Cornelius Veakins has been cooking outdoors all his life. He was born in South Africa, the birth place of barbecuing and braai and, wherever he has ever lived, his passion has always been wood, fire and smoke cooking. His mission is to bring this passion to the UK and show that everyone can become an Outdoor Chef.
What do you love the most about cooking outdoors?
I simply don’t enjoy cooking inside. The fun of outdoor cooking is the lifestyle choice, for South Africans having a Braai means more than just cooking but kicking back with friends, a good bottle of wine and having fun. This is what alfresco cooking is all about. In the UK we have a bit of a weather problem but that doesn’t mean you can’t cook outside, it just means eating outside is restricted to the warm/hot days. I cook all year round – including in the snow – and the only time I don’t is when its raining too hard.
What do you need to become an Outdoor Chef?
A love for the outdoors and cooking good food. We all start on cheap metal barbecues at the beginning and then, as our skills progress, we start looking for better kit to use. An Outdoor Chef wants to move forward from cooking sausages and burgers a couple of times a year. They want to explore the full range and variety on offer with wood, fire and smoke cooking. So it’s this passion that creates Outdoor Chefs and it’s my passion to help them.
What kit do you recommend?
I’m all about getting as many people outside cooking, having fun and experimenting with their food. There is so much kit out there and it is essential that you choose the best kit for you. What do you like to cook? How much outdoor space do you have? What level of cooking skills do you have? The kit I use is tried and tested by me and I have to really appreciate its worth to recommend it.
So what kit do you recommend for the different types of cooks?
Ceramic Barbecues are the best barbecues in the world and I couldn’t live without mine and they suit any outdoor chef that loves their Low ‘n’ Slow cooking and smoking food. It is a BBQ and an outdoor oven and is, not meant in a rude way, idiot proof! You light up, add your food, close the lid, walk away and wait. It will cook for hours at a constant temperature with no issues. Easy! It’ll hold at low temperatures but also reach very high temperatures for traditional barbecuing. It is built for all year round cooking – doesn’t matter if it is raining, snowing or a heat wave. The thick ceramic will hold its temperature.
Woodfired Ovens are a very different style of cooking. Much more hands on and you feel a lot more involved with your cooking. I think you need more confidence as a cook to use one but you are playing with wood and fire so is a lot more fun. If you love cooking pizzas, baking breads and seeing your food roasting away – wood fired pizza ovens are for you but it is a lot more hands-on and you need some practice to get it right. It’s like having an outdoor fireplace, you can’t help watch the fire and see your food cooking – its very addictive! It’s a very different experience to using a ceramic barbecue.
I’m currently using Alfa Pizza ovens because I believe they are the best of the best in mobile outdoor ovens. They have a wide range of sizes and colours so you can buy the right one for you.
HomeFires Braai Looking for authentic braai cooking and you’ve got the space? This bit of kit from South Africa is a beast and a statement piece for your garden. The magic of this barbecue is that you make your own charcoal, simply add your wood to the fire box and wait 20 minutes or so and, by using a very long poker, you knock the embers down. Spread them under the grate and start cooking when you have enough. This is proper hands on outdoor cooking and as real as it gets. It bakes, roasts and grills and is the best excuse for having regular outdoor parties.
What are your plans?
I love nothing better than sourcing new kit from around the world and bringing it to the UK. Every country has its own outdoor cooking traditions, techniques, styles and kit. There is still so much to learn and experience and the UK outdoor cooking market is growing massively – chefs have fully embraced this style of cooking but there is so much more to come!