“Life is queer, with its twists and turns, as each of us sometimes learns.”
Late in 2002 we very seriously were ‘on the bones’. Following the liquidation of my wine shops earlier in the year I was getting regular visits from the Sheriff of the Court (bankruptcy is a long and messy process). I was not in any state to start a new venture. Initial euphoria at being released from a hopeless struggle had been replaced by extreme fragility. I recall it as a time of largely self-indulgent introspection. I was dealing with the failure of my business, while simultaneously trying to find a new direction for myself.
I wasn’t the only one struggling to earn an income. Andrea’s efforts as an estate agent weren’t yielding rewards anything approaching the effort she was putting into it. With children to feed, clothe and school, we needed to do something – anything – to earn money.
Aedan was then two-and-a-bit. One of his favourite toddler games was to put coins into keyholes, which – on one memorable morning – we had to retrieve, so that we could buy bread to make Sophie’s sandwiches for school (she was then six). I don’t have a clear recollection of exactly how we did it, but somehow we were getting by.
Andrea had occasionally done some catering as a favour for friends. She was again approached to do some catering, which she now started charging out. One of the first assignments was a party in Noordhoek. With 30 minutes remaining before departure, she halved a lemon. Then, rather than sensibly using a juicer or a fork, she shoved the small kitchen knife into the flesh, and squeezed. Three minutes later we were in the emergency ward of the hospital down the road, getting her finger sown up. Soon thereafter she was on her way to the function.
This episode speaks volumes for the way Andrea has gone about every aspect of her business. She has the most formidable commitment to getting the job done, literally regardless of personal pain. With a work ethic that extends to all hours of the night, and an almost infinite patience with people, she was born to be a caterer. I don’t know anyone else who, in the midst of being bossed around by the client from hell – complete with irritating nasal voice and varicose-encircled legs – can still compliment the woman’s perfume.
Andrea and I have always enjoyed cooking and entertaining. The division of roles was largely based upon me doing the majority of the cooking. She did salads, side dishes, styling and ‘front of house’ (she is very definitely more of a people person than I am). For home entertainers, we got quite slick at putting on social gatherings – we once put a birthday party together in a little over half-an-hour, from invitations to putting out food and drinks in preparation for the arrival of the first guests. To anyone looking from the outside, it was the most obvious business for Andrea to get involved in. Somehow the need to produce life’s barest necessities kick started the process. Under any other circumstances she could have spent a fortune ‘finding herself’ on a variety of New Age self-help courses.
We found each other on a wine course in 1993. I was new to retailing and new to wine, but that didn’t stop me from expressing opinions. I have it on good authority that she regarded me as obnoxious at the time. I employed Andrea over busy periods and on Saturdays when I needed a break. She was teaching Grade I at Sea Point Primary, and working a couple of shifts a week at Buitenverwachting’s highly rated restaurant.
Everything remained on a largely professional basis until I invited her to a dinner party in April 1994. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that my Ossobucco did the job, but the rest, as they say, was history. Standing outside after leaving a party on a moonlit night in October later that year – without any premeditation – I asked her to marry me.
We fixed on Friday the 13th of January 1995 as the date for our nuptials, for which we managed to obtain the large lawn at Buitenverwachting as a venue. Rain that had been threatening stayed away, and as guests listened to a Xhosa choir instead of the traditional bridal march, a very nervous-looking Andrea walked down the aisle towards me.
On the very next Friday the 13th (September 1995) she phoned me at work to tell me that she was pregnant. This wasn’t exactly part of our immediate life plan, and she was almost paralysed with terror. In typical Andrea fashion, she worked until the day before her due date, and then presented herself at the hospital in the afternoon. She was determined to have a Caesarian (“vaginal by-pass”, as our friend Daryl puts it), but the gynaecologist was having none of it. Eventually they agreed that if there were complications he would wheel her straight to the theatre. She was given the necessary drugs to induce labour, and the wait began. Labour pains eventually started, but by mid-day the following day she was becoming very concerned that she wouldn’t have her baby in time for visiting hours (invitations had already gone out). Finally, just after 1.30 pm on 1 June, about an hour before visiting time started, Sophie was born. Forever the social creature, doing anything without at least one other person, but preferably enough to fill the room, is anathema to Andrea. At least a dozen friends crammed into her (private) room in the hospital.
Four years later I had the ecstatic experience of being called away from a wine launch in Stellenbosch because Andrea had gone into labour. This time the pregnancy had been planned, but the moment of delivery had not been controlled. Aedan was born on the 20th of July 2000, while the British Open was in full swing. Ever since then I’ve regarded it as an essential part of his birthday celebrations to park myself in front of a television set for four days during the third week of July.
If genuine love of people – especially lots of them gathered for a party – is one of her prime attributes for catering, the demon that continuously follows her is the accurate judging of quantities. Her absolute inability to cook less than double the rice required even received mention in my speech at our wedding. Express even in passing that you’re not entirely certain there’s enough food, and she instantly goes into a state of twitching anxiety. Then she clicks into overdrive, which usually involves sending someone to any shop that happens to be open (our cupboards are still full of tins of tuna and salmon she bought from the Robben Island shop during a high-profile launch, when no-one thought to include the numerous VIP’s body guards in the numbers for catering).
My sister, Tracy, was wrapping up her catering activities late in 2002 to concentrate full-time on NoMU, her range of spice and herb mixes. At first Andrea and her had a loose co-operation, but by early 2003 she set up shop at home as Dish Food & Social. Since then our home has been a continually busy – occasionally panic-struck on deadline – place filled with cooking smells and laughter. I get pressed into service after hours and on weekends. I get desperate calls to deliver missing ingredients, but I wouldn’t change it for all the duck in France.