South Africa, Cape Town, October 2020 – The future of the restaurant industry requires a focus on what is local and sustainable, not just in sourcing produce and ingredients, but in attracting local diners and being part of the local community. This is one of several conclusions of the recent S.Pellegrino Food Meets Hope online event, and is born out of the experiences of three brand new South African restaurants brave enough to launch post-lockdown: Oxalis, Entrée and Lucky at The Piano Bar.
Kicking off the World’s 50 Best Recovery Summit on 13th October 2020, the online event Food Meets Hope by S.Pellegrino explored the future of fine-dining post-pandemic, talking to chefs and restaurateurs from around the world about three main themes – Recovery, Inclusivity and Evolution.
Recovery took us on a global tour of restaurants that received grants from the fund-raising of World’s 50 Best Bid for Recovery auction. South African foodies immediately recognised the distinctive interiors of Upper Bloem in Cape Town as the chefs and staff talked about the difference the funds had made to their survival. “Before Covid we were growing as a business, looking at taking a few extra people on. Covid put a very sudden stop to that. The grant really helped us keep our staff, keep the restaurant open, keep our dream alive,” said chefs Andre Hill and Henry Vigar. In common with other restaurants featured, they kept Upper Bloem in business by their staff doing food deliveries through lockdown and are now open again for dining four days a week.
Inclusivity featured chef Erick Williams of Virtue in Chicago, chef and restaurateur Daniela Soto-Innes and Ivan Brehm of Nouri in Singapore each speaking from the heart about diversity in the kitchen, kitchen culture and their hopes for a better future.
A panel of top names in global gastronomy then shared their thoughts on the evolution of fine-dining in the future, how their restaurants have already adapted and the positive changes they have seen grow out of the crisis.
“Being sustainable, seeing all our employees as a family, this is mandatory for the future,” says Tim Raue of Berlin’s Restaurant Tim Raue. “There’s no way back to the industry just looking at the highest money to make; it’s a social industry, we give to other people, and we have to share.”
“We need to reconnect with our own community to succeed”, says Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, “We need to support the community of farmers, cook local. What we’ve seen in the US with this pandemic is how weak America is about the food system.”
The chefs shared how they have adapted to their clientele suddenly changing from being mostly international visitors flying in to focussing on local diners. “Since the borders closed we have French people visiting from Paris, Marseille, really happy to have a chance to book and discover us,” says Julia Colagreco of Mirazur in Menton.
The new reality Richard Ekkebus of Amber is experiencing in Hong Kong is that restaurants are no longer booking up three months ahead but often only filling up on the day itself. “The business model has evolved tremendously, we’re seeing a much younger clientele coming to us to celebrate, and have become more democratic, that is a very positive change,” he says.
The video of the event can be viewed on the Fine Dining Lovers website to hear more of what was discussed.
New South African Restaurants
Here in South Africa the restaurant industry has been just as hard hit, but new shoots are growing from the ashes. It takes plenty of guts and a good measure of optimism to launch a new restaurant in this climate, but those who are passionate about their profession see it as a practical way to survive and move forward.
When Janse & Co closed in August, four of the core team did a super quick turnaround and started a nine-month pop-up in the spacious first-floor premises above Honest Chocolate in the CBD. “It was out of necessity after we were retrenched,” says Liezl Odendaal, “a short-term plan that has the potential to grow into something more substantial.” The aim was a casual restaurant where guests could feel comfortable meeting friends and enough space for social distancing. “Our current market is 100 % locals. Affordability and value in an authentic manner we feel is a big attraction. We try to make our guests feel literally at home.”
Launching the restaurant on a shoestring has demanded that they think outside the box, “We realised very quickly that everyone would have to be multi-functional. As a pastry chef, I need to also work the grill, prep the vegetables, welcome guests, serve guests, pot wash etc.”
The ethos of organic whole animal and whole plant cooking previously established at Janse&Co is still important to them but is dialled back to what is affordable right now. “We cook basic but delicious and honest food and maybe introduce the guests to a few ingredients they may not have heard of.”
Before lockdown Chef Archie Maclean and his wife Dominique were making a great success out of Café Bonbon in the Franschhoek valley. Lockdown led to a parting of ways with their landlord, but they didn’t want to liquidate the business and leave their staff and suppliers stranded.
“The best way forward and the strongest possibility to get through to the other side seemed to be to find other premises and keep going with a new restaurant,” says Archie. They sold their house, borrowed what they could and put everything into a new start.
They opened Entrée in September in new premises that seem designed for the current climate – plenty of inside space with tables well apart and two outside dining areas with open gardens and views. The menu offers affordable bistro-size starters to order in any number and combination, which Archie says emphatically are not tapas!
“Flexibility is key,” he says. They abandoned set service times and are open all day every day from 12pm. They partner with Anthony Rupert wines to offer wine tastings of their Cape of Good Hope range. But the real focus is on providing a comfortable home from home for locals. “We’ve had so much repeat support from the Franschhoek locals. Dominique is front of house and she is my secret weapon, people come by just to see her and she makes everyone feel at home.”
Lucky at The Piano Bar
Chef Cheyne Morrisby had only just launched his latest restaurant Fire Monkey in Claremont to positive reviews when lockdown struck. “Covid has been a time of incredible hardship and reflection. It has taught me some valuable lessons on how restaurants have adapted and survived through this time. With that there have been some amazing opportunities which have come my way.”
He had to close Fire Monkey but has just opened a new Japanese Kissaten-inspired eatery Lucky at The Piano Bar in De Waterkant, which allowed him to re-employ staff from Fire Monkey. It offers a short and well-priced menu of grills, noodles and small plates.
Cheyne says that honesty and transparency are the most important qualities to attract diners right now, but not much has changed in his approach. “We have really come back as we were. We wanted our customers to come back to something that they had before, a feeling of familiarity and sense of home. Transferring staff and knowledge across into a new space carries the DNA of our group.”
With restaurants worldwide integrating more closely with their local communities it seems the future is on our own doorsteps, moving forward into improved sustainability and a support network that is all about responsibility, empathy and a wider sense of family.