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How South African restaurants are becoming more sustainable

More and more diners are taking an interest in where their food comes from. To recognise and support this shift, in 2016 we recognised a winner of the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award for the first time. The award acknowledges a restaurant that brings its customers seasonal, local and responsibly produced food, helping the country to move towards a more sustainable food system. Before the entries open for this year’s awards, the judges share their advice on how local restaurants can be more sustainable.

ChickenThe judging

Restaurants were invited to enter by submitting an in-depth form about their procurement and practices. Their suppliers were also subjected to site visits. The entrants were judged in three categories: responsible sourcing, community impact and environmental impact. The judging panel – Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, Pavitray Pillay of WWF-SASSI, Lynsay Sampson of Fairtrade South Africa (at the time), Sonia Mountford of Eategrity and Karen Welter of the Longtable Project – worked together to develop detailed criteria.

The Table at De Meye table setting

The setting under the trees at The Table at De Meye. Photo supplied.

The inaugural winner

The first-ever winner, The Table at De Meye in Stellenbosch, is making great strides in sustainability. Thanks to the restaurant’s location on a wine farm, owners Jessica Shepherd and Luke Grant are able to design their weekly menu around what is available from their garden and carefully selected local producers with whom they cultivate long-term relationships. “[Jessica and Luke] place great value on ethical sourcing, seasonality, and the best ingredients locally available,” says judge Karen Welter. “Everything they do is to quietly and simply tell the story of a better food system they see as critical for our society.” (Watch our video to find out more about The Table.)

Early wins

According to the judges, the award is already helping to transform the food supply chain to a more transparent and sustainable one.

“It was gratifying to see that chefs and restaurant owners were willing to put that effort in, be more educated and make changes to suppliers when they realised there were more ethical options available,” said Karen.

“This has been a huge learning curve for some of the restaurants,” said Sonia Mountford. Some entrants were devastated to learn the truth about their suppliers after the judges had completed farm visits.

As a result of the judging process, two restaurants changed their pork procurement, and a breeding system was added to a supplier’s pig farm. The judges have received tremendous positive feedback from farmers, and some restaurants have changed menus and suppliers to be more competitively placed for the 2017 Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award.

“Whether the restaurants wins or not, the award serves as a valuable process for analysing the sustainability of menus. The judges used the journey to help restaurants improve their supply chain and make needed changes,” explained Sonia.

Zucchini flowersTips for restaurants

Make sure your products are traceable to their source
Lack of traceability has been a hard lesson for some entrants, who were eliminated due to the lack of access to, or information from, their supplier farmers.

Ensure your seafood complies with SASSI’s list of green species
“My advice to new applicants,” says judge Pavitray Pillay, “is to make sure you know your seafood species, where it comes from, and get savvy about SASSI.”

Visit the farms yourself to check that what your suppliers are promising is true
Some restaurant owners and chefs were surprised to learn that the transparency offered to them by suppliers was not as accurate as they had believed. Spending time on supplier farms (whether they supply directly or via distributors) is still the most important action restaurant owners can take. Getting to know the farmers will ensure that everyone is aware of the expectations.

Entries for the 2017 Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award will open on 1 May.

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