04.08.2015

As We Please

Twin sisters Jesse and Jamie live and work from a space that’s as captivating as they are

 

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon

At the end of a cul-de-sac is an old wrought iron gate. Behind it is a path that cuts through an established garden and climbs up to the stoep of a Victorian house. Inside the house is starkly furnished, with a few black-and-white photographs and other large art pieces that have eyes that follow you around the room. And when you see the twins standing together it’s like someone has just shouted BOO! at you.

Remember those ratchet blondes from the Hout Bay Harbour, The Soap Girls? Well Jesse and Jamie are nothing like that, but they do have that talking-at-the-same-time thing down pat. In fact, they try hold back but can’t help themselves and if one doesn’t finish the other’s sentence she’ll repeat what’s already been said. That’s when they don’t answer a question at the exact same time, saying the exact same thing, in stereo, and not a word out of place. Sometimes I even catch them holding the same pose, extended index finger held to the side of the face, other hand grabbing the elbow. Uncanny.

We walk through the lounge, which has a Corbusier chaise lounge chair at the bay window, a Bang & Olufsen TV with a cover over it and a Corbusier lounge suite. There’s no coffee table and the dining room table has no chairs.

“We’d rather do without than have something simply for the sake of it.

We have what we like.

And if we can’t afford it then we do without.

It would shake me to my core…

…having something that I didn’t like.

We didn’t have a kettle for the first four months of living here.

We couldn’t stand what was available.”

That’s how they speak, the twins, and I forget immediately who is Jesse and who is Jamie and so I’ll attribute all dialogue to both of them. Anyway, the kitchen has the right things – checkerboard floors, Alessi kettle on top of a 5-plate gas cooker that’s the same cream colour as the Smeg fridge.

“We were living in Greenpoint.

It wasn’t working…

…living with Jamie and her boyfriend.

All three of us…

…under one roof.

Mission critical.

We looked on Gumtree…

…until our eyes bled.”

Eventually Jamie did a little sketch and put it up in the shop with a note saying, “If you know of this place let us know” and one day a girl walked in and said, “That’s my house, and I think you girls should take it because I’m moving.” Well there’s no lavender in the front yard and it’s not a double storey, but otherwise it’s pretty darn close to Jamie’s sketch. Black and white tiles in the kitchen, ball-and-claw bath, wooden floors and it came at just the right time.

“The café was getting a bit exhaustive…

…but we look back and say…

…it got us Belle Ombre.

Anything for this.

It saved us.

This house is like our bulwark.”

The café was Skinny Legs and All, which the twins sold to Donnet Dumas, featured in The Way of Us edition #004. If you’d eaten there in the past then you’ll be glad to know that the twins are still in the kitchen. Only now they’re working from the one in their home. When they do leave, it’s either to drop off the food that they’ve made, or so that they can photograph the dishes for their blog.

“We’ll never leave this house.

It suits us perfectly.

You can cook and live here.

Half the expenses.

Half the overhead.”

Jesse and Jamie make us lunch every other day. Superfood smoothies and salads named things like “the abundance bowl” are all on order for the Superbalist office. All ethically sourced, low GI, nutrient dense, fresh, natural and seasonal wholefoods. Theirs is a food centric journey that’s about conscious eating, and the plan is to eventually get into production catering, coming up with spreads that can easily be served on site of film, TV and fashion shoots. Most importantly, having operated on autopilot for a while now, they’re excited about food again. 

“We’re more aware of subtleties.

There’s a healthier spin…

… and we gravitate towards that naturally.

It’s still delicious. I think.

I agree.”

Is it though? You can’t really trust a skinny chef, can you?

“I think it shows that the chef knows what they’re doing.

That they take it seriously.

Like the chef from Ratatouille.

He only swallows what he enjoys.”

Like the dishes that the twins specialise in, their house is minimal so as to allow the key ingredients to shine. Nothing needs to compete. Everything has its time to shine. There are no sauces hiding anything away. It’s a pared down exercise in being true to what’s there. It’s very fresh, this celebration of what’s there. And everything has been considered. Then cut back. 

“It’s a de-cluttering.

Life adds enough layers.

Everything we need is in one of our three cupboards.

That’s everything we need.

You only really need one pair of jeans.

Rather have one really good pair of jeans than six pairs of mediocre ones.”

The twins say the high ceilings allow for free-floating auras. It could also be a natural progression of their aesthetic. 

“Eat with your eyes

Presentation is hugely important.”

Most surprising is that they’re self-taught. When they dropped out of UCT – maths and chemistry, and environmental science and history, in year two, a space had just become available that they decided would be perfect for a café…

“We went into the café blind.

Couldn’t even scramble eggs.

We couldn’t even fold a cake.

We thought there was a machine.

There’s not. You use your hands.

What's a spatula?”

And in the same way that they threw themselves into food and running a café they’re now doing a crash course in catering, photography, food styling and blogging.

“Jonathan Taylor was a regular at our café, and said, ‘Girls! Think narrative!’

He also gave us a crash course in Photoshop.

But then Adrian Louw told us to use LightRoom instead.

So we’ll try that out.

It’s the best way to learn something.

To actually do it.

Jesse writes.

I had to tone it down.

She had to make it more…

…accessible. I was really inspired by an English writer, Rowley Lee, super bright…

… will be talking about a scone and then tell a story about the first settlers in the UK.”

Inspired by food journals Kinfolk, Chickpea, Peach and The Art of Eating, the twins emailed Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog/store/art/shopping thing, and while they haven’t heard back yet they don’t doubt themselves for a minute. And why should they? They’ve been there for one another since day one, and the challenges of launching their own business strengthened their tight bond even further. It’s now the twins against the world. And the twins seem to be up on points.

“The military chest is from our parents.

One of the few salvaged family relics.

Everything else got swallowed up and lost in the fire.”

There was a fire?

“Not an actual fire.

The fire of life.”

When the twins speak about their parents they do so with a knowing glint in their eyes, an inside joke that I’m not privy to, which makes me conjure up images of a Wes Anderson type eccentric family backstory.

This photo, are these your parents? They look so cool! What did they do?

“They're free spirits.

Our mom is an interior designer.

She had a great eye.

And our dad is super bright.

He has a wonderful way with words...”

The portrait hanging over the fireplace is Precious. She’s married to Brett Murray and was in the café with the twins, starting out in the kitchen then moving next to the deli fridge before coming home with them. There are photographs from the beat generation by Harold Chapman. One sister still sleeps in her childhood bed. There’s nothing in the room besides a pile of books and a bedside table. White curtains. White sheets. Single white pillow.

In the same way that they don’t need to fill their space with things, their lives don’t need clutter either and they only just submitted to social media for the sake of their blog recently. It’s sweet hearing them talk about it like someone much older would. Their old souls would rather talk about literature than their Instagram feed. The café was named after a Tom Robbins novel. Their blog doffs its cap to George Orwell’s column when he was writing for a newspaper. 

Typical twenty-somethings they are not. So what happens when they have to leave the comforts of their home?

“We're home-bodies but when we do venture out it's to...

Jason’s Bakery for a croissant.

But we’d get our coffee at The Eye.

Yes, we’d take our croissant to The Eye. They’re obliging.

Lunch?

Hemelhuijs is nice. Nelly for our drink.

Dinner at Bizerca.

Or Chef’s Warehouse.

Or 95 on Keerom if Giorgio’s there.

Tuna carpaccio, warmed ever so slightly.”

They’re still much happier at home though, where the food is prepared with love and the lighting and music is just as they like it. 

“We love spending the evening at home.

With Leonard (Cohen).

And the acoustics.

We don’t even have to get dressed.

We can stay in our long johns!”

The twins have found the perfect retreat, a place where the wind blows through the pines it almost sounds like the sea. A home tucked away from everything, but within walking distance of Kloof Street and the mountain.

“At times we're like two little hermits.

We're so lucky to have someone to share the load.

There is of course, another side to it.

Well, everything has that.

Light, dark. Ying yang.

This is getting way too philosophical.

We’re caterers.

We’re caterers. Don’t forget it.”