The changing culture of food

Chris Erasmus shares his thoughts and passions for food.

by: Nicolas Callegari | 18 Mar 2010
Chris Erasmus

Classically-trained Chris Erasmus, the executive chef and co-owner alongside Mike Bassett of Ginja in Cape Town, will be the first to admit that the day you stop learning things in the kitchen is the day you lose your passion for cooking.

And it’s this mindset that has helped him adapt his style of cooking in the kitchen to the changing expectations of diners in his and many other restaurants.

“The age at when people start eating out is getting younger and they are also developing very sophisticated palates from an early age,” Erasmus says.

“They’re a lot more aware of what goes into making a dish of food so they’re careful about what they order, which is very different to the way people used to act in restaurants years ago.

“Diners no longer go out just to fill their stomachs anymore, they go out because it’s a social thing to do, it’s an experience, it’s romantic, and it’s a great way to create memories or stir up nostalgia,” he says.

Erasmus says that, as a result of the changing dynamics of people who dine out, he has seen a huge shift in the area of fusion cooking.

“Asian influences are undoubtedly very popular amongst diners, because of the clean, fresh and light characteristics of Asian – particularly Oriental – food,” he points out.

“This is a far cry from the classical way of cooking where food is very rich and heavy, drowned in creams and everything is cooked in butter.

“This shift,” he adds, “is something that motivates chefs to come out of their comfort zones and adapt classical favourites with new flavours and cooking techniques that keep the nostalgia in place while sparking the imaginations of diners who demand something different.”

And it’s something that stirring up healthy competition particularly in the local market. The SA food industry has come a long way in the last ten years, with the quality and diversity of ingredients readily available to chefs being exceptional.

“It’s fun to see how local chefs are pushing themselves to come up with innovative twists on local classics, using local ingredients,” Erasmus says.

But it is a delicate balancing act to keep innovating without scaring diners away. While they are maturing their palates and a lot more open to trying new things, there is a stage when you can just go a little too far.

“I’m not sold on the likes of Molecular Gastronomy,” Erasmus says.  “But, there are elements we use that completely wow our guests.

“We cook with Nitrogen, for example, and we do use a lot of foams and purees, but we draw a very thick line between what we think is cool and what our guests are prepared to pay for and eat.

“I’m learning things from my trainees on a daily basis,” Erasmus concludes.  “There’s no such thing as one chef in a kitchen anymore, a kitchen is the sum of all its parts.  The day you stop learning – even from your trainees - is the day you become old and irrelevant.”

You can catch Chefs Chris Erasmus and Mike Bassett at the Taste of Cape Town Festival from the 24th to the 28th of March 2010 at Rhodes High School, Montreal Avenue, Mowbray.

You can WIN tickets with us here on Food24 to this awesome show, click here to answer this simple question!


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