Unice-Ann’s farmhouse is an art lover’s dream. The granddaughter of South African artist Bettie Cilliers-Barnard, her collection of paintings is vast, with Ouma’s works featuring prominently. The visual feast continues with an eclectic choice of mismatched furniture, harmoniously living side by side.
A self-built labour of love, the house took four years to complete, created from drawings rather than actual plans. Imaginatively put together, it’s a perfect reflection of its owners’ interesting lives. “We’re a ridiculously sentimental family,” she smiles. They’re clearly also ridiculously artistic.
Hubby Calvyn is in the auctioneering business and the couple have two sons: Casper (8) and Cilliers (12). Family time is centred around food.
“We love cooking,” she says, explaining how each meal is an occasion; the table is set and candles lit on any night of the week. What’s more, everybody gets involved.
Cilliers is already practising his signature for all the cookbooks he’ll sign as a world-renowned chef some day. His gnocchi and cheesecake will drive you to tears, and he has an unbelievable eye for food styling and detail, says Unice-Ann. When friends recently stayed over, he taught them how to make pasta – and served ravioli with ricotta cheese.
Even Dad is in on the act: he’s involved in the meat products sold at Milly’s, including the biltong, dried wors and home-made patties, made without preservatives or additives. Unice-Ann and Cilliers recently attended a macaron-making course together, the results displayed on a magical tea table laid out for our arrival. Casper, on the other hand, is into the creative arts and music.
Although sophisticated beyond their years in certain respects, they are two sweet, unpretentious kids. They go to school in Belfast and like all farm children, run around barefoot. Their parents insist on exposing them to a broader world, although finding shoes that still fit when going on a theatre trip to Gauteng can send them into a panic, she laughs.
What you eat is an experience, which is why people connect over food.
A visit to France last year blew the boys’ minds and sparked an interest in learning French from Cilliers (a handy skill for a gourmet cook).
Unice-Ann recently took up a managerial position at Milly’s after her father, Wimcar Cilliers, happily handed over the reins with his retirement. She inherited not only her family’s love of food, but also their entrepreneurial genes.
Always quick to spot a gap, she jokes about how she’s always seen an opportunity in everything, selling cookies and cooldrinks since childhood.
Like Ouma Bettie, Unice-Ann is an artist, albeit in a different genre. Weddings used to be her forte, but will now take the back seat as her passion is in the food industry. Creating theatre around a table is something she understands naturally.
Enthusiastically showing off a smoking machine she sourced online after seeing it on MasterChef (the only television programme she watches), she delights in the aromatic, woody smoke which wafts mysteriously over the table as small, glass domes are lifted off trout starters. It’s culinary drama at its best and sets a magical scene.
“Food styling is all about form and balance, just like flower arranging. What you eat is an experience, which is why people connect over food.”
This philosophy is applied in her own home and is why she insists on cooking and making an occasion out of every meal. Meaningful conversation around the table is a bonding experience and critical to their well-being, she believes, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. “We’re a terribly philosophical bunch,” Unice-Ann laughs.
She owns a “preposterous” number of cookbooks and says she has an excellent memory for recipes. As a mom, the nonsense kids eat nowadays makes her sad. “We keep it simple,” she says, “wholesome, natural food made from old-fashioned recipes. Our lives are centred around food and the kitchen is our playground.”
More about Milly’s
A success story of epic proportions, it was established at the end of 1974, when her dad started selling trout from a wooden shack to passing traffic on the N4 close to Machadodorp. Fish would be caught at 2am, processed and ready for sale by sunrise. It was an instant hit. Customers would line up outside and enter the tiny shop in batches, as the space couldn’t accommodate more than 10 people at a time. Once stock sold out, that was it for the day. It soon became evident that more space was needed.
In 1979 Wimcar and Milly Cilliers purchased the farm Milly’s is situated on today. With 30 hectares next to the main road and an unused Mobil garage simply begging to be converted into a trout processing factory, it was perfect for their needs. A trout dam was built and in 1981, Milly’s Country Trout Stall was officially opened.
In addition to its growing range of trout products, it sold Sabie Valley coffee, as well as granny Unice’s jams, jellies and famous Mediterranean chutney. Her recipes were handed down and are still used in the stall and restaurant today.
Get in touch
Contact Milly’s on 013-256-0718. To see more of Unice-Ann’s work, join Unice Ann Catering and Flowers on Facebook