An award-winning confectioner and Executive Sous Pastry Chef at The Oyster Box, Joanita Venter knows how to make delicious, mouthwatering sweet treats to leave home for! From perfect pastries to moreish cakes, Joanita and her team are the magic behind the decadent daily High Tea at The Oyster Box. We caught up with Joanita to find out what makes a truly great afternoon tea and her top tips for aspiring home bakers.
Can you tell us what inspired you to become a pastry chef and how you got started?
“I have always loved to bake and cook – ever since I was a little girl – but the decision to become a pastry chef professionally came much later. I think my Mum was my first inspiration though; she’s a very good baker and cook. And, when I was young, our house always smelt like her delicious, fresh biscuits.
When I decided to pursue a career in food, I studied in London and South Africa and then took a position as a Trainee Chef at the Alpine Heath Resort & Conference Village in the Northern Drakensberg area. I also spent some time working at the Shamwari Game Reserve and the Sandton Convention Centre.”
Tell us about some of the highlights of your career so far.
“For me, joining the team at The Oyster Box in 2009 was a true highlight. Also, in 2013, I took part in the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year competition and I won the Confectionary Showcase. I’m really proud of that.”
Together with your team, you’re responsible for the decadent daily High Tea at The Oyster Box. What makes a High Tea great in your opinion? And what are some of the essential items on your menu?
“High Tea is a fantastic treat and one that appeals to everyone. I think you’ve got to have a big selection of things on the menu in order to suit and tantalize every palate. And, of course, you need a good balance of sweet and savoury items.
Here at The Oyster Box, High Tea begins with a glass of sparkling wine. And that’s just perfect, in my opinion. Some of the other essential treats on our menu are our Midlands Cheeseboard and Mrs Tollman’s Chicken Liver Pâté, as well as our selection of cakes. We like to our guests to be spoilt for choice with a selection of cakes like Red Velvet, Carrot and decadent Chocolate Fudge.”
What’s the one thing guest shouldn’t leave without trying…
“Without a doubt, that would be our Milk Tart. It’s a decadent, sweet, creamy custard tart and it’s very moreish.”
What are some of your favourite South African cakes and desserts?
“Personally, I love Koeksisters–they’re delicious syrup-coated, plaited doughnuts. And Malva Pudding (a rich, syrupy sponge) is amazing when the weather’s cold. But Milk Tart is without doubt my personal favourite!”
Baking has become increasingly trendy in recent years. What do you think appeals to people about creating cakes and pastries?
“I think it’s because baking is so rewarding. It brings instant gratification and edible success because you can see (and taste) the results of your efforts immediately. And it’s a great activity that brings people together – whether it’s for celebrations, for tea, or just for fun. What marks a special occasion better than a homemade cake or something sweet?”
Do you have any tips for the home baker?
- Follow the recipe to the letter
- Put love into everything you bake
- Place a pan of water in the oven when baking to create steam (it helps the cake rise evenly, stay moist and prevents a hard, cracked top from forming)
- Always use the best ingredients you can afford/lay your hands on.”
What do you like to bake on your days off? Do you have any personal favourites?
“At home I like baking crumpets and cupcakes for my 14-year-old twins; we often bake together. It’s a great way to bring people together.”
When you’re invited out, what do people always ask you bring along?
“Unsurprisingly, I’m always asked to bring a dessert! My Malva Pudding is a particular favourite with friends and family.”
To taste some of Joanita Venter’s delicious culinary creations, book ahead for a spot at The Oyster Box’s High Tea, served every day between 2.30pm and 5pm.
Header image © The Red Carnation Hotel Collection