Local food is

28 March 2003

Bastion executive chef Kenny Ngubane is determined to prove that local is lekker. For many years, he says, local restaurants have been subject to kitchen colonialism, where foreign cooks ran kitchens and their own native food dominated menus.

The result? Eighty percent of the food that restaurants offered was foreign, while just 20 percent was South African.

“Local cooking is very important, but we are so into international cooking”, says Ngubane. “When people come to South Africa, they want South African food, but yet we don’t give to them – we give them a dish like crab thermidor that they can have in their own countries.

“When we go China we want to eat noodles. When we go to India we want to eat rice. When visitors come to South Africa, they want South African food.”

Bastion fans need not fear: their crab thermidor won’t be replaced with chakalaka, pap or morogo. But more local foods are being featured on the restaurant’s menu. “A lot of South African chefs are starting to cook more local foods. I think that people are realising that we are losing our culture”, says Ngubane.

Head there now and you can dig into Ulundi Ndlovu’s Chicken, made with popular chakalaka, a meal Ngubane named after one of his 22 sous-chefs who excelled in the kitchen. Or bite into a Vrystaat fillet served with mielies on the cob, done true Boere style. Or there is Simonsberg sirloin marinated in a blend of Cape wines, served with Simonsberg brie cheese or a slice of Mpumalanga venison.

But Ngubane is firm about one much-loved indigenous dish that won’t appear on the Bastion’s menu anytime soon – tripe. “We don’t do tripe. That will chase people away!” laughs Ngubane.

“I think that it’s important when introducing more local foods that you also have to look at the type of establishment and the standard it has. I think it must be phased in slowly, not just with a boom! If I’m doing an African menu, I will introduce it slowly – kind of like the way our democracy came into being.”