Almost every industry in the world has been impacted by Covid-19, with arguably restaurants and hotels being the hardest hit. South Africa is now on day 152 of the nationwide lockdown and while we’re on alert level-2, with restaurants allowed to operate and interprovincial travel permitted, many students pursuing a career in food and hospitality have had to deal with a year that was far from expected, with long-term effects on their futures.
“Nobody had a Plan B, and everybody was impacted by this. It has highlighted that we have to be forward-thinking, not just from a revolutionary point of view, but from a “damage control” angle. We need to prepare properly for these things because we were all caught off-guard”, says Andisile Bam, a student at Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
Others say that the pandemic has reminded them how important saving and good financial planning is. “We are making it our duty to teach our students financial literacy and smart banking practices”, says Jeremy Davids, Head of the Franschhoek Hospitality Academy & Learning Centre. “We added a new course to our existing cooking curriculum called ‘Cooking for Survival’ where we use ingredients our students already have at home and teach them how to be more cost-effective with them and be able to provide more nutritious meals for their families. We will also train our students to plant and grow their own herbs and vegetables.”
One topic that is understandably top-of-mind for those entering the hospitality industry is that of customer health and safety. “The pandemic has highlighted and put an even bigger spotlight on hygiene and cleanliness,” says one of Jeremy’s students, Sandisile Sonka. Dylan Buys from Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine echoes this saying, “A lot of restaurants and other catering facilities took quite a hit when the pandemic struck, due to not following correct procedures regarding Food Health and Safety protocols.” He goes on to say that as a future chef he has had to think about the different ways of maintaining regular clientele and being able to adapt a business at the snap of a finger. “It’s so important to be innovative and flexible about the way we run our businesses in the future as there will also be a change in social behaviour.”
And what about the future?
“Seeing that food is an ever-evolving industry, I believe that we are moving towards an even more natural and holistic approach, with a modern twist, regarding food”, says first-year student at the Institute of Culinary Arts, Tjaart Prinsloo. “We are beginning to re-discover our roots and it will reflect in the dishes to come. I believe that chefs and restaurants will expand their own resources and will take the “farm-to-table” concept even further by solely relying on their own grown produce, which will only aid and strengthen the current sustainability movement that has gained more momentum.”
Danielle Melville, a third-year student specialising in product development at the institute says that maintaining quality and convenience for all income levels will be a driving force in the future. “Quality is often mistaken for luxury – but if the process is handled properly from the beginning, one will see quality lies within the smallest of things, I believe the future of the industry does not lie in consumers’ hands, but in ours, the food industry’s. The goal is making food convenient for every South African, of every class and every race while still ensuring a high standard of quality.
Tjaart says that the most prevalent thing that the Covid-19 crisis highlighted for him was the fact that the hospitality industry is about more than just food. It is made up of establishments that create a sense of community and the meeting of friends and family. “We are social creatures that need a sense of belonging and acceptance. Food and restaurants provide that. Covid has deprived us of that interaction. Nothing is better than a hearty plate of food while being surrounded by the people you love.”
While tomorrow may be uncertain and will no doubt be a challenge for everyone, Covid-19 has indelibly altered the way that chefs approach their roles going forward, but it feels like we are in good, capable hands with these future professionals.