My grandmother inspired my love of food and cooking. The most important lessons I learnt from her were how to taste and smell and to have great respect for produce. She had a vegetable garden, fruit orchard and lovely rose garden. She and my grandfather were dairy farmers, and to this day, butter is still top of my list of favourite ingredients.
My mother hosted amazing dinner parties. When my brother was a student, she often threw them for him and his young friends. The dinner table would be filled with vibrant conversation and lots of laughter. She prepared her traditional gems such as venison pie, curried tripe, roast lamb and always lots of veggies.
I started out as a home economics teacher, and later became a lecturer. The food fundamentals I always tried to instil in my students were understanding and appreciating ingredients and natural flavour marriages; the importance of techniques such as temperature control, seasoning and good culinary equipment; and the scientific reasons for cooking methods.
My cooking school, Ina’s Kitchen, was opened in 1982, in the converted garage of our home in Constantia. The spark was a midlife crisis and my mother’s entrepreneurial career. Popular courses included the “hostess course”, which ran over five consecutive weeks, and “Mainly for Men”, where we focused on carving, and outdoor cooking. It ran for ten years until my food production factory needed more of my time.
My first cookbook, Cook with Ina Paarman, came about when my students complained about the loose notes I handed out – they wanted a book. I put the book together, but couldn’t find a publisher, so we took a loan on our house and self-published. We couldn’t afford colour photography, but a friend spoke to the artist Stanley Pinker who illustrated the manuscript with line drawings. I still have the originals and they are now our most valuable art.
The Ina Paarman product range was born to keep my helpers at the cookery school busy during holiday periods when there were no students. My son Graham volunteered to sell them at farm stalls. He is now my business partner and is really the very best running mate one can have – it is a joy to work together. We both have strong views but the “best for the brand” argument always wins.
The recipe for my legendary chocolate cake mix evolved slowly after many, many trials – 120, in fact. We wanted a moist cake that improved after two to three days and had a true chocolate flavour. That recipe is now cast in stone, never to be tampered with!
Being the first food editor of Femina was a wonderful experience for me. The vibe was good, I worked with some clever, talented people including [TASTE contributing editor] Phillippa Cheifitz and photographer Alain Proust. Local food magazines have come a long way, especially magazines like TASTE. They’ve made good food accessible and are educating people about the joys of eating well and cooking at home.
You should aways be loyal to your roots. In South Africa, we have outstanding raw materials to work with, we are generous and hospitable, and we love to eat! We make excellent pies – my grandmother’s lamb pie and milk tart will always be on top of my list! And our chutneys and marinades take a lot of beating.
A plain salad with a good dressing can be a feast. People would embrace healthy eating far more enthusiastically if the food tasted really, really good. That’s why I can’t live without my seasonings, stocks and pestos. I also love cooking with butter and olive oil.