Fine dining may have hit the pause button during the lockdown, but some of South Africa’s chefs are finding ways to make a difference, demonstrating the S.Pellegrino Young Chef core value of social responsibility in action.
One of the bright rays of hope during the COVID-19 epidemic in South Africa has been seeing how many chefs are stepping up to help. The restaurant industry is one of those hit hardest by the lockdown and, with the absence of the tourist trade, has affected a vital part of the South African economy. Yet many chefs are moving past the bad news and the uncertain future of their businesses, putting their skills to use in a way that gives hope to the whole industry.
One of the core values of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef is social responsibility. The competition has an additional award for the young chef who puts forward a dish that best represents the principle of food as a result of socially responsible practices. At the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Africa & Middle East Regional last year, the S.Pellegrino Award for Social Responsibility was won by Callan Austin, sous chef at Franschhoek’s Le Coin Français, with his signature dish Ghost Net telling a story about the plight of our oceans and promoting sustainable kitchen practices. Sustainable sourcing, supporting local producers and giving back to the community all contribute to the social responsibility of a fine-dining establishment.
While the final stage of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2020 is paused for now, we take the opportunity to talk to South African chefs who are walking the talk of social responsibility in their own communities.
Chefs Arno Janse van Rensburg and Liezl Odendaal of Janse & Co closed the restaurant on 16 March before the start of the lockdown but wanted to help their community. They are now working daily with Ladles of Love, a Cape Town volunteer-run charity that feeds the homeless. “Ladles of Love usually cooks 400 meals a day; the first day of lockdown we cooked 800 meals and that was not enough,” says Arno. “We are currently cooking around 2,500 meals a day for Cape Town CBD, and yesterday we started with three schools in Khayelitsha.”
As trained chefs, they have been able to help hugely in scaling up the operations. “With the massive amount of food that needs to be prepped and cooked, there is a lot of organising and physical work involved, which we as chefs are used to. Today we prepped 600kg of vegetables – that is excluding the lunch we cooked for today. It is a lot of ingredients and a lot of pots!”
Another aspect of their chef’s expertise is making the most of the ingredients on hand. “We use all the donations we receive – anything from 1,000 heads of cos lettuce to 100kg of stock bones – and prepare it into a delicious and nutritious meal.”
In crisis time, the need to help your community is definitely highlighted, but it does not stop when the crisis is over, say Arno and Liezl. Janse & Co, since it first opened, has worked with Streetscapes, an NGO that supports homeless people and gives them work growing vegetables organically in urban gardens created on wasteland. “We are looking forward to working with them again in their recently acquired garden in Kuilsriver to grow leaves and vegetables for us once we are open again.”
South Africa’s restaurants are closed and silent during the lockdown, but at the top of Franschhoek’s main street, Foliage, Le Coin Français and Epice are a hive of activity. Chefs Chris Erasmus, Margot Janse and Darren Badenhorst – together with most of the town’s chefs, student chefs and volunteers – are cooking up a storm of vegetable stews, soups and other nutritious dishes. These are distributed in the community along with food parcels, all of which is co-ordinated by Franschhoek Disaster Management.
“With Franschhoek being such a hospitality-driven town, it has been affected by the lockdown more than most places,” says Darren. “The domino effect of the shutdown is that our staff are heavily affected. Many of them live in the local communities and informal settlements and work hourly rates or on seasonal contracts, so they are suddenly out of employment. We are trying to ensure that they are safe and well-nourished, and their families are fed.”
The teams were initially feeding 1,000 families, but expect the number to increase to 4,000 soon as local families without work run out of money. Liam Tomlinson, Ivor Jones and the Chefs Warehouse team have now opened up the kitchen at Maison to add to capacity.
“A lot of our local suppliers have come to the party with donations of fresh produce, which is really amazing,” says Darren. “Our suppliers are also going to be seriously affected by this. Not just the small-scale ones – the large ones, too. If our supply chain isn’t protected, we’re not going to be able to get our produce to be able to reopen our doors, so there’s another knock-on effect that people aren’t really talking about.”
In Paternoster, chef Kobus van der Merwe of Wolfgat is working with the community and the Paternoster People’s Partnership to distribute food parcels to members of their village in need, Paternoster being another community where the hospitality industry is usually a major source of employment.
In Hout Bay, neighbourhood restaurant Massimo’s is cooking meals for distribution to those in need in the local township of Imizamo Yethu with donations from their clientele. And Food Flow is a new initiative pioneered during this crisis in Cape Town – using donations, they buy produce from small-scale farmers who would usually supply the restaurant business to make up essential vegetable boxes and distribute them to communities facing food insecurity. Thus protecting the supply chain for the future, keeping small farmers afloat, and feeding the most vulnerable.
S.Pellegrino salutes the incredible community initiatives that are combating food insecurity at this time.
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