Salt Aficionado Chef Craig Cormack Talks About Oryx Desert Salt

All chefs are interested in salt; their work requires it, but over the last 7 years, Chef Craig Cormack’s interest has turned into a career-defining passion.  Today, Craig is known as South Africa’s leading authority on salt and an ardent advocate of educating people about why salt matters.  His other passion is wine and one of his most unusual and fascinating offerings is wine & salt pairings experiences together with Fleur du Cap. We talked to him about what is so special about salt and why it’s important to everyone.
 
Craig feels that for too long, salt has just been seen as boring ‘salt’, a chemical compound of Sodium Chloride. ‘I want to change all that,’ he explains. ‘so when I do the Wine & Salt pairing evenings, what I love to see most is the look of surprise on people’s faces when they understand the differences in taste between various salts, and also what a difference adding salt makes to the food they’re eating as well as the wine they’re drinking!’ 
 
For decades, salt has been seen negatively by the public, as something to be avoided for health reasons never mind focussed on as an important part of the home cook’s kitchen.  ‘7 years ago, salt was almost invisible in the culinary world of South Africa,’ says Craig.   It took salt luminaries such as Mark Kurlanksy with his book ‘Salt: A World History’ and more recently, Mark Bitterman with his book ‘Salted’ to position salt back in the limelight it deserves.

 
Oryx Desert Salt – an international player

 
Craig has an incredible collection of 128 different salts from around the world sourced from Japan, Australia, Pakistan, Hawaii and many more.  He likes to think that his work is now helping to spotlight uniquely South African gourmet salts such as Oryx Desert Salt from the Kalahari, Baleni salt from the Limpopo (also available from Oryx) Khoisan from the West Coast and others.

 
‘What I particularly love about Oryx, is its natural origins from 280 million year old ancient brine lakes beneath the desert.  Also that it’s naturally evaporated in the hot Kalahari sun. I enjoy its flavour profile. We use it in our kitchens a lot, as a seasoning salt, for baking in a salt crust and it’s great too as what is known as a finishing salt after the cooking process – especially over dishes such as chicken liver, seared tuna or meat roasts on the open side. It has a BIG flavour, and a very high saltiness from a taste point of view so one doesn’t need much.’  Oryx Desert Salt is already on close to 300 restaurants country-wide and Craig is enthusiastic about spreading the use of Oryx in other ways too such as in sachets.

 
The Salt Difference – why natural salt is better

 
‘Pure chemical Sodium Chloride gives an almost addictive salt ‘rush’ to common snack foods,’ says Craig. ‘Unrefined salts like Oryx don’t deliver that. Instead the taste grows and lingers on the palate for much longer.  That’s what you want to educate people to appreciate, to seek out.’  Instead of the ‘instant hit’, a gentle but more subtle taste enjoyment.

 
Craig is also impressed by the service ethics of Oryx. ‘I love Samantha’s (founder and CEO of Oryx Desert Salt) energy and passion.  She’s an utterly committed individual, ethical and the service levels are excellent. I also love the fact that Oryx is sourced locally and that it’s well-priced making an unrefined fantastic tasting gourmet salt accessible to locals as well as chefs and food producers.’

 
Looking Ahead

 
When it comes to pursuing his passion for salt, what’s on the horizon for Craig?  ‘Well, I’m working on creating a TV series on salt, which will involve filming on location in various places in South Africa, and will focus on how salt is produced,  exploring at least 4 of the 17 different world-wide methods of producing salt.  I’m currently looking for funders for this exciting project which will really shift people’s perceptions of salt in South Africa.‘
 
A final question. ‘Which  Fleur du Cap wines would you pair with Oryx salt?’ Craig smiles. ‘Oh gosh, there are many, especially from their unfiltered wine range but I’ve successfully paired Oryx with Merlots, Chenin Blanc’s,  Chardonnay’s and even a Noble Late Harvest. The best way to find out, though is to come and try for yourself!’

 
Learn More About Salt

 
Craig is down-to-earth and wonderfully easy to talk to.  He doesn’t let fancy jargon get in the way of his love for sharing what he knows to others, so his wine and salt pairing evenings are not only rich in delicious food, wine and salt but also delightfully rich in fascinating stories and conversation.

 
Join Chef Craig Cormack & Fleur du Cap for a wine and salt tasting experience at Die Bergkelder in Stellenbosch.  Either as a special dinner event or  private function with unique pairing of delectable dishes, created with salts from around the world and with Fleur du Cap’s award-winning Unfiltered range.  Or you can also discover the unusual combination of Fleur du Cap wines and artisanal salts at daily wine tastings where handmade salted morsels meld with our superb, naturally crafted wines.

 
For bookings and info, contact Nadia Ferreira on Tel: 021 809 8025 or nferreira@distell.co.za.