Chefs Kiss: Brent Meersman’s journey experiencing the world through taste
By Ragheema Mclean
How do you write a review on one of our country’s greatest storytellers? How do you review the ultimate reviewer? All I can say is you simply try your best and hope it does them justice. So let us give it a go.
Brent Meersman. He is one of South Africa’s finest storytellers, who has contributed tremendously to SA journalism and writing. He has written a memoir. Published several books and articles. You will find some of his work published at one of our country’s leading media houses the Mail and Guardian and This is Africa. His work has also been translated and published internationally (Anon., 2021). The “Rattling the Cage” author is currently the co-editor of GroundUp and has chaired the Cape Town Press Club since 2013 (Anon., 2021).
In the article Bitten by the food bug written for the Mail and Guardian, a powerful piece of writing, Brent speaks about how writing about food impacted his career. He says, “But it was only in 2008, when I started writing about food, that I began to get stopped in shopping center's by strangers”. Some never even knew he wrote for the M&G until he began reviewing food. The article highlights Cape Town food culture and describes it as the most sophisticated, diverse, food conscious city in Africa. He takes his readers on a bit of a history lesson as he discusses SA’s culinary history and the evolution of how we found our way into the food world. He speaks about his journey experiencing the world through taste. From lunch at Parliament to lunch at Pollsmoor Prison. From meals costed at R1150 to meals for only R25. Meersman has tasted it all. He mentions how one of his reviews caused so much of an uproar that he received a letter from the Cuban embassy saying that he was maligning their Island Nation. This piece is brilliant and definitely worth the read.
Did you know Italian food was the very first regional cuisine to go global? Brent takes his readers on a journey exploring Italian cuisine in another article written for the Mail and Guardian, Confused but content. The perfect insider’s guide to Italian cuisine. He speaks about his travels to Italy and describes eating in Italy to be confusing. The way he forms a contrast between what things mean in the different cities gives the reader an inside look as to how food is represented in Italy. He writes “In Rome, breakfast is colazione and the midday meal pranzo, nut if you ask for those in Milan and Turin you will get lunch and dinner respectively”. Meersman mentions that it is best to ask for the Italian menu and to consult the English menu if they have one. This article acts as a good heads up for anyone planning on travelling to Italy. He then brings It home and tells us more about how the Italian kitchen has developed and made its way onto our streets. There are few authentic Italian eateries in Cape Town, but they have efficient service which makes it a success amongst the business crowd. Brent explains that prices here are fairly steep for food of a good standard, but it is not exceptional. He has high hopes for the cuisine in our country and some promising restaurants have opened up.
In a piece written for This is Africa, Rethinking The National Arts Festival Brent writes about the festival of performing arts that takes place in Grahamstown annually. Right off the bat you notice the title is a bit unconventional for a review on an arts festival. Once you start reading the article, you will soon find out why. Meersman does not speak about the festivities of the festival but instead he speaks about the residents of Grahamstown and how much the festival means to them. He tells the story of a town renowned for its inequality but yet the town is home to a festival with a R30 million budget. With approximately 80 000 residents and every year come festival time these people turn into entrepreneurs. He paints a bigger picture and that connects the dots with the title. In a sophisticated way he speaks up about inequality and the struggles these people face.
Brent Meersman is an exceptional writer, the articles mentioned in this review is just a mere taste of how powerful his words are and what they contribute to SA storytelling. This body of work is simply put — Chefs Kiss.