We call her quite marvellous.
Lizzy was born on the other side of town, on a farm called Noorspoort, owned by the legendary Craven family. “I learnt from my mother how to bake and cook. She in turn learnt it from old Mrs Maria Craven, [rugby legend] Doc Danie Craven’s wife.
“Later on I worked on another farm at Baroe, near Mount Stewart. I have such fond memories of all those people. I know many carry around a heavy burden from the Apartheid days, but not me. I was treated so well wherever I worked. It felt like I was part of the family.”
Lizzy went on to work as a domestic in Port Elizabeth, where her employer, Margaret Muller, helped hone her cooking and catering skills.“But I moved back to Steytlerville in 1995 when my daughter Melissa was ready to go to school. I wanted her to have a similar childhood to mine. There is nothing as wonderful as growing up on a Karoo farm!”
“But will you survive there?”, asked Mrs Muller. Lizzy answered, in her confident way: “I will surely survive. I am a child of the dust.”
We’d heard about Lizzy from one of her local promotional angels, the folks at the Karroo Theatrical Hotel on the outskirts of Steytlerville. Another of her town allies, Corne Henderson from the tourism office, calls Lizzy to organise our lunch.
Look up Lizzy Snoek on Google, and you’ll find raves about her Karoo comfort food: vetkoek, roosterkoek, lamb stew, chicken curry, milktart, malva pudding and custard. She has something approaching celebrity status in Steytlerville.
Lizzy is a light among the local agritourism attractions in this region, known for its Angora goats and mohair. Locals and foreigners love her.
So off we drive, my partner Chris and I, across Steytlerville and into the township, as schoolkids are streaming home from morning classes. Her place is well signposted and easy to find, and Lizzy embraces us like old friends. The first two rooms of her spotless house are full of chairs and tables. You can see a caterer lives here.
Lizzy sometimes has to deal with the likes of a solo couple for lunch, like today. Usually, tour groups book, but on a few memorably nervy occasions, they have not.
“One time” she recalls, “It was a quiet morning so I called a friend of mine over to help colour my hair. So we added the colouring and we wrapped my head tightly in Glad Wrap.
“Just then I heard a car door slam outside and my heart sank. In marched 18 people wanting lunch, and I had nothing prepared.”
And so? “Well, they didn’t leave hungry” says Lizzy proudly. Still resplendent in Glad Wrap, she threw on a doek and got them going with some Karoo basics like roosterkoek (griddle-baked bread), butter and apricot jam and then ad-libbed from there.
Lizzy Snoek wears a broad smile, displaying perfect white teeth. She dresses in bright colours, is all about being upbeat, and she treats everyone as a friend.
“I love looking after people,” she says. She and I sit down in her green kitchen for a chat. While Chris is buzzing around us, taking photographs, I scribble down the philosophies that underpin her success:
- “Laugh your problems away.”
- “You must have a dream and when you achieve that, go for the next one.”
- “What are arms and legs? They are not ornaments. They are there to be used.”
- “I work hard and every night I go to bed with a song in my heart.”
- “If you don’t share your problems, they won’t go away.”
Like most successful entrepreneurs, she started small. First she found and bought a house in Vuyolwethu, then started a spaza shop on the side. From there she built her restaurant and later, a respected catering business.
Her most epic day of catering to date was when she fed 600 visiting health professionals on World Aids Day. “We lit the cooking fires at 4 am that day and made them real boerekos – rice, pumpkin and red meat. For that job I had to hire more pots and employ a team of cooks. But we did it.”
The local and foreign tourists who make it down to this part of the world – called the Noorsveld because of the characteristic euphorbia plants found here – love the vibe of Lizzy’s Khaya.
Lizzy has also had her fair show of international coverage, even featuring once in The Beijing Review travel section.
Travel bloggers who pass through the region are entirely charmed by Lizzy Snoek and her meals. And they rave about her in their writings.
She has become a respected tourism entrepreneur in town. But her current thrill is the fact that famous local artist, Johan Trollip, painted her portrait.
“He brought it to me to show me before selling it. And I said to him: Now I can see I am the most beautiful flower in the Karoo!” she laughs.
Ok. So what are we having for lunch? She emerges from the kitchen, bearing a green salad, beetroot salad, perfectly prepared pieces of roast chicken thigh, meatballs, cauliflower and broccoli with a white cheesy sauce. So we feast.
And while we’re having lunch, Lizzy Snoek is back in the kitchen, quietly preparing for her next gig: a huge mass of koeksisters, to be sold at the upcoming Groot Kerk Bazaar in Steytlerville.
She hasn’t got time to ponder about the sorry state of small business in South Africa. She’s too busy and is caught up in the moment within her favourite place – the kitchen. In any case, apart from the koeksisters, a massive order of roosterkoeke has just come in, plus a request for a birthday cake.
Her next dream? To build a bed and breakfast accommodation on her premises, so that travellers can have a deeper experience of life in this part of the world.
No problem for the Domestic Queen of Steytlerville….