realise her vision, but also lead a team?
Patience, understanding and the ability to teach and communicate. Teaching the love of food and respect for the ingredients is not always easy but these are the two most important lessons young chefs must learn.
What advice would you give to a young, ambitious chef who is just starting out in the industry?
Take as much knowledge as you can from each person you work with. Everyone in the kitchen has a way of doing something that will make your life easier one day. Keep all the recipes you come across and learn. Have many notebooks and read through them every so often, there will be an idea or dish that you can improve on or change to make something brand new and amazing.
Do you do the cooking at home and what is on the menu?
My partner and I share cooking duties. We eat a lot of vegetarian meals. Lately we have been playing with fire (literally) and the different methods and flavours it can give. There’s an average of about 16 cheeses in the house at any given time. Sunday mornings are not the same without soft scrambled egg and a buttermilk pancake.
What is your favourite dessert?
I am not really a sweet person, so nothing that is super-sweet. Something with cheese or a poached fruit. Jenna Short, a friend of mine, makes a naartjie marshmallow that will make you wish naartjies were in season all year round.
Your favourite kitchen tool?
My global spatula. It’s like having a flat hand that doesn’t get burnt.
Is there anything food you don’t eat?
I am not a fan of guavas and fruits with a floury texture.
What other chefs have inspired you?
I have a big crush on Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, the way he adorns the restaurant throughout the year with produce he has preserved in such beautiful ways is incredible.
I also love British chef Simon Rogan’s approach of cooking an ingredient simply to maximise its flavour.
Who are your foodie icons?
Keith Floyd, Rick Stein and Yvonne Short are among the many who have inspired me in my culinary journey.
The one dish you still want to master?
The croquembouche – I think I have tried it about four times in my career but I have never perfected it.
Your favourite three ingredients
Right now, Kashmiri marsala, lemon and parsley.
VDL is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday to Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sundays and Mondays. The address is 50 4th Avenue, Linden, Johannesburg. Bookings on (010) 594 5443