Topsi Venter, like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole, just 'fell' into food. Her culinary adventures are equally fantastical: a creative mélange of cooking, teaching, food art and, finally, a quirky bistro in Franschhoek - and modern South African cuisine is all the richer for it.

Did you know?

Topsi owns a pet parrot named after the Dutch linguist Arnoldus Pannevis, father of the Afrikaans language.

Topsi Venter and conventional are words that are unlikely to appear in the same sentence. 

Born in Bloemfontein, she has been called Topsi since she can remember (her real name is Pauline), and recalls a love of good food instilled since childhood: 'We grew up as a family who enjoyed our food, and fine dining became a very special ritual which has never left me.'

A cultural-creative, Topsi studied art history, architecture and musical appreciation. In the 60s, she attended food lectures, and it was here she met Lesley Faull, founder of Silwood Kitchen School of Cordon Bleu Cookery. Though never classically trained, Topsi later mentored hundreds of students from the school.

Whilst teaching art history, a friend nominated her to become a public service officer for the South African Dried Fruit Board. She got the job, and South African cook Topsi Venter’s food odyssey began.

Natural talent and an uncommon ability to capture the terroirof South African food (some say Topsi is the terroir) on a plate soon saw Topsi open her first restaurant, Hatfield House, in 1983, in Cape Town. The Wild Fig restaurant followed, and so did her adoring diners.

Topsi Venter, South African cook, then headed up the kitchen at Roggeland Country House in Paarl, where she cemented her reputation for re-inventing traditional food, using only the freshest, finest quality ingredients.

A well-earned sabbatical followed, but friends and ex-clients pestered Topsi to return to food full time. Topsi set her sights on the Cape’s foodie capital Franschhoek, where she now runs her restaurant, Topsi & Co, together with her daughter Danielle, who is married to master chef Robert Rittel.

For Venter every flavour has a meaning and an origin. Ever the contrarian, Topsi’s food has been described as inventive, adventurous and, sometimes, whimsical – much like the diminutive kitchen goddess herself.