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Sustainability is a three-tiered way of living. It means sourcing produce responsibly and considering the impact of your actions on the community as well as on the environment.
The champions of this movement have been chefs and the work they’ve done to decrease food waste, making choices that offer longevity and educate their diners. So how is it that that they manage to leave us not only with an unforgettable memory of flavour, but also an understanding of sustainability that makes you want to bring their practices into your home?
We chatted to the executive chefs at four of the country’s top restaurants to learn from their methods.
Camphors at Vergelegen (2019 winner of the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability award and number 11 in the Eat Out top 20)
Chef Michael Cooke, head chef at the current Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability award winner, is at the forefront of this movement. At Camphors at Vergelegen they’ve eliminated single-use plastic and use water from ice buckets left over in the restaurant to clean or water herbs and plants. They recycle paper, plastic and glass, and return packaging to their suppliers for re-use.
“We have a Bokashi composting system for food waste that cannot be used, which is then used to feed the plants and vegetables that we grow for our menu,” says chef Michael. “Whenever we conceptualise new dishes, we look at ingredients as a whole – from the root to the flower, the nose to the tail, or the seed to the skin – and develop unique ways of presenting everything. Over-ripe fruits and vegetables are used to make our juices, drink infusions or vinegars for the menu. We even ask our suppliers not to throw anything out, but instead give it to us to use). We’ve even waited for a particular ingredient to over-ripen before we use it (an over-ripe apple, for example, is far naturally sweeter and more complex in flavour than a fresh apple; or, as anyone would know, the best banana bread is made with over-ripe bananas).”
La Tête (number 17 in the Eat Out top 20)
La Tête connects with small-scale fishers to supply its seafood and uses local fruit and vegetable suppliers to bring in its produce. “Sourceability and traceability of produce is imperative,” says executive chef Giles Edwards.
He also says that the restaurant has a zero-waste menu: “I will alter the menu mid-service to ensure nothing is ever wasted. We also opt for less popular cuts of meat – we’re excited to get the offal no one else is using.”
His advice for individuals and restaurants alike? “Focus on awareness of your general waste. Consider where you’re purchasing from and be aware of how much waste you are generating as an individual, and how much that amounts to in the shortest spaces of time (in a single day!). My focus will be on reducing my personal waste – and not missing bin days!”
LivingRoom at Summerhill Estate (number 13 in the Eat Out top 20)
“[Firstly], we don’t use any produce out of the ocean and opt for vegetarian courses,” says head chef Johannes Richter. LivingRoom at Summerhill Estate provides a mind map, presented along with the menu, to educate and inform guests of the journey the cuisine has taken before arriving on their plate.
“The cornerstone of sustainability is making use of local ingredients and supporting small-scale suppliers who are ethical in their practices,” says chef Johannes.
He encourages growing your own fruit and vegetables and using them for pickling in brine and vinegar. This ensures longevity of produce, but the chef also notes that “fermentation is the next big thing, and that’s when things become interesting!”
The Werf Restaurant at Boschendal (2018 winner of the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability award)
Chef Christiaan Campbell has a particular focus on sustainable packaging: “We return the cardboard boxes, polystyrene boxes [and] plastic bags back to the suppliers for reuse. All food trim and plate scrapings are collected daily from all food outlets and repurposed at our farm composting facility.”
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On Wednesdays we drink wine 🥂 and snack on delicious farm plates at @thewerfrestaurant Our seed crackers, served with garden pesto and carrot hummus is quite the crowd pleaser! . . . 📸: @ecotraveldiary #winewednesday #winetasting #farmplates #werfrestaurant #boschendalwines #boschendal #franschhoek #stellenbosch #capewinelands
Compostable containers made from polyactic acid (PLA) needs to be processed in industrial composting systems to be fully broken down. PLA products that end up in waterways and oceans will not break down and remain a hazard. Chef Christiaan recommends bagasse-type containers: “I have found them from experience to be the easiest to compost out of all single-use containers. Boschendal has largely moved away from single-use, compostable containers used in the picnic offering. We have chosen to use a variety of glass jars that can be washed and reused.”
His most practical tip for everyday sustainability? “The biggest impact for change we can make is through our food choices and purchases. Support supply chains that are conduits for farmers’ produce that practise sustainable and regenerative agriculture.”
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About the sponsor
Woolworths has committed to a ‘zero hunger’ future, dedicating their resources to help alleviate hunger and improving access to sustainable diets. Woolworths, through its multi-level approach, addresses the environmental impact of food production with its Farming for the Future programme and supports improved nutrition in under-resourced schools by establishing food gardens in partnership with the EduPlant programme. They also reduce food waste through charitable donations, all while helping people grow food through the Living Soils Community Learning Farm.