EVERY MOUTHFUL COUNTS

 EVERY MOUTHFUL COUNTS

The scale of what we waste is eye-watering. Globally, an estimated 1,3bn tonnes of food is wasted each year.

Every bit of every plant and protein that comes into our kitchens represents resources: all have taken energy, and water, and resources from the soil. So when it’s estimated that around 40% of food produced in South Africa goes to waste, that’s what we’re looking at: huge volumes of energy, water and resources that instead of going to feed a hungry world, may find its way to landfill where food rots away fruitlessly, sending out clouds of greenhouse gases.

Zero Waste in food is a movement that strives to reverse humanity’s patterns of wastefulness, to make sure that we extract as much value as possible from food; and that whatever is not used – inedible skins, cores, bones etc – goes back into the earth’s resources in one way or another.

It takes intent, but it’s not a new idea. In the professional cooking world, driven by tight profit margins, minimising waste is considered good practice. It’s also considered respectful. Routinely, for instance, bones are simmered overnight with aromatics to form the basis of the next day’s soups and sauces. Zero Waste simply takes it one step further: it would look at the mess of cooked-out ingredients left after stock preparation, and might send it to a fly farm, or add the remains to a bokashi, respectively contributing to food generation or soil regeneration.

EATING A BETTER WAY

At the second One Blue Heart dinner, a fundraiser for turtle conservation organised by the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, Chef Henrico Grobbelaar and his kitchen at the One&Only Cape Town have taken up and deliciously met the challenge to conceptualise, prepare and present a meal that is as close to zero-waste as it’s possible to get. Importantly, in a world in which meat-eaters are the “norm”, the paradigm has been flipped: the default menu for the evening is vegan, with diners who prefer not to eat that way having to tick the box that indicates as much.

In an interview, Chef Henrico shares his thoughts and the process his kitchen went through:

What was the inspiration behind the menu?

When we began, I tried to amalgamate a few core concepts into the menu:

  • a focus on local produce,
  • recreating elements of the ocean, and
  • keeping everything plant-based.

These three elements were the benchmark I looked at for every dish.

For me, this was very much a first. To go so in-depth into veganism was interesting because you are restricted in many ways. To bring the ocean (which is usually associated with salty dishes) into a vegan menu, and simultaneously, in the interests of the lowest possible carbon footprint, to use only local ingredients, is challenging.

This is an Aquarium event. The attraction is the sea life, so I pulled inspiration from different elements of sea life, everything from the names of the fish to the environment they are found in. Little things like pearls, caviar… all of it came together somehow as I looked for vegan options. Pearl onions for example, or lemon caviar, you see?

Tell us about the dishes to come. What is the story behind each one?

In vegan menus, because you obviously can’t use any form of dairy, you go for things like coconut milk, or coconut cream. We used almond milk and oat milk, and these ingredients led me to relook at the other ingredients from a different angle. For example, oat milk is the colour of sand, which then forms part of the visuals of the dish.

CANAPES

To begin the evening, there are three canape options. The vegan vetkoek and babotie reflect local favourites. I used walnuts and onions to add a “meatier, fattier” quality to mimic meat, which came out beautifully.

For the third: South Africa is one of the biggest nut exporters in the world. So, I thought, let’s make cashew nut ‘foie gras’ (which we named faux gras, get it?) and serve it with marmalade made from oranges and grapefruit.

I also wanted the dish to hint at the ocean, so I brought in elements such as miso – that’s your salt and colour element – and charred BBQ eggplant to suggest black kelp. And then came the lemon caviar and then back to the kelp again with the light soy biscuit.

So, that was the way I was creating as I went along. I was constantly thinking, “where can I bring in elements of ocean? Where can I use local? And stay with the objective of being plant based!”

STARTERS

For the vegan starter, I got the idea when we toured the Aquarium and visited the turtles. When you go to the beach as a kid, armed with your fishing net, the rockpool is the first thing that you head for. Now imagine it’s low tide, the ocean has pulled back, and the wildlife stays behind in little rockpool puddles. These little worlds were the inspiration!

I called the dish ‘Periwinkle Puddle’ for this reason, with harrissa humus being the base of the dish and resembling the bottom of the rockpool (or puddle). Then I bring in elements of sea life, like semi dried tomatoes, which have the appearance of an anemone and little bits of roasted butternut. Charred Brussel sprouts look like little snails, and purple olives add to the periwinkle colour of the dish. Finally, the puffed capers are inspired by the little bubbles you see floating around in the rockpool, adding simple dimension and shapes to the dish too.

MAINS

I liked the idea of oysters as the main dish for two reasons: they are seen as high-quality fish, the ‘king’ of their food chain and for their unique look. The colour of the main course dish is inspired by pearls, which is where the pearl onions come in, added alongside the King Oyster mushrooms. Parsnip and cauliflower puree created the sand element; and adding roasted buckwheat made the sand look more gravel-like. The porcini velouté is made from the trimmings from the king oyster mushroom.

The chicken is our non-vegan protein option and will be paired alongside the rest of the vegan mains but with a chicken jus, made from the bones of the chicken, as the accompanying sauce.

DESSERT

For the dessert, I wanted to create something that was fresh, and would look beautiful. I started to think about certain beaches along the coast, which have dark red, orange-y moss on the rocks, even yellow moss, with white moss peeping through. I decided to bring in all the colours through the dessert, creating a “beadlet” confit plum and vanilla almond clafoutis, finished with nectarine and apricot ice cream with cream anglaise, but with made with cream of rice.

And that’s how we end the meal –  on the beach, on the rocks again, next to the rockpools.

What was your takeaway from this experience?

There are not many people who get the opportunity to do a full-on vegan menu for 100+ people. When you do banquets, you obviously cater to a large number – but, usually, you have a collection of loose elements that add up to create a meal. But in this case, we got to be really creative – we got to say, why not make a vegan foie gras? Why not make a fake coral? So this was a great challenge.

Note: All offcuts or unused produce are recycled and reused as a part of One&Only Cape Town’s internal food wastage recycling system.

Chef Henrico Grobbelaar with One&Only Cape Town in the background.

                 _______________________________________________________________

On 11 April 2024 the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation, in collaboration with One&Only, is hosting the second One Blue Heart Gala Dinner to raise funds for the Turtle Conservation Centre. This blue carpet event will celebrate our marine world and will showcase zero-waste food, slow fashion, and mesmerising art.

Through these elements guests will be reminded that everything we do, from our daily choices to larger decisions, ultimately impacts the ocean and the planet as a whole.

Turtles, as ancient travellers of the ocean, are the beneficiaries of One Blue Heart. The Turtle Conservation Centre at the Two Oceans Aquarium rescues, rehabilitates and releases turtles – to date more than 1000 turtles have been given a second chance and returned to the ocean after rehabilitation

One Blue Heart is committed to protecting and preserving their ancient legacy.