Savour the future: What’s in store for restaurants in 2024

As we step into 2024, the food world is poised for yet another wave of innovation, redefining the way that we dine. We unveil the most anticipated developments that will shape the year ahead – including flavour profiles, concepts, and influences that will take the restaurant industry by storm in 2024.

Botanical beverages

Restaurants across the country are having a lot of fun with their beverage selection as they look to explore and expand the unique botanicals of their region and incorporate them into exciting and intriguing cocktail lists and non-alcoholic offerings. Elton Damon, sommelier at La Petite Colombe in Franschhoek, an Eat Out 3-star restaurant and recipient of the Eat Out Patrón Mixology Award in 2023, emphasises the unique opportunity presented by incorporating botanicals. “Using botanicals allows us to tap into the local indigenous flavour profiles you wouldn’t necessarily find anywhere else in the world. Botanicals are a gift from nature and especially in South Africa, and the Cape specifically. We have over 7 000 fynbos species and it’s our responsibility to be forward-thinking and explore what works. So, the likes of Spekboom syrups or smoked mountain sage cordials I think have their own place in any bar.”

Local is lekker

With rising food costs, and inflation affecting everyone, the restaurant industry takes a massive knock when they are forced to react accordingly. Restaurants must navigate their way through a minefield of challenges so that the customer doesn’t feel the effects of rising menu prices. One way that they do that is by supporting the little guy – the smaller producer, artisan, farmer or fisherman.

“We have long-standing relationships with our suppliers, and the heightened demand placed on them naturally affects pricing, so some of these adjustments may trickle down to our consumers, but by using local, seasonal ingredients it does go some way towards mitigating rising costs”, so says Eat Out Woolworths Financial Services Chef of the Year Ryan Cole of Eat Out 3-star Salsify at the Roundhouse. Ivor Jones of Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia (another 3-star restaurant) echoes this sentiment: “By supporting local producers and makers as much as we can, and managing one’s waste as best as your restaurant model allows, it just makes sense.” Not only does it make sense from a financial perspective to support local, but our locals are also producing some outstanding products. In our wine regions of the Cape alone we are producing incredible wines from small producers that are setting the world stage alight. A growing trend amongst restaurants has been to source the most unique wine varietals and wine styles from small-batch producers that customers haven’t seen or experienced before. “There are some exceptional winemakers that are ‘free-thinkers’ and are always pushing the boundaries”, says Elton.

Johannes Richter of The LivingRoom at Summerhill Guest Estate in Pinetown expands: “We’ve been thinking a lot about smaller producers, more funky, and a more natural approach to our wine list. The market is hungry for new flavours, and vantage points, and a genuine taste of seasonality and by virtue vintage achieved by embracing more natural styles of wine.” The LivingRoom was the winner of Eat Out’s prestigious Woolworths Sustainability Award.

Heritage nostalgia

“Everyone’s heritage is different”, says Ivor, and Ryan continues: “It’s different to everyone who’s part of our Salsify team, and those who visit us as guests. Everyone comes from different countries, backgrounds, cultures – we speak different languages, and so culture and therefore heritage is so diverse. In our dishes we often celebrate heritage with nostalgia – breathing new life into dishes from our childhoods and upbringings.” The nostalgia of open-fire cooking will also be seen more commonly, predicts Ivor, as we lean on our national heritage of our love for the braai.

“Heritage food is a dish which evokes fond memories, something the chef resonates with”, says Charné Sampson of Epice Restaurant. She continues, “It might not necessarily be an exact dish which your family made for years but rather taking from that flavour and making something different which highlights one’s heritage.”

Chef Ashley Moss of FYN and Ramenhead restaurants says, “Finding value in often overlooked ingredients and serving dishes with provenance” is certainly a way to continue our heritage.

Conscious sustainability and plant-based offerings

Plant-based cooking is here to stay, and restaurants are staying a step ahead by bringing luxury to the humble vegetable on their menus. Whether by happy accident, or by clear intention, dishes are making their way onto restaurant menus without the use of animal proteins to radiate the ingredient in its truest form and flavour.

“I think the customer is constantly changing, and people are definitely more open-minded to trying new things and new ideas. However, they are also a lot more health conscious”, says Charné.

Sustainable sourcing of ingredients is a common thread that all the chefs share throughout their establishments, and they remain conscious of where they get their products from and by whom. Ryan, who comes from a family of fishermen, will only use fish that either his brother or he himself has caught, whilst further up the coast, Durban-based chefs Johannes and restaurant Meraki chef-owner Charlie Lakin won’t even use seafood on their respective menus.

Charlie says, “I don’t use seafood at all as the quality is just not very good in KZN, and all the shellfish is generally imported frozen, which is heartbreaking to a lad that grew up near the sea (having grown up in Yorkshire, England).”

Educating consumers through storytelling has been the key to getting a restaurant’s message of conscious cooking across, through their tasting menus and the popularity of the rise of smaller sharing plates, as they attempt to mitigate wastage in these menu formats at the same time. “It’s about responsibility and accountability with your product and process,” says Ashley. He continues, “It’s marginal gains, and every bit helps, but you can always do more towards sustainability.”

Jess van Dyk of Post & Pepper in Stellenbosch goes a step further – “Sustainability to me is not about trying to just recycle or use green-listed fish or less electricity. It means minimising wastage and or when there is wastage – using it in other ways, but it also means a sustainable working environment, healthy working hours, nutritional meals twice per day, enough time off, and fair wages.”

Savoury dessert revolution

In 2024, robust herbs and spices will be used more than ever in the creation of savoury desserts, says Motheba Makhetha, winner of the inaugural Eat Out Cacao Barry Dessert Award. She’s hoping to experiment with exciting combinations and will undoubtedly be inspired by her upcoming trip to France, where she will be making her very own chocolate.

When it comes to plant-based desserts, Motheba says that as an industry, restaurants should be open to serving more plant-based items. “More and more people have made the lifestyle change and I think for the better. It has been quite fun for me to experiment more with plant-based products in the past year or so, and I really can’t wait to see what fun and alternative creations we can make this year using plant-based products. It’s all about experimenting and trying different things. Doing your research is always so important, but I think like most pastry chefs, getting your hands dirty is always the best. I’ve always been a firm believer that you get way more out of something by trying it, failing a couple of times and getting right back on the horse again.”

Whatever trend may follow for the year ahead, it will have been borne out of the need to endure rising costs in order to protect and survive, to ensure the longevity of the restaurants, the ingredients and the people that make it possible.

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