Tonnes of usable food goes to waste every year because restaurants and producers don’t use the full ingredient. Nikita Singh looks at innovative South Africans who are changing that.
When it comes to waste reduction in South Africa’s food industry, ditching the plastic straws simply isn’t enough. Chefs are finding resourceful solutions to reduce wet waste by using entire animals, not just prime cuts, and whole fruits and vegetables, not just the ripe flesh.
Thula Ndema and Thato Masondo, a young couple living in the Joburg CBD, were horrified to see discarded fruit along the streets while cycling through town. Street vendors trash the over-ripe fruits they cannot sell. The couple were determined to buy and salvage the fruit in some way.
At the time, Ndema and Masondo were working at an ice-cream shop. They noticed customers frequently requesting sorbet – a dairy-free alternative to the usual frozen dessert.
The couple saved money to buy a freezer, and watched how-to videos on YouTube, to develop their brand Sobae: delicious frozen treats made supersweet by using very ripe fruits.
The recipe is simple: fruit, sugar, water. Sugar holds the structure of the sorbet (just fruit and water would make a granita) but most of the sweetness comes from luscious over-ripe fruit. Certain fruits, such as apples, mangoes, pawpaws and pears, become sweeter as they ripen because starch molecules break down into sugars.
The refreshing flavours combine seasonal fruits and fragrant herbs, such as grapefruit pomegranate, lemon ginger, orange thyme, pineapple basil and kiwi grape.
“Since we’re working seasonally, we’re always playing around with the fruit. We won’t have a standard flavour. If we have a pineapple and pawpaw, the next time we’ll have a pineapple and basil,” says Masondo.
Ndema and Masondo are now selling salvaged-fruit sorbets at Victoria Yards in Lorentzville from Tuesday to Saturday, and The Wilds in Houghton every Sunday.
Chef Siyabulela Kobo refuses to let produce go to waste in his kitchen at Kobo Cuisine in Kempton Park. “Anything that goes into the bin – my sous-chef has to sign it off. There has to be absolutely nothing else that can be done with it,” says Kobo. He uses fine dining techniques to create refined dishes from food scraps. Peeled carrots are used for a smooth purée, while carrot peels are burnt and ground for edible carrot ash. Burnt phuthu pap left at the bottom of the pot is salvaged to make elegant tuiles (wafers). The burnt pap is reboiled, blitzed in a food processor and strained. The mixture is spread thin and baked in the oven to create crisp, arced wafers.
Innovations such as these are helping to keep restaurants economically viable.
Chef James Diack tackles waste problems economically and effectively at his Joburg restaurants Coobs, Il Contadino, La Stalla, and Douglas + Hale.
They source 95% of their produce – meat, poultry, herbs, fruit, vegetables and cheese – from the Diack family farm, Brightside, in Magaliesburg, Gauteng.
In Diack’s kitchen, nothing is wasted. Parsley stems become parsley butter, carrot tops are tossed back into salads and leek tops are blended into crisp croquettes.
Ingredients that can’t be repurposed are sent back to the farm for compost (including the organic coffee). Even egg shells are crushed and sent to the farm as an organic form of snail prevention.
Homemade cheeses like halloumi, ricotta, feta and goat’s milk cheese are produced on the farm. However, cheese production usually results in excess whey. Instead of discarding it, the whey is used to feed the pigs. “It’s a great protein supplement instead of bone meal,” says Diack.
Diack’s most impressive waste reduction technique is his practical use of meat. Different parts of the animal are used across the various restaurants so that the entire animal is consumed. If Coobs is serving pork belly, another bistro will serve pulled pork leg or pork shoulder.
When training his chefs, Diack encourages adaptability. “My thinking is that we cook with what we get, not what we want. What that means is, if you love to cook lamb chops, then this probably isn’t the restaurant group for you.”
Sasha Sonnenberg-Simpson, owner of Brik Cafe, shares a similar strategy: “I think it’s about being conscious. Being a chef or head of a kitchen – people don’t realise how much influence they have.”
Brik’s ethos, “consciously curated, pro-actively cooked”, means working with local suppliers, helping small businesses and repurposing produce when possible.
Orange peels are used for marmalade, fruit and veg off-cuts are used in syrups and cordials, and brown avocados are used in a decadent chocolate mousse.
Banana bread is a common recipe for using leftover bananas. Brik takes the recipe further by using banana peels. The peels are washed, boiled and blended for use in the batter.
Sonnenberg-Simpson’s menu is seasonal and changes regularly. She believes restaurants need to use what’s available instead of what’s popular. “If you keep producing what people want, you’ll never make a change.”
It’s easy to make a healthy chocolate pudding using not-so-fresh avocados you have at home.
3 ripe avocados, skins and seeds removed
6 tbs cocoa powder
¼ cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
Sea salt flakes, to garnish
Blitz avocados, cocoa powder, honey and vanilla in a food processor until smooth. Divide the mixture between four ramekins, sprinkle with salt and leave in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour. Best served cold.