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Epic Shit #2: There is worse shit

Oscar Foulkes March 22, 2016 Uncategorized No comments
It was relatively easy for me to be gung ho in the early stages of treatment. This type of cancer has a tiny probability of killing me, and to start with I wasn’t feeling any side effects.

After five weeks of daily radiation I was feeling much less chipper.

I got chatting to someone who is in a work-related WhatsApp group with me. As a result of cancer treatments, he was fed by nose tube for nine months. Two years later, all his nutrition is sipped through a straw. His permanent discomfort is considerable.

The insight is that shit can be worse. If we’re able to shift our perspective to see that, then we can find things for which we can be grateful.

Gratitude is an excellent antidote to suffering.

epic_shitI was given this notebook by a friend, at the conclusion of a six-week course of radiotherapy to my throat. Radiotherapy is targeted at specific areas, so it’s theoretically an easier experience than chemotherapy. However, my throat became extremely painful, which affected eating and drinking, speech and more. I’m a better ‘writer’ on keyboard than with pen in hand, so here goes with a selection of things I would have written in the notebook if I could.

Epic Shit #1: Imagined shit is worse than real shit

Oscar Foulkes March 21, 2016 Uncategorized No comments
This insight came to me as I was kneeling at the toilet bowl. A few days before, my wife had spent a night fighting an attack of gastro. I was quaking at the thought of finding myself in the same situation. Think about it – I could barely swallow sips of water. How horrible would it be to have a reversed flow of acid-laced stomach contents rushing up through my raw throat?

Well, here I was, without any control over the situation; having to endure whatever came my way. I won’t deny that it was horrible (I certainly shed a retch-induced tear), but the unpleasant situation was a lot more bearable than I thought it would be.

We get apprehensive about things in advance of them happening, probably rightly so, but it’s amazing how well we cope with situations, relative to how we imagined we would, when there just isn’t any option.

There’s a lot to be said for ‘stiff upper lip’.

epic_shitI was given this notebook by a friend, at the conclusion of a six-week course of radiotherapy to my throat. Radiotherapy is targeted at specific areas, so it’s theoretically an easier experience than chemotherapy. However, my throat became extremely painful, which affected eating and drinking, speech and more. I’m a better ‘writer’ on keyboard than with pen in hand, so here goes with a selection of things I would have written in the notebook if I could.

Vinnovation

Oscar Foulkes September 19, 2015 Uncategorized No comments
When I joined Cloof late in 2002 it was an operation that almost exclusively sold bulk wine. I should add that this was transacted at a price that could not cover the costs of running the business. Providing a return on the capital invested was out of the question. The other notable feature of Cloof at that time was that Pinotage was the most planted grape variety on the farm.

If I had known how hard it would be to sell Pinotage I may well have decided against taking the job. Not since my days of attempting to shed bachelorhood have I been rejected as often as I was in those days. Despite the constant refrain that my ‘package’ (i.e. wine) was not up to scratch, I was very positive about blending Pinotage with Shiraz and Cinsaut.

For the 2005 vintage I worked with winemaker Christopher van Dieren in putting together just such a blend. A portion of the blend had been aged in barriques, with the result that the wine was a notch above what normally retailed at its price point. That vintage earned four stars from the Platter Guide, which was quite an accolade for a ‘cheapie’. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Especially when tasted from tank soon after the vintage, Cloof’s Pinotage has a colour so deep that I often called it “inky”. It wasn’t long before my brain populated itself with an entire brand concept, with “inky” as the starting point. Inkspot became the brand name, because Cloof is the spot where inky wines are made.

I further elaborated on the concept by calling the blend “Vin Noir”, thereby creating the world’s first black wine, to join vin rouge and vin blanc. When I briefed Nic Jooste for the label design, I told him that I wanted to use the printing process that creates a raised, glossy effect for the type, as if the ink is still wet. And, I said, I wanted to explore the possibility of creating an nibbed ink pen effect. Well, Nic knocked it out of the park, complete with ink splotches.

Inkspot became a vehicle for selling vast quantities of Pinotage, and has remained that since my departure from Cloof at the end of 2009.

I was delighted to discover earlier today that my creation was selected as a finalist in the 2015 ABSA Cape Blends competition, alongside nine other wines that sell for a LOT more money. Well done to the Cloof team!
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(The video alongside was filmed during Rocking the Daisies, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year. I can still remember the moment when I received a mass email from the organisers, and my immediate response to Brian Little: “Yes, we’d love to host the event!” The rest, as they say, is history.)

