Quickfox Publishing author Nompumelelo (Mpume) Mqwebu, author of the award-winning cookbook “Through the Eyes of an African Chef”, was invited as a guest speaker at the Franschhoek Literary Festival this past weekend. Sitting in the company of award-winning and traditionally-published authors, Daisy Jones (author of Star Fish and winner of the Sunday Times Food Weekly Cookbook of the Year) and Nico Verster, award-winning cookbook author of Safaris & Spices, and Savannah to Sea, the three authors shared many of the issues of sustainability and how we can introduce greater awareness into our kitchens in the panel discussion entitled “The Conscious Kitchen”.
Mpume encourages us to get back to basics – to source ingredients from local farmers and to support them wherever possible. After all, it’s a win-win – farmers earn more money by selling directly to the customer, and we get to buy produce that is cheaper and fresher than we would in a supermarket. We can also better trust the farming process and what we’re getting when we know who it is that we’re getting our food from. She spoke about her experiences at Ballymaloe, and shared some of the initiatives currently taking place in Gauteng, where urban farmers are sprouting up all over the place. One such farmer is Mama Refiloe, who has converted land opposite Ellis park into a fertile and productive urban farm. Farmers are also trying their hand at growing less commonly available produce – certainly not the stuff you easily find in mainstream supermarkets – as a way of meeting the needs of those who have migrated here from other countries in Africa (not to mention our own South Africans, who previously struggled to find something as simple as amadumbe).
Daisy Jones discussed the issue of fish – and explained the complexities around sustainable fishing. She went on to explain about the Red, Orange, Green list – which changes from time to time depending on stock levels. When there is an active drive to protect a fish sitting on the orange or red list (which one should not eat as they are in short supply or on the verge of extinction) they can often move onto the green list. And fish on the green list, which everyone starts eating because there are plenty, suddenly find themselves sitting on the orange list. So one needs to keep checking the lists. Then there are the farming practices to consider. A surprising fact is that salmon and prawns are now no-no’s because of the impact their farming has on the environment. But, farmed muscles and oysters are good – and safe to eat. Farming practices also do not negatively impact on the environment. To find out more, it’s worth getting her well-researched book.
Nico Verster spoke about sustainability in the safari hospitality industry, and about how the kitchens in many lodges – his own included – buy fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers. It’s about awareness, he says. When asked how fairly ‘rich’ international guests felt about not having everything they’re used to or want on the menu, Nico replied that international guests were among the most understanding – they are generally very well read, well travelled, and are typically ahead of the curve in that regard, so much so that many even want to know, before making their booking, whether the lodge’s mineral water is served in plastic bottles (which his is not). Guests were very understanding and fully in support of their sustainability practices.
The panel discussion was hosted by a brilliant Leonie Joubert, freelance writer and journalist, and herself a published author of a few books, winning two honorary Sunday Times Alan Paton non-fiction awards for two of them (Scorched and Invaded). It was a lively and engaging discussion that could have gone on and on and on – alas, there was just not enough time. Sadly, we all had to take our leave and move on to the next event.
PS: As I write this Mpume is making her way to China to attend the finals of the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards – the most prestigious and glamorous international cookbook awards. She has already won two South African Regional Awards –Gourmand Best First Cookbook and Gourmand Best Self-Published Cookbook – which has qualified her as a finalist in the same two categories for the Best in the World Award – the winner of which will be announced this weekend 26–27 May. We are very proud to have been a part of this incredible project and are holding thumbs that our very own Mpume will come home with Best in the World!