While some people are born with an instant love for all things edible, food writer Karen Hart discovered her passion by accident. Thirty-seven years later, the former entertainment journalist has published two cookbooks and has another one on the way.
It was at the age of 22, fresh out of varsity and during a brief marriage, that she first started teaching herself to cook. What began out of necessity, soon bloomed into one of the greatest loves of her life.
Born in Bloemfontein in the Free State, Hart says her family moved around quite a bit because of her father’s work as a teacher. When she was two years old, they moved to Victoria West in the Karoo. Hart says this semi-desert region of South Africa will always be a part of her. “You know, once the Karoo is in your blood, it will never leave you. You are sort of a Karoo child forever.”
It was not long before they relocated to Cape Town. Here Hart completed her schooling at De Kuilen High School in Kuilsriver in 1977. Afterwards she obtained a Bachelor’s degree and a Higher Education Diploma in English Language and Literature.
In 1982, fresh out of university, the 22-year-old Hart got married and moved to Graaff-Reinet with her husband. That same year she started at Volkskool High as an English and Afrikaans teacher. However, after a year the couple decided to part ways and she moved back to Cape Town, and this is where she has been since.
“I was in a very brief marriage in Graaff-Reinet and my husband was from a farm. During winter time I suddenly got stuck with a whole freezer full of venison. I didn’t know anything, so I went to the only bookshop in Graaff-Reinet and I bought myself a Kook en geniet book and I started teaching myself how to cook.”
This was the beginning of a new journey as the little predicament gave life to her love for cooking. Today she owns approximately 2 000 cookbooks.
Hart says the more she cooked, the more passionate she became about it. So much so that she would dream about a recipe and get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to prepare it. “Cooking is like breathing to me. It’s very hard work but it’s very satisfying.”
After returning to the Mother City, Hart worked at a publishing company for a while before joining the ranks as an entertainment journalist at Huisgenoot magazine, where she worked for 11 years.
“I was getting bored with the entertainment industry thing, so I started writing a food blog, which was inspired by the book Julie and Julia – long before the movie was made. Then I thought ‘Oh, cooking, and writing about it, is combining the two greatest passions in my life’. I started the blog and I was quite amazed by the response.”
Hart’s blog, “Toorkombuis”, came to the attention of the editorial team at the then newly founded Kuier magazine. She was asked to freelance as food editor. Ten years down the line, and she is now full-time food editor and more than happy that she made the move.
Hart says she believes in the magic of the kitchen and when she is not cooking, she is reading up about it. Although the kitchen takes up most of her time, she adds that when she gets the chance, she loves reading poetry and listening to opera.
In 2017 Hart released her first cook book, Toor met hoender, (“Do magic with chicken”) with a follow-up book in 2018 called Maalvleis (“Mincemeat”). Now her third cookbook – a compilation of recipes and stories from her blog – keeps her busy.
Hart sees herself as both a dreamer and a practical person, but also one who believes in fairy tales. And as long as she can surround herself with good and beautiful things and share it with others, then her world is alright.
With her magical kitchen skills, Hart prepared a lovely traditional bobotie especially for Food For Mzansi’s loyal readers.