A weekend where food and friends featured first on the agenda was the hallmark of the Lowveld Chaîne des Rôtisseurs inauguration at the Thornybush main lodge on Saturday, July 12, 2008. Fifteen members added their names to a list of 2 400 other official food lovers around the globe. They were formally inducted into the Chaîne by Allison Rutowitz, honorary Chaîne member, who responded to their pledge by tapping each member's shoulder with a ceremonial sword, reminiscent of the British tradition of ennobling knights.
Membership of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs in South Africa applies to both amateur and professional gastronomes. The members pledge states, "I pledge that as a member of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs I will at all times honour the art of cuisine and the culture of the table. I pledge to always fulfil my obligations of brotherhood and of respect for my fellow members of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs."
After the ceremony, shared by Chaîne members, friends and family from across the country, the guests and new inductees celebrated in the true tradition of the Chaîne with good food, good wine and good company. The delicious four-course meal prepared by JB Burger, operational manager at Thornybush, and his team, coupled with a selection of wines, set the table for a memorable evening.
The guests, who love talking about, looking at and, of course eating food, delighted in the potato and leek soup with blue cheese breadstick, the Mozambican tiger prawns and lime kebabs set on wilted spinach, drizzled with Thai sweet chilli sauce, grilled spatchcock quail on ratatouille vegetables and topped with Amarula sauce rounded off with vanilla soufflé served with crème glaze.
The day began with a spectacular six-course breakfast prepared by John Jackson of Royal Malewane and his team. Seated in the distinctive lowveld bush, the connoisseurs savoured John's trademark cuisine. At the breakfast, John was given official recognition of his culinary abilities, with a 'promotion' to a higher level in the ranks of the Chaîne, much as superlative chefs are sometimes awarded further Michelin stars.
The Lowveld Baillage, with its 20 members, is the youngest baillage of the South African Chaîne. It spans from Nelspruit to Tzaneen, one South Africa's prime tourism destinations. The other 210 South African Chaîne members are based at branches in Johannesburg, Pretoria, KwaZulu Natal, the western Cape and Outeniqua. Hennale Steyn, one of the Lowveld Baillage's founding members, was also inducted as its first bailli.
"I had never thought that such remarkable interest in the Chaîne would happen so spontaneously. If it were not for each of these members' contribution, I would never have done it. My wish is that we would attract more members and more great food establishments." She hopes to facilitate at least one Chaîne function a month, "to provide an opportunity where members can get to know each other and where chefs can be inspired to present good food and wine."
The Chaîne, as it is known today, was established in Paris, France in 1950. The organisation's roots date back to the traditions and practices of the old French royal guild of goose roasters. The written history of this guild traces back to 1248. The Chaîne evolved throughout the next few centuries and in 1509, during the time of King Louis XII, the name changed to Rôtisseurs.
In 1610, under the next King Louis, the guild was awarded a royal charter and its own coat of arms. It also adopted a coat of arms depicting two crossed turning spits and four larding needles, surrounded by flames of the hearth on a shield. In the 1950s, present day Chaîne des Rôtisseurs adopted this shield as a basis for its own emblem. It added a circle of fleur-de-lis and two chains, representing the bond between members.
In its modern cloak, the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs aims to uphold and promote the traditional values of an appreciation for food and wine fit for a king's table, while in the enjoyment of good company. The Chaîne was established in South Africa with the assistance if Patrice Crozier, bailli of the Chaîne in Mauritius. The inaugural event at the Marc Guebert restaurant, La Francais in Johannesburg, was attended by 80 people.