With the farm-to-fork trend going strong, these three chefs dig deep and share their philosophies on getting their hands dirty.
Christian Campbell (Above)
Executive chef, The Werf Restaurant, Boschendal, Stellenbosch
Since the opening of The Werf food garden, Boschendal’s vegetable allotment now features close on two hectares, which regularly provides plant-to-plate ingredients to the two restaurants, a deli and the popular picnics. Christiaan, who carefully curates the dishes, shares his knowledge of working with the seasons.
‘I have learnt to respect how much time and space it takes to grow vegetables. Winter in the Cape is definitely a time of hibernation – a sleepy, slow time for vegetable growing. Spring, summer and autumn tie in beautifully with our busy times in the restaurant. The garden drives my creativity. I work very closely with our food-garden manager Megan McCarthy with regards to what I would like to see planted for use in the kitchen. We have regular discussions before the hunt is on to find seeds and the planting begins. “Farm to fork” is a similar concept to “nose to tail”. Working with a vegetable garden and its crop is much the same – all the produce from the garden has to be used. Although we can’t always get what we want, we do get what we need. The garden reflects on all my plates in one form or another. There’s a starter we feature from time to time consisting of roasted baby garden carrots, with fresh horseradish and accompanied by finely chopped and cured smoked-paprika sausage, made in our butchery, with a hint of goat’s cheese. I have learnt to become quite fluid in the planning of our dishes. Often there is only enough of one crop to last a day. Then it’s back to the drawing board for the next offering. My favourite ingredient is Jerusalem artichokes in the autumn, root vegetables such as beets in winter, broad beans in the spring, and tomatoes in the late summer. I love springtime. There are mange tout, peas in the pod, asparagus and broad beans all available at the same time. It is a brief window of opportunity, but well appreciated. I’m excited at the prospect of cooking with unusual ingredients and heirlooms. The garden currently has interesting varieties of corn, tree tomatoes, turmeric root and tomatillo coming through. I preserve lemons by the bucket load. They get pickled in winter and go so well with the spring produce that follows, such as asparagus, broad beans and peas.’
Head chef, Luke Dale-Roberts X The Saxon, Johannesburg
At the helm of the kitchen as Luke Dale-Roberts’ right-hand lady, Candice first started at the Saxon eleven years ago, three of which were spent with legendary chef David Higgs, who established the rooftop garden with Linda Galvad of Sought After Seedlings. Laid out over an undercover parking lot with gravel pathways, the garden is 450 square metres in size and inspired by Raymond Blanc’s food garden at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, England.
‘I’m hugely involved in the rooftop garden. Before each season I have a meeting with Linda and we go through the vegetable varieties that are available to us and go from there. I like to choose seeds I know grow well together. And those that are new on the market. The garden is generally planted in a successive manner, so we are able to reap the benefits of one particular variety for a longer time. This also sees that one variety isn’t picked and finished after a single harvest. I currently have a salmon dish that is an excellent reflection of the garden. Its uses radishes, baby leaves and spring onions. Also, the LDR butter boasts a herb oil and a variety of flowers from the garden, along with different leaves and shoots. My favourite ingredients from the garden are purple cauliflower and heirloom tomatoes – black krim and green zebra to be exact. The garden allows me opportunity to showcase unusual ingredients. White aubergines, calabash, round marrows, white patty pans, purple beans, English and Italian broad beans, purple bok choy, romanesco, purple or orange cauliflower … the list goes on. The most unusual ingredient I’ve worked with is the African horned melon. I remember the day I first found one hiding in between the leaves at the back of the garden – I came running back to the kitchen to find a pair of yellow gloves to go and salvage this alien spiky plant. You’ll often find me regrouping in the garden on a late spring evening before service. All the blossoms and seedlings are out, the lemon verbena starts shooting after winter, and the little purple beans, radishes, artichokes and tomatoes all start to come alive in a variety of flavours and colours.’
Executive chef, Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, Cederberg Mountains
Located off the beaten track, Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat has always relied heavily on its food garden. The original raised beds were started in 1996 by the horticulturist at the time. Since then, the garden has been extended twice by Charmaine Smith and her ‘green team’. Who better to take up the reins than new executive chef Ryan Weakley, who has worked in both the isolated Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge and Wilderness Safaris’ Mombo Camp?
‘I take a walk through the garden every day. And every couple of weeks, Charmaine and I will chat about our needs for the upcoming season and menus. If items such as the coriander or fennel go to seed, we discuss the merits of either uprooting and replanting, or allowing the seed to develop and then harvesting these for spices. Getting in fresh produce is definitely our biggest challenge. Being based so far away from reliable and affordable suppliers, having this amazing garden growing behind the kitchen has definitely made my job easier. An extensive orchard provides endless fresh citrus and preserves. All surplus citrus is sent to our sister property, The 12 Apostles, in Cape Town. Strawberries, gooseberries and mulberries are always a favourite in the kitchen, as well as nuts and olives. Our rooibos-smoked tomato risotto is the epitome of the summer vegetable garden. It makes use of heirloom tomatoes, rosemary, vine tomatoes, onions and homegrown rooibos. My favourite ingredient is zucchini flowers in springtime. I use them in salads or stuffed and tempura-ed. In fact, spring is my favourite season in the garden. I enjoy Asian flavours so lemongrass, coriander and limes are a big feature. All these ingredients will add freshness to any dish. One of the signature drinks here is a gin-and-grapefruit cocktail from the bar. The grapefruits from the orchard are enormous and incredibly juicy. My life-saver ingredient is fresh herbs. Being so far away from a supermarket or supplier, herbs immediately pack a flavour punch into any dish be it sweet or savoury. Poly-tunnels are fantastic for year-round production. Rooibos is a big feature on our menus – be it for our homemade rooibos iced tea, rooibos-smoked duck breast or a rooibos pavlova.’
Photography Karl Rogers