Together for tomorrow


Top Cape chefs consider sustainability integral to their businesses

by | Nov 6, 2018

Peter Templehoff’s spring lunch menu doesn’t feature cockroach or flies. Yet. For now, the menu is everything you’d expect from one of the country’s top restaurants. Peter’s Greenhouse offering is complex, reflecting his extensive global experience while very expressive of its local context. Greenhouse is in Constania, Cape Town, not far from the sea and other sources of good local produce.

The day I visit, to try the menu and to speak to Peter about sustainability, I eat tuna sashimi and seaweed salad, braai bokkie tataki, local cape fish and a fabulous piece of jersey cow beef. Pap is served as a pudding.  All the dishes are richly, and deeply, flavoured often with Asian ingredients. Peter loves the umaminess of the Asian flavours. Besides importing the few Japanese ingredients he needs to create these flavours, he says, “we try to get the majority of the stuff from local farmers.”

Like many of his peers, Peter is concerned with sustainability but doing the right thing and running a business is complicated. “I would love to be plastic free. But we rely on cling wrap.” Despite using plastic plastic,  Peter and his Greenhouse team keep good practice. “We’re off the grid in terms of water. We have four 1000 litre reticulation tanks. We use all our compostables in the garden,” he says.

The way forward for food security and a more sustainable future, Peter believes, is bugs.  “There is just not enough food,” he says. He’s imagined insect dishes: “You’d get the taste of the broth, and the crunch of the insect.” I turn my nose up at the word, “crunch”. He notices. “If you’re happy to eat a snotty-looking oyster, you should be happy to eat a cockroach.”

He’s right, of course.

Esther Ndumi Ngumbi , an entomologist in the US, wrote on The Conversation, that insects are an excellent tool to fight hunger and malnutrition because they are abundant, healthy, have less of a carbon footprint to produce and can offer a range of business opportunities”. She says that Africa “is home to over 1900 edible insect species – mostly beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, wasps and ants.”

Ash Heeger’s new restaurant Riverine Rabbit opened in the Cape Town City Bowl two weeks ago. Leading up to the opening day, there had been much excitement about her new sustainable restaurant. At first rumours circulated that it would be a vegetarian restaurant, but it’s not. For those who have maintained a carnivorous diet, you’d be happy to know that Ash still serves a good piece of meat. But, she doesn’t serve any insects, nor does she serve rabbit. So why, I ask, did she call her restaurant, Riverine Rabbit?

The restaurant’s name is a great talking point

The Riverine Rabbit is native to the Karoo, where she spent a lot of her time as a child. “This endangered creature feeds off things like wild rosemary and buchus and shrubs which we use a lot in the restaurant. Their habitat is at risk because of over-farming.”  The restaurant’s name is a great talking point, says Ash. It draws attention to the issues at hand: agriculture, bio-diversity, food security and sustainability.

Like Peter, Ash sources the bulk of her produce locally. Her spices are from Atlas Trading Company, a few 100 metres away from her restaurant in Bo-Kaap. Most vegetables come from Abalimi Bezekhaya, an NGO promoting urban farmers on the Cape Flats. “Look at these amazing leeks, so young and tender,” she says as if talking about her children, and, pointing to the bunches of greenery in her fridge, “Look at this amazing spinach”. In a cardboard box next to the fridge are big pieces of Spekboom which come from her Cape Town garden and bunches of indigenous wild rosemary (kapok bos) from Abalimi. Boland butcher, Ryan Boon supplies her with pasture-reared, sustainably sourced meat.

Ash says, “I use the word sustainable to let people know what we’re all about, but at the end of the day, we’re still a business.” The word sustainable strongly signals her ethos: “We are sustainable and we try very hard to maintain that. But if being sustainable is going to send my business under, I’d put my business first. Sourcing the produce we source is very expensive. That free range meat, hand-caught fish from Abalobi, and the wonderful vegetables we get and the wild herbs we use, it’s expensive,” says Ash.

“We’re basically paying three or four times the price of mainstream produce”.

The more chefs support young, local farmers, the better for all of us

What both Peter and Ash can do, and are willing to do with their particular approach to food, is promote an interest and understanding of sustainable produce and food. Ash believes that the more people who do this, the better. ”If we grow the demand, prices will eventually drop. The more chefs support young, local farmers, the better for all of us.” And the planet of course.

Don’t be surprised if one day you find fly on one of Peter’s menus. “Do you know there is a soldier fly factory in Stellenbosch manufacturing fly protein?” he asks.

I am not sure I wanted to know this.

This article appeared in the Sunday Times on 4 November

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