November 29, 2020

Going Local – Sourcing Local and Sustainable Produce in Restaurants and at Home

Chef David Higgs tells us what sourcing local looks like in a big city restaurant, S.Pellegrino Young Chef finalists tell us about sourcing close to home for their new S.Pellegrino Young Chef cookbook recipes, and tips for home cooks who would like to lower their carbon footprint and maximise flavour in their food shopping.

Sourcing produce sustainably, seasonally and locally has grown over the years from an optional trend to being the gold standard that we expect of South Africa’s fine-dining restaurants today. After all, seasonality and flavour run together, the shorter the distance travelled the fresher the produce. Sustainability is one of the key culinary philosophies of S.Pellegrino Young Chef, all the young chefs showing a growing consciousness of its importance alongside their constant striving for culinary innovation.

This demand boosts local economies and benefits the security of local food systems, with small-scale specialist producers scaling up to supply restaurants with more varied produce than ever. Savvy home cooks now look beyond the convenience of the supermarket and aspire to restaurant-quality ingredients, more authentic and sustainable produce and food of known origin.

What does local look like?

David Higgs

Defining local varies from chef to chef and also depends on where they are based. Local for a chef in the Franschhoek Valley looks very different to local for a restaurant in the centre of a metropolis. Chef David Higgs of Johannesburg’s Marble and Saint was Eat Out S.Pellegrino Chef of the Year 2013 and has also served as mentor and judge for many editions of  S.Pellegrino Young Chef. David likes to tell the stories of all the best South African produce on his menus, “In Joburg we’ll get from Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal farmers, , but we don’t want to restrict ourselves to a set definition of local. Part of the fascination of meat is how different say lamb from the Karoo tastes to that from the Free State, the Kalahari or the Eastern Cape, because of what the animals are eating. We want our customers to be able to taste for themselves, it’s lovely to be able to compare cuts and flavours. The same goes for game, which is one of the most underutilised things on South African menus – springbok from different areas will taste different, it’s lean, it’s healthy. We have incredible produce in South Africa.”

Paul Thinus Prinsloo

Paul Thinus Prinsloo, winner of the Africa & Middle East regional final of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2020  has just moved from Restaurant at Waterkloof to join the new team at Quoin Rock, says, “I would usually source anywhere within the Western Cape, it’s a bit tricky to set a radius though. If you take Abalobi for example they deliver anywhere in the Western Cape.” Paul would go further afield for particularly high quality such as getting superb beef from a farm in the Eastern Cape. Seasonality is one benefit of sourcing locally he says, “it shows people what you can do working on seasonal menus. The flavour is always better in season, and you support local farmers.”

Callan Austin

Callan Austin, winner of the S.Pellegrino Social Responsibility award of the Africa & Middle East regional final of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2020, works with his mentor Darren Badenhorst at Le Coin Français in Franschhoek. “For me, sustainability is about being as resourceful as you can and building not only your menu but your restaurant environment around the idea of trying to be sustainable,” he says. This includes foraging and preserving wild ingredients such as mushrooms in season, starting a vegetable garden, composting kitchen waste, using gathered herbs and leaves as garnishes, as well as using local Franschhoek suppliers wherever possible, but Callan also prefers not to be too restrictive on defining local. “I think proudly South African should be the umbrella term when thinking about locality. As a chef, to truly explore your creativity, you cannot limit yourself to ingredients that are right at your doorstep. Rather start at your doorstep and work your way through South Africa, sourcing the most local produce wherever you can.”

S. Pellegrino Young Chef Cookbook recipes

Each of the 48 regional finalists of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2020 has contributed a personal recipe to an exciting online cookbook, which has photos and step by step instructions on how to create each dish. (S.Pellegrino Young Chef cookbook recipes)

Paul’s Sunday Roast recipe focusses on a beautiful rack of lamb slow-smoked in a chimney, and he says of sourcing the main ingredients, “I was very fortunate to have lamb from my brother-in-law who is a sheep farmer. We got the whole animal and hung it for 30 days then broke it down ourselves.  I’d say 100 per cent to go for Karoo lamb, it’s the best lamb you’ll ever eat. Get direct from the farmer, if you can, to get the best quality, it doesn’t generally make it to the supermarkets.”

Callan took the Franschhoek Valley as his inspiration. “My cookbook recipe has a very straightforward concept and message, which is to encourage the home cooks of the world to get more in touch with their surroundings and to educate themselves with what the area has to offer. It is important to look at your surroundings before you start to conceptualise a dish. It was spawning season for trout in Franschhoek around about the time I developed my ‘Franschhoek Valley Verdure’ recipe, so going out and catching a trout to use in the dish was the obvious choice. From there I took a stroll around the valley, picking various herbs and flowers that I knew would work well with the dish. I made sure to utilise the entire fish, turning the skin into a crisp, and hot-smoking the bones to ensure all the meat could be used. I kept the process very minimal, with the main idea being to highlight these beautiful local ingredients.”

How can home cooks get more local flavour?

There’s no better time for home cooks to start looking beyond the shelves of the supermarkets for quality local produce. While big restaurants may be limited by the need for consistency and a certain volume, home cooks can seek out one-off artisanal beauties from micro-producers – a small batch of cheese,  foraged mushrooms, or heirloom fruits and vegetables that have a very short season or don’t travel well. The first place to look for these is a good farmers’ market such as Fourways Farmers Market, which recently relocated to Modderfontein Reserve 10 minutes from Sandton, or Oranjezicht City Farm Market in Granger Bay, Cape Town. These are places where you can see what’s in season at a glance, and as Callan advises, familiarising yourself with what’s in season is at the root of sourcing local. Paul recommends the same, “Farmers’ markets are great, buying directly from the producer, you know you’re getting a true product and you can actually talk to the producer about how their vegetables are grown or their meat raised.”

Supporting local farmers is also on Callan’s list and one way to do this is to find a butcher that takes traceable and ethical meat production seriously. Braeside Butchery in Johannesburg and Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants in Cape Town are two examples – they encourage customers to ask questions, learn about different cuts, ask for cooking advice, and taste the difference.

One bonus for home cooks that have grown out of lockdown is the number of specialist suppliers who previously only sold to restaurants.  In order to survive and help their small-scale producers survive the long closure of restaurants this year, several have adapted their systems to deliver small orders to private homes. Wild Peacock, known by Western Cape top restaurants for supplying excellent quality meats, artisanal cheeses, and many more categories of specialist ingredients, now has an online store and delivers within the Western Cape. And Abalobi, an innovative ‘hook to cook’ initiative that supports small-scale fishers in Western Cape communities by connecting them to sell their catch directly to restaurants, introduced a no contact delivery service to private homes. Both Wild Peacock and Abalobi will soon also sell from the new Makers Landing at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. This new venture opens in December and is designed as an accessible farm to fork food hub selling artisan food products and cooked foods from across a wide cross-section of South African’s diverse food culture.

Sourcing local sustainable ingredients is getting easier than ever and the rewards are in the eating – more flavour, more variety and the satisfaction of supporting a small local business and contributing to the community.

To savour the recipes in S.Pellegrino Young Chef Cookbook find them here: