Soup-er chefs step up to the plate
With winter about to set in for real and Covid-19 infections anticipated to rise dramatically during the next month or two, plummeting temperatures, unemployment, poverty and hunger are with us to stay. While fighting their own battles to survive, restaurants, chefs and wine farms are stepping up to the plate to offer assistance.
The Constitution of our fine country states: “Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water” but the sad reality is that people are starving, due to unemployment and desperate poverty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a perfect world (laughs hysterically), the government should take care of this problem – at least in part – but over the past 78 days of lockdown we’ve seen instead restaurants, chefs, wine farms, and big-hearted volunteers and sponsors banding together to address the issue of food insecurity in the most stricken areas. It’s a monumental task that’s not getting any easier or better, and let’s not even go into stolen food parcels (and communion wine because apparently no one told those guys they can buy legally now).
Even though restaurants have been struggling since the original lockdown at the end of March 2020 which forbade them from trading completely (causing many to fall like skittles and close permanently, and it’s still happening), some respite came with Level 4 and permission to do deliveries. Now in Level 3, they can deliver as well as allow collections – and sell alcohol – but it’s still not enough to save them all.
The limited trade of home deliveries will keep some of their noses just above the water and offer some respite for the staff but despite this, chefs all over the Western Cape have joined forces to feed the hungry. You’ll hear them say things like they’re just happy to be back in the kitchen, and doing something, anything. Relying enormously on donations, whether monetary or in the form of foodstuffs, restaurants are slotting in shifts alongside their current trade to cook up massive pots of soups and stews to be distributed to informal settlements and townships in their areas.
Of all the trouble and strife caused by this virus, the revelation of people’s true colours has been both negative and positive; whichever way they leaned before has become exaggerated. This explains why you are suddenly seeing so many morons on social media whom you once, if not respected, tolerated. By the same token, there are those who are giving selflessly. Some will tell you about it, others will get along with it quietly in the background.
There’s no one model for getting involved. Money and food, sure, any time. But volunteering is circumspect for obvious reasons, which is why Block House Kitchen at Constantia Uitsig is keeping its team tight. Chef Brad Ball, partner Chris Coetzee and his wife Tammy Botbyl, Phinias Ngulube and Nkululeko Phakathi (Dicks) – with some help from Jonkershuis staff for a couple of shifts a week – not only cook up hearty meals for delivery and have now added a “dirty burger” range for collection, but also churn out pots of nutritious and delicious soups for Food Angels and New Living Hope, which between them service the surrounding areas of Westlake, Steenberg, Heathfield and Retreat.
“We formed a partnership with Food Angels – which is a group of women and mothers from Reddam school. They wanted to jump on board in terms of getting donations from the community, because the community all wanted to do something for the people in the area,” said Botbyl. “We said ‘well, whatever donations you’re getting, let us cook it for you’. So that’s what we’ve been doing with Food Angels. Whatever they can’t give directly to their recipients in the form of dry goods, they bring here so we can cook it and they can base soups on that and bulk them up.
“Up till now we’ve been giving them meals twice a week to feed 1,500 people but because the donations have slowly dwindled, and they also want to try to spread things out, we’re now cooking once a week and they’re doing other dry packs, peanut butter sandwiches, jam sandwiches, which they handle. They arrange collections and then distribute.”
Everyone wants to do something and wants to play their part, continued Botbyl. “There are so many hungry people out there who can’t put food on the table. And the problem is that’s not going to go away and that hunger is immediate.
“The government has been saying it will sort it out but I think it’s not being sorted out fast enough.”
I said I got the sense most of the feeding of the hungry is being done by the private sector. “That’s exactly where it’s all being done,” agreed Botbyl.
NPO New Living Hope collects three 25-litre buckets of soup daily Mondays to Saturdays; on Mondays, Food Angels picks up 10-12 buckets. Extra buckets are stored in the walk-in freezer to meet unexpected and ever-rising demands for more food. To get a first-hand look at what this entails, I was allowed to join the kitchen for a shift.
At the locked gate to the estate, the security guard took my temperature before I was allowed to enter. Once inside, Coetzee gave me a quick tour, equipped me with an apron, cloth mask and plastic visor, and explained the hygiene protocols: wiping down, sanitising, and handwashing at every Pavlovian ring of the bell. Each team member had their own work station, suitably distant from each other.