Stranded by Standard

Oscar Foulkes September 14, 2015 Uncategorized No comments
Judging by the number of people calling in to CapeTalk about Standard Bank freezing their accounts as a result of FICA issues (South Africa’s version of ‘know your customer’), the bank has some serious admin problems.

My experience with Standard Bank’s admin comes as a result of dealing with my brother’s deceased estate. According to PSG Trust, the joint-executors of his estate, they sent originals of all relevant documentation to Standard Bank soon after being appointed (that was more than three months ago). Standard responded by couriering back the very documents that had been sent to them.

Yes, I know, it seems impossible, but they did.

Of course, PSG Trust sent them back, but Standard appeared to do nothing with them. Documents were then emailed, but still no action.

All the while, the money is sitting in an account that does not bear interest. In addition, there are monthly charges for holding the account. Fortunately, my sister-in-law and nephew are not in immediate need, but imagine the pickle they would have been in if they were relying on this money for their living expenses.

In frustration, last week I tweeted Standard Bank with a request to escalate the issue. In a series of direct messages I shared my brother’s ID number as well as my cell number. I was assured that I would be given assistance.

My follow-up messages were met with a stony silence.

I contacted them via direct message again this morning, to which they responded by asking if I had contacted the deceased estates department. Duh! I began the process by requesting that the matter get escalated. Why would I contact the very people who thus far have demonstrated no interest in getting the matter resolved?

It is inconceivable that it can take this long for Standard Bank to hand the credit balance over to the estate, not to mention monumentally frustrating that the bank is devoid of both a sense of urgency, or anyone willing to take responsibility. And, on top of that, to utterly disregard a concerned person’s plea for assistance when the regular channels have failed.

I have no doubt that this will eventually be resolved. What are the chances that Standard Bank will offer to compensate the interest that has been lost?

By all means, bank with Standard. Just make sure your money is elsewhere when you die. The admin problems could drive your heirs mad.

Millstock Cars is the most impressive team I’ve dealt with following my brother’s death. They’re a slick, professional outfit. Everything they’ve said they would do, they’ve done. And the admin has been brilliant!

Waking up to Whisky

Oscar Foulkes August 27, 2015 Uncategorized
A shared bottle of wine – usually red – is a standard feature of our household. Recently, however, we have taken our nightly drinks in a new direction.

It all started in May when I was involved in several gatherings (mini-wakes) following the death of my brother. Single malt was the drink of choice at all of these, leading me to state that coffins float into the hereafter on a river of whisky.

I found that I enjoyed the quiet sipping of whisky, and having ended up with some bottles at home, had a few evenings of replacing wine with whisky. Flavour, taste – call it what you want – has been a daily part of my life for over 20 years, and single malt has more than enough complexity to excite even the most jaded of palates.

I’ve learnt a few more things. Firstly, after a sip of single malt (assuming it’s drunk close to neat), the flavour hangs around the mouth for much longer than the aftertaste of wine. As a result, I find, a drink lasts much longer, which means that an evening can go by with much less alcohol getting consumed.

It’s far too easy, when a delicious bottle of wine is being drunk, to broach the second bottle, which isn’t great for productivity the following day!

The other thing I’ve discovered is that whisky is comparatively better value than wine. Using Johnnie Walker Black Label as the entry-level benchmark, a single tot costs around R9. This is not the same amount of absolute alcohol as a modest glass of wine, but one can stretch it to last the same length of time. It’s probably fairest to regard a double tot as equating to a glass of wine, in which case the cost of a drink is R18.

At current wine prices, that equates to a fairly average bottle of under-R100 red wine.

If you take the whisky up a notch, or two, to the lower tiers of single malt, a single tot/drink can be had for R15 to R20. And, you can have one fabulous drink without having to open an expensive bottle of wine.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this period of renewed interest in whisky has been accompanied by us (i.e. Dish Food & Social) doing a lot of development of dishes to pair with Three Ships whisky. It’s all been very stimulating.

I remain, predominantly, a wine drinker, but I am enjoying making my way through the world of good whisky.

(Similar calculations can be done in other markets, on the basis that a bottle of basic single malt is around five times the cost of a an above-average bottle of wine.)

Single Malt by Alvaro Calix on 500px.com

 

Are Buffets Food Hell?

Oscar Foulkes February 4, 2015 Uncategorized
Floating somewhere in hell, perhaps being roasted over a hellish grill, is the soul of the first person who thought that buffet food service was a good idea. Even if this person is not in hell, the tens of thousands of chefs who rise in the middle of the night to prepare hotel breakfast buffets can’t be in happy space.

