"Getting out of the kitchen, pulling on my gumboots, and heading across KwaZulu-Natal's Midlands with pen and paper in hand is my kind of day out with the team."
We all know we should be supporting the small, local farmer - but how many of us actually take heed of the cry? Conscientious farmers who consider the environment and offer professional service are an inspiration. Their enthusiasm and desire to improve South African produce are motivating. Over the years I have been fortunate to meet many wonderful people in the hospitality industry including my suppliers whose personalities and moving stories thrill me.
I challenge you to get to know the area in which you live. With an enquiring mind visit the farms; listen to foodie conversations; shop at the farmers' market and local farm stalls. Taste, ask questions, and get to the root of ingredients. Meet the baker, cheesemaker and farmer behind the various products you use, and ask to see the methods adopted. This ensures an understanding of the process and a different eating experience. You will be able to retell interesting stories to guests, friends and family over the next meal. My regular outings to visit suppliers are exhilarating and educational. Getting out of the kitchen, pulling on my gumboots, and heading across KwaZulu-Natal's Midlands with pen and paper in hand is my kind of day out with the team.
Arriving at Chrissie's Farmhouse in Eston, just outside of Richmond, is overwhelming in every aspect. Her home is a cheese museum filled with items such as an 1820's Gouda press that is still in working order, over 50 cheese Victorian or Art Deco dishes and large Stilton bells. Chrissie has been manufacturing boutique cheeses on her farm with her herd of Ayrshire cows for over 25 years, and produces Cheddar-based cheese, Stilton in season and some soft varieties of Brie. Her determination is inspirational. Her produce is world class, winning silver in the London Cheese Awards. The heads of cheese, which she refers to as landmines, are electric on the palate and showcase her eccentric personality. Her enthusiasm is contagious and I appreciate her cheese more because I know Chrissie the person, her background and her cheese-making processes.
Sue's farm, Wayfarer Trout, is in the heart of the Midlands and, having the utmost respect for my car, I take a very slow drive along gravel roads to her farm. At the end of the drive, one is greeted by a lush, picture-perfect haven with a striking reed-and-lily-filled dam and the Brookland's pristine waters run through the property. It's clear why these trout look and taste so good. In this environment and with water temperatures that remain below 24°C, conditions are ideal. Wayfarer Trouts are perfecty filleted, pin-boned and tastefully presented and visiting this farm has raised my level of appreciation for the product. I enjoy cooking for guests who know about food and wine so it stands to reason that suppliers must be grateful to be supplying chefs who appreciate the effort spent on developing perfect produce.
Dean and Serene, mother and son, are the proud owners of Dargle Ducks in Dargle. Going to their farm is an education and puts most farms to shame. The simplicity, and their having accomplished going back to what really matters, is motivating. They call their ducks 'open range' because they are free to roam day and night. The feed, which includes sunflowers, mealies, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, spinach, wheat, rye grass, beans and kikuya is grown specifically for the ducks. The 'good life' is seen in every plump duck breast that is deboned in our kitchen. The proportions of fat to meat are exceptional; the size and tenderness notable.
Search for the best possible ingredients your money can buy, be it for home or restaurant cooking. I always say I'll never serve a guest something that I would not serve my parents - the two people I never want to disappoint.
It is a fact that the more interest we take in the products we use, the better quality ingredients we will have to work with. I suggest we focus on promoting the local suppliers in our rich and resourceful country. I would like to see more locally-driven menus highlighting small and large local suppliers. It's an exciting time for us as lovers of food. If we stand together we can carve the direction of food by educating the public.
Extract from CHEF! Issue 29