Ball slapped a pocket of butternut at mine. “We keep the skin on, because we roast it before adding it to the soup,” he said, demonstrating how it should be chopped (although I got my own rhythm after a while). It struck me that I was settling a karmic debt with the universe for every packet of chopped and peeled butternut or pumpkin I have bought in my lifetime.
Chopping vegetables is not glamorous work, but it’s therapeutic and has a purpose. The orange-stained hands and blisters from the knife were worth it. Coetzee complimented me on my fine and uniform blocks of butternut, calling them “restaurant quality” and that they could go into a risotto. It was a bit eerie working in an open-plan kitchen with dining areas you know will stand empty probably for months, but the staff camaraderie was still evident, even on this smaller scale.
Elsewhere, potatoes and onions were being peeled and sliced for the basic New Living Hope Soup. Block House Kitchen began this project through Shannon Smuts from Pure Good Food in Observatory and uses her recipes. Even though this is a charity operation, there’s no skimping on wholesomeness and flavour.
“Shannon was cooking these recipes and this was her big thing. She said she wanted them to be nutritious and not just powder stocks with no effort nor time put into them,” said Botbyl. “We also want to get veggies from the community and keep those people employed, the small farmers. The three bean stew is awesome. We had it for lunch one day, with a bit of Brad’s chilli on top.”
Other dishes include veggie-loaded mince, vegetable dhal with lentils, aubergine and coriander, and chicken and leek curry.
“It can be depressing to not be doing something so it’s good to have a purpose, but it’s also about staying top of mind,” said Botbyl. “We want to be back. Block House wants to be back. Jonkershuis wants to be back. It’s going to be a new and different model, and we will have to adjust what we do. That’s allowed us to chat about what will be our new normal.
“I think we will have more appreciation of absolutely everything we do, which is good; our lives were so busy we had forgotten how to live and be in the moment.”
As the lockdown drags on, momentum has been lost. Anyone who wants to donate (sunflower oil, for example, even home garden produce because every little bit can make a difference) to Block House Kitchen can email [email protected]
Paarl wine estate Nederburg Wines is backing the Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund which was established to extend a hand to those restaurants feeding the hungry during lockdown. The brand is donating R100,000 to this initiative that also hopes to keep these restaurants sustainable over the long term.
Says Werner Hayward of Eat Out: “We’ve launched the Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund so that empty kitchens and talented people can be mobilised to feed the hungry. The fund is offering financial support to these restaurants to help them pay their staff and to buy food – to keep them in business so they can keep putting food on the table for hungry families. We hope to help them remain operational, so they can reopen their doors as viable businesses when the time comes.”
Block House Kitchen is one of these restaurants, which committed to providing additional meals in exchange for a donation from this fund.
To date, the fund has received contributions of more than R1,000,000, with R980,000 paid out to restaurants thus far. Click here to donate. Restaurants feeding a needy organisation, or contributing to a feeding scheme, can visit the funding page to see if they qualify for funding.
In another wineland, high-profile kitchens have got together to alleviate hunger in the Stellenbosch communities. The project is an initiative of Tasting Stellenbosch, a collaboration of leading restaurateurs and wine producers, that joined forces with aid response project Stellenbosch Unite. Apart from the usual NGO feeding and food parcel distribution happening at any given time, Stellenbosch Unite co-ordinates an additional 3,300 food parcels per week, with Tasting Stellenbosch now on board with at least 5,200 portions of nutritious soup, four days a week.
Says Jeanneret Momberg, GM of Visit Stellenbosch, which is the driving force behind this initiative and the overall co-ordinator of this collaborative project: “We recognised the need for a feeding scheme almost immediately, and as the official tourism body for Stellenbosch, with established networks in place, we started putting out calls for help.”
Soon, partners like Stellenbosch Municipality, Stellenbosch University, the Stellenbosch Civil Advocacy Network (SCAN), which is a network of community NGOs, Ranyaka, and the Greater Stellenbosch Development Trust came on board to mobilise support, raise money, put administrative measures and financial controls in place and distribute the aid to where it was needed the most.
Momberg credits solid relationships, credible partners and ongoing collaboration with local government – and the support of Stellenbosch residents themselves – for the quick response. “We managed to raise R500,000 within the first week. It was astounding, especially when you consider that donations ranged from anywhere between R100 and R1,500,” she said.
According to chef Bertus Basson, who like many of his colleagues has long been involved with community feeding schemes alongside his regular restaurant business, realised the pandemic crisis had created a far greater need than they were servicing.
“After putting out a few calls, the restaurant community came together in a selfless and truly inspiring way to confront these social challenges people are facing. No child, woman or man should go to bed hungry. We will keep going for the next few months and recruit more chefs to increase capacity and feed even more people,” said Basson.
