Bruce Robertson – I called him Sexy Chef.He was my closest male friend and confidant.
Bruce was intense, encompassing, dynamic, like a neon lights in a world of watercolours. His mind raced, skipped and jumped, constantly designing, constantly moving, but when you caught it, and him, for even a moment, you discovered genius.
Time, different cities and different countries separates friends. I moved, married and my emails and text messages were not always replied to in his spiraling world of action. We lost touch and I didn’t even know that God had taken this special man away. His birthday is today and I was sending a message to him on Facebook last week. I nearly wrote, “I wont expect an answer,” because with Bruce, I seldom got one.
Life has a cruel way of snatching special people who have carved a unique niche for themselves in our world. As a journalist who features food and wine, I’m always looking for an exclusive story. I knew Bruce was a tier above the rest, from the moment I met him. I watched his career with interest and, just when I thought I’ve discovered a virtuoso, he passes on leaving me in a fragile void.
The first time I met Bruce was at a Food and Wine event in Cape Town with Vaughan Johnson. It was not his devastating looks that attracted me, it was not his talent, it was his lateral mind, his creativity and his high-powered energy.
Bruce had hardly introduced himself before throwing himself into his demonstration. The first thing he did was to unveil a cows tongue hidden beneath a silver dome on a silver platter. After nearly making everyone ill, he explained where we taste salty and sweet on our own tongues to his captive audience. He talked about food flavours, tastes and combinations of ingredients. He presented food in such a novel quirky way that I too swarmed around him afterwards to arrange an interview.
He was a special man and we knew we shared a special bond. He would ring me at 2am knowing, that I would I be awake and we would chat for hours. We once had a long lunch with 13 different wines, art books, ideas and drawings talking about wine art, music and food. I remember his unique food creations, novel ideas and how he painted with food. I loved watching him cook for KWV, at the Nederburg Auction, at Taste Cape Town and at private dinners.
It was fun meeting up with Bruce. His boundless energy, ideas, courage, stories punctuated with swearwords and hectic lifestyle, was exhilarating but exhausting.
I hosted the Juliet Cullinan Wine Awards with him at The Grace Hotel. When in CT I’d pop into The Showroom bringing wines from tastings I’d just presented and I would chat to him while he cooked. We would go out dancing afterwards. He was a stylish and accomplished dancer with great rhythm. He said he admired his parents dancing at home most nights. He admired their close relationship and longed to have one of his own.
When my son David was eight years old, he stayed with Bruce, while playing cricket at Western Province Cricket Grounds. Bruce promised him a quick pasta after David had played all day and was starving. Cooking for Bruce was a relaxing experience to be lingered over while sipping a good wine. The sauce took ages starting with boiling cauliflower for a creamy sauce. David savoured it and has talked about it since, but he could have eaten anything he was so tired and hungry. David recalls how Bruce told him to, “sit down as the pasta was nearly ready”. David said, “its not ready yet Bruce”. Bruce said, “Sit down David”, David said, it needs a further 30 seconds”. Bruce said, “Sit down David” and David said, “I’ll sit down now Bruce because it has cooked for a further 30 seconds and is ready now”.
Bruce jumped around and moved animatedly when telling stories. I can see him now in his white vest, faded jeans, huge smile and slightly pigeon toes. David watched him in awe. David was small in physique and told Bruce that he was often frightened when the ball came thundering down the pitch at high speed. Bruce would tell him how he should not worry about a bowler being twice his size. He should “just whack the *%$£@ ball”.
I asked him if we could stay again in one of our last email exchanges. Generous Bruce offered the keys of his apartment saying he would not be there, “the bush is calling”. He longed for the wild and recounted dangerous stories when we met.
I remember him coming to see me after cooking at The Showroom. I had attended a Kleine Zalze wine event in Stellenbosch and all the press were all sitting around chatting after a wonderfully boozy dinner. He arrived and his first few 5 words were swearwords. He talked to everyone, beamed his characteristic beaming smile, made them laugh, then got in his mini and disappeared at speed. I remember feeling cheated that I had to share him with everyone!
The last time I saw Bruce was when I invited him to the opening of Piernief restaurant at La Motte. He chatted to everyone and swore so much in front of Hein Koegelenberg that I felt embarrassed. But that was Bruce. He lived every moment. He didn’t conform to normal life, formality or protocol.
Bruce’s greatest joy in life was his daughter Jemima. He loved being with her and he could not get enough of her company. He would turn off the phones and let the world fall apart while they spent time together. She was the greatest reward in life and longed for brief, precious moments with her. David recalls how Bruce told me what a great artist she was, saying, “Jules she can really draw, not scribble but really draw”.
His mother, Rusty phoned Bruce after he moved into his Salt River apartment. He was surrounded by boxes, but thrilled to be there. He insisted on counting all the boxes while she held on patiently. His father, Dave enjoyed his son’s talent and appreciation of wine.
Bruce revelled in story telling like the tale of how he set off the fire extinguisher playing cricket in the boardroom of Hunt Lascaris. That fabulous BMW power steering advert of a white mouse running back and forth on the steering wheel still rates highly. He designed it while working as a creative artist for them. Bruce was that mouse living life to the full, running and moving and taking new paths each day.
The sun rises over the sea as I write this. I see a tiny arc of a new moon in the sky and pray for the safety of my own family. I’m still cursing Bruce for dying. I’m still angry at myself for not contacting him more often. I had planned a lunch for a tour group at his restaurant in November last year, but the tour was cancelled. Id hoped to see him next month.
He was an inspiration to me and I loved spending time with him. He has taught me that life is special, unique and that every day is important.
Bruce illustrated that we should have confidence to do what we want to, to have an idea and make it happen, to do something totally out of the ordinary and surprise people.
I believe that “God” sends us unique people to inspire us on earth. I always believe that these people should live for a long time. Many great souls are snatched away so young: Mozart, Steve Jobs, Lady Di, Princess Grace… Its almost as though their energy is too great for this world or that they accomplish what takes others years to achieve.
One of his favourite songs was “Human”, by The Killers. The words are, “are we human or are we dancer…” I interpret this to mean that the role of dancer transcends being human and something we should aim for.
I go onto quote another verse of the song and alter the words for my final farewell.
“And so long to devotion You taught me everything I know Wave goodbye, wish me well Ive gotta let you go”
Bruce Robertson was a dancer and an inspiration to all humans. Farewell, Sexy Chef.
Written on face book for his birthday.
I will think of you as you chat up the Angels in Heaven on your birthday today. Happy birthday Bruce Robertson. RIP You were talented, intense, dynamic, like a neon lights in a world of watercolours. Life is special, unique. every day important.