The African pantry and utilising indigenous ingredients: chef Johannes Richter says it’s only the tip of the iceberg

Africa has long been spoken about as “on the rise”, from technology and digital innovation to the next great consumer frontier. Brewing quietly, and consistently, in the background has been the rise of African ingredients. German-born and South African-raised chef Johannes Richter from the award-winning fine dining restaurant, The LivingRoom at Summerhill Guest Estate, explains.

johannes richter

Chef Johannes Richter

I’ve never really been one for starting a trend, winning awards, or jumping on a bandwagon. Rather it has just become part of the process that comes with running a restaurant that is governed by a strong focus on sustainability and conservation.

We opened our doors in 2017 with an idealistic (call it naïve) goal to create a restaurant that focused on how we could take just what we need, get more local, source closer to Summerhill Guest Estate, reduce our CO2, use more local suppliers, and use crops that have less impact on our surroundings…

The truth is, there has never been a way around sustainability. We never set up the restaurant and then thought about becoming more sustainable. The core idea and thought process was always about how we could set up a sustainable restaurant. As it should be. (The LivingRoom was the winner of the 2023 Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award).

It’s an effort that in many ways has been easier said than done. Alongside a significant investment in solar panels to take our establishment almost totally off-grid, at the heart of our sustainability journey are our ingredients. Seeking them, nurturing them and conserving them has become a centrifugal force. While many of the ingredients for our dishes are hard to find, it’s encouraging to know that these and others are being largely rediscovered in the broader culinary sphere.


I honestly feel that we’re only really seeing the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of what potential these ingredients hold.

Sadly, so much knowledge has been lost over time, information that many people now no longer have access to, and the fact is that little academic research has been conducted when it comes to our local ingredients. All this is in addition to the fact that African ingredients have always been seen as secondary to the imported crops that are used commercially in general, though I am happy to see this changing.

Amadumbe, amathungulu, teff, sorghum, purple sweet potato and pigeon pea are a handful of the ingredients that can be found on our menu at The LivingRoom.

It’s also exciting to see that grains are making a slow comeback – with the likes of sorghum, teff and millet going through their own renaissances – as well as some fruit, herbs, and even fungi, which have been used for both healing and cooking purposes for generations and generations. For instance, there is a wealth of endemic mushrooms in South Africa – one such genus that I am particularly excited about is cultivated by termites and is completely and solely found in southern Africa.


There is so much that we are trying to learn about, introduce to our menu and showcase, but because it can’t be done in a commercial spectrum, it is still to a large extent inaccessible because we have to forage it or grow it ourselves – at which point the season has its say as to what we will and won’t be able to harvest.

As such, our menu focuses on these interesting, endemic ingredients – in the season they’re available – paired with the finest, ethically reared and sourced proteins, including wild bushpig, organically grown chicken and local venison, along with sustainably farmed trout grown in the fresh waters of the Drakensberg Mountain.

Day in and day out, the difficulties are not a deterrent. We continue to incorporate more and more endemic produce, both onto the menu and within The LivingRoom’s vegetable and herb gardens on the grounds of Summerhill.

We have just scratched the surface; there’s so much we haven’t even begun unravelling yet.

To read more about The LivingRoom’s sustainability ethos, click here

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