The chefs and their kitchen crews are souping it up for communities including Cloetesville, Devon Valley, Idas Valley, Jamestown, Kayamandi, Kylemore, Meerlust Settlement, Lanquedoc, Mountainview, Pniël, Raithby, Vlottenburg, Wemmershoek, Jonkershoek and across farm areas. Once the soup is made, it is distributed through official and existing NGO channels and community coordinators as part of the Stellenbosch Unite network, which includes some areas of Franschhoek.
Along with Basson, who’s known for restaurants Overture, Eike, Spek & Bone and De Vrije Burger, participants in the effort include Spier Wine Estate, Neethlingshof (Brendan Stein), Gåte at Quoin Rock (James Would), Jardine Restaurant (George Jardine), Longtable ((SUBS CORR)) at Haskell (Cornelle Minnie), Lanzerac (Stephan Fraser), Hussar Grill, Blaauwklippen, Table at De Meye and De Warenmarkt.
“You have to start somewhere. People that work in hospitality understand generosity,” said Basson. “You phone friends to assist you. Together we are stronger. It doesn’t have to be a grand scheme. A little bit goes a long way. The food you cook must get to the people that need it most.” His advice is to connect with organisations that can help with the supply chain.
Cornelle Minnie, chef at Longtable at Haskell Vineyards said no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. “Seeing how the communities are donating and contributing to the cause and knowing that everyone has a warm meal every day, keeps everyone going. But helping your fellow human doesn’t need motivation, it is a simple act that should be part of our daily lives, no matter the circumstances.”
There’s no difference in what goes on in the kitchen, said Minnie. “The only thing that has changed is the look and the guest enjoying the meal – or in this case soup. Pride and love is still there, just on a simpler and bigger scale.
“One looks at food a bit differently and ideas for new menus have changed for me. it is a whole new mindset, but it is something to look forward to when we open our doors again.”
Joostenberg Bistro’s chef Garth Bedford stated “we are fighting a war and we need our troops ready”.
“We are fortunate to have the facilities and equipment to produce, even a small amount, of what’s needed to keep our community fed and in a position to work and support their families. We need to get South Africa working again.
“Our industry is hurting and the only thing that’s really going to save it is by getting our kitchens going and our staff back to work. We need to be able to start buying from suppliers that are also deeply impacted by this.
“We have got to get the whole machine going again.”
As chefs, they are not just recipes and restaurants, continued Bedford. “When we are able, we should use our skills to feed and support those that are not in a position to do so themselves.”
The soup guidelines begin with hearty vegetable soup with a base of onions, potato, carrots, butternut, pumpkin plus donated vegetables (which can include sweet potato and courgettes), cooked with pulses (either lentils, soup mix, red beans, split peas, soy, etc), “Special care is taken to blend it all together for a thick soup with delicious mouth feel,” said Bedford.
“Thank you for the warm soup, our community truly appreciates it. Thanks for the difference [you make] in the lives of the needy people,” said Cloetesville community coordinator Vernon Adams.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” echoed Bettie Nieuwoudt from StellCare. “This is a fantastic opportunity and brings relief to our already stretched resources. We have to help so many people, especially now when many have lost their jobs. Our prayers have been answered.”
Financial donations can be made to Stellenbosch Unite. For information, click here. Donations of only dry goods (pulses, soup mix, barley, stock cubes, salt, curry powder, pasta (macaroni or penne) can be dropped at Eike Restaurant in Dorp Street, Stellenbosch, between 10am and 5pm Tuesdays to Saturdays. Soup vegetables such as onions, potatoes, butternut, pumpkin and carrots are also welcome.
The project is specifically a response to Covid-19 and the intention is to keep going at least until September. For more information, click here or email [email protected] WhatsApp or SMS messages can be sent to 062 206 8031.
Over in the Durbanville Wine Valley, Durbanville Hills has partnered with SA Harvest and MES (Mould Empower Serve) to expand food drives in Cape Town.
The cellar has adapted its operations to offer a distribution location for food to be delivered weekly and repackaged to service the dire need in the Durbanville, Dunoon, Mamre, Bothasig and Tableview areas.
The food is sorted and allocated for food baskets to local beneficiary organisations The Night Haven Shelter, Savings Sparrows, Won Life, and Helping Others. DM/TGIFood
For more information contact Leona Pienaar via email [email protected]. DM/TGIFood
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