(28 December 1880 – 12 April 1947)

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Our first Table Talk posting pays homage C. Louis Leipoldt, the gastronomic godfather of South Africa. Long before there was a Julia Child and celebrity chefs reigned on TV, Leipoldt was carving out an amazing life for himself. Born in Worcester on Dec. 28th 1880 and raised in the Clanwilliam area, Leipoldt was a true Renaissance man. His talents and interests were as varied and wide-ranging as the wines and foods he loved both from his beloved homeland and from afar.

At an early age he was home schooled by his parents in the classics and languages. His first exposure to the culinary arts was in the home kitchen at the side of his beloved Ayah, the family’s talented Cape Malay cook. He went onto to study medicine in London and worked in the kitchen of the Ritz Hotel beginning as a dishwasher to earn money. Upon graduation from medical school and earning two gold medals, he held as well a diploma in international cuisine under the tutelage of none other than Auguste Escoffier. Add to these considerable achievements his skills as a botanist, poet, writer and playwright; and there’s little doubt as to why Leipoldt stands out as a well-seasoned man of great intellect and accomplishment.

In 1908 for six months, Leipoldt travelled with newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer (creator of the Pulitzer Prize) as his personal physician and experienced the cuisines of Mexico, the Caribbean, along with parts of Central and South America. Around 1914, Leipoldt returned to South Africa and worked as a medical inspector for the education department in the Transvaal. By 1925, he returned to live in Cape Town. There he taught pediatrics at the University of Cape Town Medical School and was a practicing pediatrician in the city.

It was during this time and up until his death in 1947. that Leipoldt’s literary output blossomed. He wrote novels, plays, stories, children’s books and a travel diary and was considered by many a fellow intellectual as the “most versatile artist” in South Africa. But it is his cookbooks and his focus on the history of the foods and wines of his beloved country which have endeared him to many of his contemporaries and have led a new generation to embrace him.

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Never a snob about food, Leipoldt extols the virtues of the home cook, the influences on the foods of South Africa by its diverse cultures – especially the Cape Malays. With great enthusiasm, knowledge and humor, his writings have preserved the past foundations upon which South African cuisine (primarily from the Western Cape, his home region) are based.  He never lost sight of his beginnings and the traditional Cape cuisines, wines and local ingredients were always dear to his heart. Wielding a pen as deftly as a chef’s knife, only Leipoldt could elevate a humble bean to more mystical and wondrous heights than the magic beans of Jack in the Beanstalk.

It is C. Louis Leipoldt’s passion, knowledge, love and joyous delight in the cuisines of South Africa that have endeared him to all of us at Food Routes. You might say he’s become our patron saint.  For anyone planning to travel through South Africa, especially in the Western Cape, one or more of Leipoldt’s culinary literary works should be on your required reading list. His enthusiasm is infectious and will stay with you forever … leaving an indelible edible South Africa imprinted not only in your mind but especially in your heart and soul.

Suggested reading:
Leipoldt’s Food & Wine
Published by Stonewall Books  ISBN 0-620-30617-3

NOTE: The following book is a compilation of three of Leipoldt’s culinary works.
Leipoldt’s Cape Cookery – Culinary Treasures – Three Hundred Years of Cape Wine