How lockdown inspired chefs to preserve seasonal ingredients

As some ingredients proved tricky to get hold of, others were in surplus as a result of a closed restaurant or slowed trade, and local chefs sprung into action to make the most of what they had. We chatted to a couple of local chefs to find out what they preserved during lockdown.

It’s no secret that the best way to extend the life of fresh produce is to preserve or pickle it. And with the sudden forced closure of restaurants in March, many kitchens had to think quickly to avoid waste. Ivor Jones, head chef and co-owner of Chef’s Warehouse Beau Constantia, had this to say: “Before lockdown, we pickled all of our vegetables, such as baby onions, cauliflower and carrots, to try prevent them going to waste. Our fridges were full, but with the sudden shutdown we had to make a plan.”

On top of supplied produce, PJ Vadas, owner of Vadas Smokehouse, had a flourishing vegetable garden to deal with. “We had a lot of stock coming from the garden and leftover stock in the fridge as they closed us down,” says PJ.

Glen Williams, chef proprietor of Foxcroft, says lockdown also spurned a push to preserve ingredients. “We’ve always been quite obsessed with preserving and fermentation at Foxcroft so as soon as we knew things were going to shut down we went into preserving mode.”

Siya Kobo, owner of Kobo’s Cuisine, says that his interest in preservation has more to do with the availability of the specific ingredients he needs in his restaurant. “Restaurant Kobo focuses on indigenous local ingredients where we put a modern twist into tradition and use food to tell stories. The ingredients we use are mostly not available from mainline suppliers and therefore we had to find a way to preserve them.” Siya uses ingredients such as indwabe (a small stone fruit), imithwane and amadumbe in various iterations and extends their lifespan by preserving them in delicious ways. 

Similarly, lockdown coinciding with sought-after winter produce meant chefs ordered what they could to get their seasonal fix. Foxcroft’s Glen told us: “Knowing that we were going to be on lockdown for most of the quince and Jerusalem artichoke season, we took everything we could from our suppliers in the last week or so.” They roasted and poached some Jerusalems in gastrique and poached and canned the quinces. 

There’s no denying that lockdown was a dark period for restaurants, but owing to these chefs’ resourcefulness, delicious hope springs eternal. At Beau Constantia, the closure meant everything had time to reach its peak. “All our lemons were salt-cured and after five months they are ready to go,” says Ivor. “We use them in a brown butter on our risotto – it’s something we almost always have in the kitchen.” 

At Kobo’s, the indigenous indawbe stone fruit is left out in the sun for two weeks until completely softened. “We squeeze the ripe flesh out and reduce it with sugar cane juice until it develops a peanut butter-like texture, and we use this with smooth creamy amasi cheese for our desserts,” says Siya. 

Similarly at Foxcroft, the team perfected their kimchi. “Taking advantage of the guaranteed time off, we also made a big batch of kimchi to be ready by the time we came back,” Glen told us.

At Vadas Smokehouse, the fruits of lockdown labour sit proudly on the shelves of their “fermentation station”. Along with pickles and preserves, they’ve also made vinegar and kombucha. “Chutneys, jams and achar are also a few more things we’re playing with at the moment,” says PJ. 

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