CRUSH CHATS TO Marijke & Tracey-Leigh
Chefs at Four & Twenty Cafe
Who are the faces behind Four&Twenty?
Myself, Marijke Duminy, and my partner in crime, Tracy-Leigh Genricks, are the chefs and co-owners of Four&Twenty.
At the café Tracy is in charge of the pastries and bakery items, which fill our jewel-like box of delights at our pastry counter as you enter the shop.
I am the head chef of the café section; the menu is seasonal and changes as often as my inspirations shift and as I explore new flavours.
Another face which has become a part and parcel of the Four&Twenty experience, is Tracy’s mother Linda Genricks, who spends the majority of the week manning the patisserie counter; she has become a large part of why many of our regulars come back again and again – she warmly welcomes each person as if they were an old friend and is always more than willing to describe any of the quirky menu, or unconventionally delicious, pastry items. Not only has she fast become a mother to all at the café, but she is now also a confidant and dear friend to most in our unique Chelsea Village community.
How do you two know each other?
We are both chefs – Grande Diploma Cordon Bleu graduates of Silwood School of Cookery. Tracy was the practical cookery teacher at Silwood Kitchen and I was her student. We always enjoyed each other’s company at school, but never managed to expand on that initial ‘click’ until a year later, when we ended up travelling to Europe together.
What do you think initially inspired your love of food and your desire to turn it into a career?
Food has always been a big part of both of our lives – it is part of what makes sharing food with others so rewarding for us. Food is an enormous part of everyone’s frame of reference and is thus an opportunity to extend a common thread to people from different walks of life, creating a shared human experience.
Tracy and I have both been privileged enough to travel abroad throughout our lives, giving us the opportunity to experience this common thread through the lens of many different cultural precepts. From old family recipes served around the long, noisy tables of adolescence, to trying totally foreign combinations and ingredients on our individual quests for flavour discovery abroad, we have both developed a deep sense of appreciation for the eternal balance between that which is familiar and comforting, and that which is thrilling and requires an open-minded sense of adventure! All in all, a pretty fascinating journey indeed!
So whose idea was it to go to France?
Tracy once flippantly mentioned in passing that she was looking for a travel buddy to see France with and I jumped in without a second thought. In no time at all, we had planned a culinary road-trip to die for, from Paris to Mont Saint-Michel, Bordeaux, Lyon and even a few rural gems off the tourist-beaten track, like the hidden magical foodie heaven of Sarlat along the river Dordogne! Little did we know, that the trip we planned as an opportunity to literally eat our way around France, would be the turning point in both of our lives to finally find our soul’s expression in something real and honest and truly ‘us’!
France is definitely a place one would find plenty of inspiration as a chef, was this the case for you both?
Without boring you with every detail of every bite along the way (which we carefully documented and drew diagrams of at every café, bakery, restaurant, food fair and market), we made our eagerly anticipated pilgrimage to Ladurèe in Paris. This was a particularly exciting stop for us, not only because of Tracy’s incredible natural magnetism towards fine patisserie, but also because we knew the flavours would be totally mind blowing, and they certainly did not disappoint!
Triumphantly, with the perfectly wrapped and whimsically ordained parcel-in-hand, we skipped along the Champs Elysee hand-in-hand, singing in broken French (we have pictures to prove it and it was rather a spectacle as you may imagine). We could not contain our excitement at opening our box of mystical treats at the foot of the iconic Eiffel Tower we had travelled so far to see! Once we had unceremoniously thrown ourselves down on the cobbled square, with the paternal tower immense and imposing above us, we carefully peeled each layer of luxurious tissue paper away to find what can only be described as one of the most profound culinary experiences of either of our lives. While biting each perfect macaron in half to share every morsel of this ingeniously flavoured, authentic, triumph of technique (with tears in our eyes and copious amounts of gasping and ‘oh my word-ing’), we squeezed each others’ hands and without so much as a look or another word we both declared that we would take this feeling home with us, together.
Many think that we came home from Paris to open a Parisian café, but in fact we came home to open something that makes us feel the way we did that day, when the sheer wonder of all the possibilities for joy in food totally overwhelmed us and changed us forever.
Do you have a memorable food moment from your trip to Paris or perhaps of somewhere else in your life that cemented the desire to make this a career?
After our powerful ‘aha’-moment under the Eiffel tower, every crumb that we inhaled with utter fascination and glee on our month-long culinary pilgrimage, became yet another inspiring affirmation for our new-found purpose.
Some of the highlights were eating paper-thin crepes stuffed with warm and oozy chestnut crème on the steps to the Notre Dame Cathedral; buying the most insanely beautiful little porcini and truffle-filled pasta parcels at the local Parisian food market and cooking them amongst squeals of anticipatory elation in our kettle in our tiny room; real hand-whipped-in-copper-bowl omelettes on the tortuous and spiralling island of Mont Saint-Michelle; perfect Sole Meunière at a sidewalk café in Bordeaux accompanied by copious quantities of an untraditionally paired bottle of velvety Merlot (do not despair however, our wine-paring skills have definitely been significantly refined since…); the ultimate in simply prepared but mouth-explodingly good steaks, at a quirky bistro in Lyon and piles upon piles of duck-fat confit potatoes scoffed greedily in our medieval hotel-room in Sarlat! Just to mention a few…
Where does the name of the Café come from – we’re assuming the nursery rhyme?
“Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye
four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie…”
It is from the Mother Goose nursery rhyme indeed – one of both our favourites (probably because even as babies we were drawn to the nursery rhymes with food in them), but also because it conveys a whimsical sentiment, possibly of a foregone time where life was lived more slowly and with more appreciation for subtler joys.
We thought it was an open-ended enough name to also not be something which is predefined and limiting to us – it is supposed to highlight a feeling rather than anything specific, which can be developed and played with as our own food journey takes shape over the years to come. We didn’t want to constrain ourselves or be boxed into any category – all we hope to be is a celebration of eating, in as many forms as we can explore!
Is there a Café signature dish, or something that you are becoming known for?
When we created our ‘Eggs Be-Lean’ dish (as a funky twist on classic Eggs Benedict, but aimed at our more calorie-conscious diners), we had no idea that it would become our signature dish, but somehow we managed to catch on to the low-carb revolution that has changed the general eating style of many South Africans in the last few years. The dish is made of a truffle-roasted aubergine and mushroom rosti (no starchy potatoes in sight), which is then crisped in a mini pan and topped with two soft-poached eggs and a lighter yoghurt-hollandaise, garnished with confit tomatoes and finished with either smoked salmon, local bresaola or crispy bacon. It has become so popular that we have to prepare over 10 kg of aubergine and mushrooms daily! Even Doctor Tim Noakes himself orders our Eggs Be-Lean with double crispy bacon for breakfast at least once a week!
You’re about to hop on a rocket ship headed for a new dimension, what Café item do you grab to take with you…you can only take one!
Marijke: Sjoe! This is a tough one! If I had to go and cook in another dimension, I would probably make sure I had a good, sharp chef’s knife with me, since this would probably come in handy too if this other dimension contained any aggressive or sinister native aliens that wanted to eat me… I am pretty good at wielding a knife. Otherwise, if I could be assured that this other dimension is peace loving and has sharp implements readily available, I would definitely first grab my Thermomix- the king of kitchen equipment!
Tracey: I would take the baked vanilla cheesecake with caramel and toasted macadamia nuts – the whole one! What if they don’t have cream cheese in the new dimension?