Hotel guests who would usually breakfast on just a cup of coffee and slice of toast, or an apple, or perhaps even a chocolate bar, will stuff their bodies with enough calories to feed an Ethiopian family for a week.

No comment on breakfast buffets is complete without mention – no, condemnation in the strongest terms – of the people who raid the buffet to make the sandwiches that will see them through lunch. Just this morning I watched a family pack an entire picnic!

I will concede that breakfast buffets at smart hotels – especially in Asia – can be spectacular, but more in the sense of over-the-top excess than the display of culinary genius.

In my opinion, the sole redeeming feature of a breakfast buffet is that it puts me in control of what I’m eating. I can choose what I want to eat, and in what quantity.

Buffets, of course, are also a mainstay of event catering, where people’s worst gluttonous excesses are in full force. The first few guests will inevitably grab all the good bits out of the salad (i.e. avocado), leaving just the leaves for the rest of the guests. Or, the same person who would normally eat two or three lamb chops at home, piles his plate with six or seven. Most regularly, one sees overloaded plates with fish next to meat next to chicken; a wide assortment of flavours that are not necessarily complementary.

Of course, if people served themselves with some dignity there would be plenty to go around. Rational, well-off people become locusts in the presence of a buffet.

I am sure there are top-class chefs putting on high quality buffets, but that doesn’t change the behaviour of the guests. And, I can’t imagine there are many chefs who have the same love for their buffet menu as they have for their a la carte menu.

Given the queues that we find ourselves in so often, I’m amazed at people’s tolerance of buffet queues. A bank or post office queue is not something with a finite end, like an aircraft departure for instance. One just has to stand in line along with everyone else and suck it up. On the other hand, instead of relaxing at the table, awaiting the dissipation of the queue, people jump up en masse the minute the buffet is declared open.

Dishes intended to be served cold or at room temperature can generally survive the buffet experience. However, hot food is often not quite hot enough, and it suffers from being kept at temperature for too long. It’s just not possible to simultaneously keep meat pink and hot, because it’s going to carry on cooking, ending that deathly shade of grey so often spied on carveries. Fish must finish cooking as it’s being carried to the table; it doesn’t tolerate being kept hot.

Aside from nutrition, the main reason for eating is to rejoice in the deliciousness of the dish, the celebration of great ingredients prepared with love and respect. Buffets are not the ideal space for doing this.

It’s no surprise that Michelin-starred restaurants do not offer buffets (there is a breakfast buffet in the one-star La Cuisine restaurant in the Hotel Le Royal Monceau, but I venture that the star was awarded for their a la carte lunch or dinner service).

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Lost in Translation: All in a Day’s Work

Oscar Foulkes December 5, 2014 Uncategorized No comments
It’s important to be able to laugh during a workday. It’s less likely – if not outright undesirable – during a complex procedure requiring intense concentration. But, at some point in the day, it can be a big stress release to crack a smile, if not descend into an uncontrollable fit of screeching laughter.

One of my favourites, about 20 years ago, occurred when my uber-efficient assistant, Barbara, had written an order requiring a delivery to The Happy Rocking Gardens. Everyone was very confused, because no-one had any knowledge of such an establishment.

Eventually the penny dropped – in the Cape Town suburb, Gardens, there was a restaurant called The Happy Wok.

“This is the Happy Wok in Gardens, please could I place an order?” I can see how the mistake was made. We laughed about it for months afterwards.

So, yesterday I was checking on the baking and delivery of some macaroons for a client by the name of Faeeza. It is also relevant to the story that she works at Kenilworth racecourse, where we operate the Paddock Room (delivery was supposed to go to her office).

My first stop at Dish was in the pastry kitchen, where the pastry chef told me that they had been baked and were in the freezer. Nothing unusual here – macaroons are often baked in advance and frozen.

A bit later I went to the operations manager to check on the delivery. “Yes, no problem”, she said, “the driver is putting them into the freezer at Paddock Room”.

It was at this point that the freezer was featuring too prominently in the story. This was a hint, if not a big red flag, that everything was perhaps not going according to plan. Oh, and while Paddock Room is at Kenilworth racecourse, it’s not quite the same as delivering to Faeeza in person.

Notwithstanding the fact that the order – including client name and delivery address – appeared in black and white on an order sheet, the ‘broken telephone’ was to blame. Clearly, ‘Faeeza’ is phonetically just too close to ‘freezer’!

Fixing the mistake involved an extra trip, as well as someone’s time, but the stress-release of the uncontrolled laughter was worth it.

macaroons

Betting on Teenagers

Oscar Foulkes August 2, 2014 Uncategorized No comments
Gerry McIlroy, father of the 2014 Open Championship winner, Rory, is looking like a smart bettor. Ten years ago, when his son was just 15, he took a bet that Rory would win the Open before he turned 26.

