Saturday, June 7, 2008
Kitchenboy Moves On
My friend Braam Kruger has passed on. An extraordinary chef, his food drew people to appreciate another great talent; his art. I was introduced to Braam through Nicole, my girlfriend at the time, who was one of his so-called "friend girls". It was a phrase that denoted just that - not a girlfriend, but a friend who happens to be a girl. In spite of this, it was very clear that Braam relished his 'harem' of friendgirls, who, all gorgeous, would be around him at home or out and about. Men were often annoyed by their female companion's attention towards him - what was the appeal? Such was the man's impact.
The first indication you had that this was no mere mortal, was in his appearance. When I met Braam, he was in his late forties, but with his thick beard and greying hair, appeared older. But it was very clear the man did not feel a day over 20. His fashion I would best describe as "Bohemian sixties beachwear pop", encompassing billowy kaftans, smoking jackets, lycra pants and leather slip-ons that tapered to a curly point. He was always the loudest in the room - both vocally and visually. Always with a too incredible story from his recent past, both arrogant and exceedingly charming. The consummate host, whose dinners would go on to the following morning and from which you'd need days to recover.
Braam left an indelible impression on all he met. Whether they were appalled by his brashness, his avant garde appearance or captivated by his aura and converted to a loyal fan. But through my many many visits with him, I felt I never truly knew the man behind the facade. The real Braam, the struggling artist full of massive talent but somehow not fully recognised by his peers? He admitted to me once, in not so many words, that his Kitchenboy persona (his food label) was just a marketing tool, to draw attention to the product(s) he had to sell - his exceptional sauces, his weekly columns in the paper, his commissioned paintings. But it became his life.
I think towards the end, having survived a stroke, Braam realized that the heavy drinking, smoking, partying persona had taken its toll, not only on his health but on his relationships. We grew out of Braam. He was a magical, magnificent phase that we entered, were blown away by and then left, or we were to be trapped in a world that doesn't offer a promising future. His great loves Fairy and Junglegirl both moved on with their lives and, having found love again in Amalanka, it was too late to put on the brakes. He cut back, but it was too late and not enough.
It was tough to see Braam again over Christmas, during a brief visit back to Joburg. We met at a restaurant but, instead of it being a long overdue catchup, he'd invited us to a meal review. And so we had to sprinkle our conversation between the endless back and forth of waiters with 100 dishes, Braam's incessant photos of each platter and compulsion to regail us with the origin, preparation and critique of each dish. This was the Braam for people he'd just met, not the Braam for friends.
I think his doing a review meant it was on safe ground. He didn't have to talk about life and loss, he didn't have to hold up a mirror to something he wasn't comfortable facing - his steady decline. It was a glimpse of the old Braam, shouting over to waiters to tell the chef this and that and delighting in his judgement that he could do better. And maybe it was his way of saying "remember me? I'm still here!" But as he rose, shakily, to his feet to go to the restroom, I saw just how weak he'd become. Braam and Kitchenboy were too intertwined to separate. Killing off Kitchenboy meant killing off Braam, yet they couldn't survive together for long.
I am blessed for having met Braam. He taught me a lot about myself. He made me the most incredible meals I've yet to taste - and one or two stinkers, too. He gave me a great many laughs and as many hangovers the next day. I will miss his voice, his crazy outfits, his painted nails, the jellybeans in the foyer, New Year's in Chinatown with Happy Man prawns, his fabulous nude paintings, his extraordinary home, the Kitschmobile, his loping gate and his wonderful warmth. No-one could accuse the man of not living life to the full. And that is true inspiration.
Hats off to you, Kitchenboy. Thanks for the memories.