A recent piece in The Guardian tackles the issue of diners who make reservations which they fail to honour, and how an increasing number of restaurants are responding by either requesting a non-refundable deposit on booking, or simply requiring credit card details and then “fining” people for not showing up.
On the one hand, it’s a fairly simple – and understandable – form of insurance on the part of restaurants which may stand to lose significant revenue if the booking sheet promises a bustling evening that instead results in empty seats, wasted ingredients, and a contingent of staff whose time could be better employed – and rewarded! – elsewhere.
In our last newsletter, we linked to an article questioning whether we are witnessing the “twilight of the celebrity chef”, following the closure of a number of restaurants whose high-profile benefactors apparently weren’t enough to keep their establishments afloat. Last weekend the Financial Times published a profile of Jamie Oliver, whose restaurant empire appears to have been particularly hard hit by a combination of poor management, politics (Brexit!), and other factors one can sometimes be fooled into imagining that rich famous people never have to deal with:
“‘We had simply run out of cash,’ he recalls, as we sit on a vintage sofa at Oliver headquarters in north London nine months later. ‘And we hadn’t expected it. That is just not normal, in any business. You have quarterly meetings. You do board meetings. People supposed to manage that stuff should manage that stuff.’ A surprisingly sharp tone in his voice suggests that someone let him down and he was none too pleased. Oliver was left with no choice but to instruct his bankers to inject £7.5m from his own savings into the restaurants. A further £5.2m of his own money would follow over the next few months. Last year, Oliver was said to be worth £150m. Even so, £12.7m is not the kind of money that slips down the back of a sofa, vintage or otherwise”. Continue reading “The trouble with celebrity chefs”
In 1979, the late Lannice Snyman, a doyenne of South African cookery, published a cookbook called Free from the Sea. Nearly 40 years later, it remains remarkable that this natural wilderness offers us so much food, but I doubt anyone today – writer or publisher – would have the guts to use such a title for a seafood book: the myth of sea as an endless buffet is, one hopes, finally dying.
But it’s a struggle to regulate fisheries thanks to so much open space, so many players, and so few enforceable boundaries. While there have been some successes, the big picture is ever-bleaker. Part of the problem is that, for so long, we’ve viewed seas as discreet spaces, and if we just look after our own stretch, we might be doing alright. But there is, in reality, only one ocean as all seas are linked by winds, currents and migratory patterns. Continue reading “Food from the sea”
For the size of the city, Cape Town is blessed with an unfair number of fine coffee emporia. In one of those “where the hell did the time go?” moments, I was recently reminded that Origin Coffee Roasting, the epicentre of “Third Wave” coffee in South Africa, was started 12 years ago, in 2006.
In coffee parlance, “Third Wave” represents the point in the evolution of modern coffee culture that the artisan roastery takes a central place after the traditional coffee scene, which is the First Wave. In South Africa the First Wave was “coffee” from chicory granules and weak drip brew in hotels and restaurants (and in the USA it still means weak drip brew). The Second Wave is marked by the arrival of the branded stand-alone coffee chains, which we got a decade before the Third Wave hit, in the form of Mugg & Bean (est. 1996 in the V&A Waterfront) and Seattle Coffee Co. (also 1996, in Cavendish Square). The most famous international chain, Starbucks, only arrived here well after our Third Wave (April 2016, ten years after Origin) – testimony to us being blessed with quality. Continue reading “Waves of Coffee and Truth’s Black Honey”
Everyone has their favourite “food movies” (our guest chef-writer Pete Goffe-Wood rounded up his personal best for his imagined Food Oscars last year), or at least food scenes from movies – *that* scene from When Harry and Sally featuring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in Katz’s Delicatessen in New York jumps to mind for those of us of a certain age. But of course Meg Ryan’s performance is memorable not for what she’s eating, but rather for the, uhm, uncomfortable position she puts Billy Crystal’s character in while he’s trying to eat a sandwich. Continue reading “Women Eating in Movies”
It’s been a week since the tragic news of Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide sent much of the food world reeling, and a significant proportion of the non-food world too, notably Barack Obama, who that evening tweeted the following memory from his appearance on the Vietnam episode of Bourdain’s CNN series Parts Unknown:
The Washington Post Magazine offered reviews of 30 new restaurants in its Spring dining guide, summarised by reviewer Tom Sietsema. Let’s just pause there, while we in South Africa consider the scale of this – 30 brand new upper-end eateries in one quarter of one year in one city, Washington DC, alone.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a divisive concept, as partly captured in the idea of whether we should welcome or fear the “robot overlords” (adapted from the 1977 film adaptation of HG Wells’ Empire of the Ants, in which Joan Collins reacts to the threat of giant ants out to take over the world with “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords”).
In the restaurant world, digital innovations designed to make the lives of both diners and staff easier have been around for years already, from being able to order off interactive table surfaces at eateries like Inamo in London, to restaurants in China replacing waitstaff (and noodle makers) with robots, not to mention IBM’s “chef” version of Watson – the “supercomputer” that famously beat human contestants on the TV quiz show Jeopardy in 2011 – which allows both chefs and home cooks to generate innovative recipes based on a database that houses thousands of possible combinations of ingredients that none of us would imagine work, but which are scientifically compatible according to their flavour profiles (Watson has even “authored” a cookbook).
As is becoming ever-better known, we are decimating the wild fish in the ocean. It is now clear that many of the most popular eating fish, most notably including those sushi bar sacrificial “lambs”, salmon and tuna, have declined by 90% in the seas in the last few decades. The ocean does not factor for the market signals of supply and demand when humans send out factory-sized trawlers that harvest at a pace that will continue to collapse entire populations of fish.
The end of this chain of decimation is you and me, the consumer. We need to send the signal back up the line that we know what we are eating and that we choose not to eat fish that has been caught in an unsustainable manner and then put on a menu. (I am looking at Ile Maurice, inter alia.) We all need to install the SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) app on our phones or use the FishMS line (type the name of a fish and send it to 079 499 8795) to identify what is in front of us. And we need to act in supermarkets too, buying sustainable tuna for those sandwiches. Continue reading “Taking sustainable seafood seriously”