At 500-1, the odds look generous, but were they really?

Rory was already a prodigy on the golf course, so much so that Gerry worked two jobs to fund his son’s amateur golfing. Barring injury, it was very likely that he would get at least one start in the Open. Let’s say that the odds of him competing at least once would have been around 5-1, perhaps shorter.

An outsider in the Open would be priced at something like 200-1. At the age of 15, he could therefore have been priced at 1000-1 for an Open victory before his 26th birthday (the two odds multiplied). On this basis, Ladbrokes’ 500-1 isn’t exactly generous.

On the other hand, if you take the view that if he’s good enough to get to the Open he’ll do it by the time he’s 20 (top golfers tend to be quite precocious these days). And, if he’s good enough to compete once he’ll manage a few attempts. In that case, the 1000-1 would need to be divided by the number of times he starts. By this reasoning 500-1 looks generous.

Rory played his first Open at the age of 18, which put Gerry on the right side of the value assessment.

Reports indicate that it is not unusual for bookmakers to get approached for similar bets. Amongst others, Ladbrokes laid bets – when Lewis Hamilton was just nine – that he would win an F1 race or would win the F1 championship.

When these bets pay out, the sums are generally large. In order for bookmakers to remain solvent, they need a steady stream of optimistic parents hoping to turn a couple of hundred into hundreds of thousands.

The publicity around Gerry McIlroy’s payday has a monetary value to Ladbrokes far greater than the payout. If nothing else, it will lure hopeful parents into similar bets.

Speaking as a parent, the money is a sideshow. I get emotional just watching my kids at school prize giving ceremonies. Ladbrokes would have been the last thing on his mind when Gerry saw Rory hoist the Claret Jug!

Rory+McIlroy+-+PA

“You Learn to Make Do”

Oscar Foulkes July 15, 2014 Uncategorized No comments
Sometimes things seem so ‘big’ that anything written about them will just seem trite. For example, does the world need another person to declare the power of Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics? I thought not.

Perhaps one day I’ll get around to a popular theme, which plays a key part in his songs Reason to Believe and The Promised Land. This is all about the little things that give us hope – the occasionally irrational belief that tomorrow will be better than today.

His references to blue-collar workers are dotted throughout his songs, for example, this line from The River: “for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat”. You can see the need for hope of a better life!

During his concert in Cape Town in January 2014, which was a three- or four-hour immersion in a wide selection of his music, I heard Jack of All Trades for the first time.

I’ve never earned money by mowing lawns, mending roofs or cleaning gutters, as he sings in the song. But I know all about the circumstances – and emotions – of a man saying to his anxious wife “honey we’ll be all right”. There may not be any tangible reason to give him that belief, yet regardless of his own insecurity, the situation demands that strength of him.

The line that links everybody, I think, is this one: “So you use what you’ve got and you learn to make do.”

Powerful stuff, whether you carry a union card at the age of 19, or your kids attend private schools.

(I couldn’t find an ‘official’ concert video, but this one gives a pretty good introduction.)

Thrust into the Social Media Limelight

Oscar Foulkes July 13, 2014 Uncategorized No comments
We’ve all been in situations where someone hauls out a camera, brings the impending snap to everyone’s attention, calls out “Cheese!” and then presses the button.

When this happened to me a few years ago in China, I thought I’d heard wrong, because the word sounded very similar to cheese. The word they used was “qie zi”, Mandarin for aubergine. What is it with food-related words and social snaps?

It all used to be relatively innocuous. The relatively recent shift from film to digital meant that people were less frugal about how many pics were snapped, and the results could be reviewed (or perhaps even deleted) instantly.

These days, the pics can be on multiple social media in seconds. So far, so good, assuming you’re in agreement that your drunken grin should be all over Facebook or Instagram.

My generation is ‘social media optional’. Large numbers of us are on social media, but many – for a variety of reasons – decided not to sign up. I’m thinking particularly of one couple that shows up quite regularly in my Facebook newsfeed. They aren’t tagged, of course, but there they are, cheerily holding wine glasses aloft as members of a celebratory group.

For the amount of screen time they get, they may as well have their own Facebook accounts.

These are people who chose to not sign up for Facebook accounts. Is it bad form to publish pictures in which non-Facebookers appear, without asking their permission?

Similarly, I have a friend who is on Facebook, but for professional reasons does not post – or appear in – any photos on the site.

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