While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused incredible hardships for the restaurant industry, so many chefs, restaurateurs, waiters and managers have used this past year to pivot their businesses, spend quality time with their families and create magic in their kitchens. We chat to Bertus Basson, the S.Pellegrino Chef of the Year, about how the pandemic allowed him to relish the pure joys of family and food, from cooking and braaing using fresh produce from his garden to creating “Bertus se Huiskos” for his customers, and even creating a brand-new frozen food range.
How has the pandemic brought about innovation to your cooking?
The pandemic has made me realise what is important and has given me time to reimagine the restaurants and how we approach each business. We will continue to focus on South African flavours. In hard lockdown, we developed a new recipe for the pizzas at The Deck and a recipe for our burger buns at De Vrije Burger, which we now bake ourselves in our production kitchen. I also spent some time developing a range of products. It also gave us time to try new things – like Spekkies fried chicken!
What positive changes did COVID bring to your life, both at home and in your restaurants?
I have never spent so much time with my family – and I realised I actually like it! I think I now have a better work-life and family balance. We also got a new addition to the family in November: Mareli fell pregnant just before lockdown.
In the restaurants, we have always been driven by South African produce but now became, even more, produce focused. For example, I travelled to the Karoo recently and bought some ostrich eggs, which inspired new dishes.
Tell us about how Bertus se Huiskos started? How was it received by locals?
I started cooking food almost a year ago before the first hard lockdown. It was well-received. We then started doing meal boxes from Eike and Overture and the response we received was amazing! This inspired us to develop a range of frozen food with our friends from Umatie called ‘KOS’ – this is launching at the end of March.
What cooking trends do you foresee coming out of the pandemic?
It is all about being more local, being more focused, fresher, simpler and more in tune with the needs of your guests.
Like many of us, you had to spend quite a bit of time at home and, in this case, you got some extra time with your family – and with a new addition. Has this time given cooking and food new meaning? If so, how?
Cooking at home is different from cooking in the restaurants. I really enjoy it. We spent the time trying out new things and cooking things we could never have cooked before. I also got to spend a lot of time in our garden and used the produce. We are also eating more meals together as a family, which is a great bonding time for us.
Did being in lockdown inspire any new recipes that you’ve taken to the restaurants?
Yes, we developed The Deck pizza recipe and the burger bun recipe. We also used our fried chicken recipe at Spekkies fried chicken.
What has become the most popular family dish during lockdown?
Weirdly we don’t braai a lot at home, but during lockdown I managed to braai a lot. It is simple: meat, salad and braaibroodjies.
What would you consider your go-to ingredient and technique during lockdown?
There is nothing like a really good toasted cheese. A winner for the whole family.
What were some of your favourite at-home kitchen moments?
We had a lot of fun doing the videos on Instagram during lockdown. When we put the bobotie into the oven, Theodore said: “High-five, Pappa.” We also turned our home into a soup kitchen before we moved it to the restaurants. It was great to be able to cook food together as a family to help others.