The changing culture of food
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,”
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
“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
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
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!