Luke Dale-Roberts: SA’s top chef embraces water restrictions
Luke Dale-Roberts has created The Drought Kitchen, a pop-up concept within The Test Kitchen proper
From "Recycle the grey water" to "If it’s yellow let it mellow", the chorus around domestic and community water saving in Cape Town is a vociferous yet necessary response to the crisis gripping the area, but what isn’t really grappled with often is what’s happening on the business side of things.
Specifically, in the service industry. What about all the restaurants that need water — and lots of it — to cook food, clean kitchens and wash dishes as well as linen? Your 50l per person per day restriction would not get you very far in a working kitchen.
Enter chef Luke Dale-Roberts, the over-achieving head honcho of The Test Kitchen (SA’s top restaurant yet again in 2017), The Pot Luck Club and The Shortmarket Club. Deciding to do his bit (and no doubt pre-empt the knives and pitchforks of Day Zero) he’s created The Drought Kitchen, a pop-up concept within The Test Kitchen proper.
Dale-Roberts says: "I’ve had to re-evaluate how we approach what we do in the kitchen and the restaurant. From preparation to plating, service to clean-up, everything is affected by using less water."
Using a menu specifically designed to use no water or as little as possible, the brains trust behind The Drought Kitchen did not stop with food preparation. They’ve also done away with plates. Instead you get a picture frame with a sort of laminated card to eat off. This a city where too many establishments try to give you the old wooden board and wax paper treatment — a horrendous idea that if you use a knife and fork has you eating your breakfast like a dog chewing on peanut butter — so I initially eyed the cardboard solution with suspicion. But, no doubt tested through multiple dry runs (badum tish), it works.
"By taking away 90% of the chinaware we have effectively eliminated 90% of our water usage from the dishwasher. So, along with only operating the laundry for basic essentials, we hope this will make a difference," Dale-Roberts says.
Breaking the drought
The Drought Kitchen menu will run from Tuesday to Saturday from April 1 to May 31.
The six-course menu, which also includes three appetisers, is priced at R890 per person, excluding wines. The gourmand wine pairing menu is priced at R1,190 per person while the iconic wine pairing menu is R1,340 per person. For the nonboozers, there’s a tea pairing menu at R1,040 per person.
Proof in the eating
But wait, there’s more! The neat switcheroo of replacing crockery with framework aside, The Drought Kitchen also does away with table linen and uses disposable napkins. For the laundry crew who usually service both The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club in Woodstock’s Old Biscuit Mill, that has meant a redeployment into new kitchen roles over this period. Add to that, the kitchen’s grey water is saved from air-conditioning units, ice bucket water is given another job mopping the floors, hoses have been disconnected in the scullery and water-wise diffusers have been fitted on taps.
And the food? Well, based on The Test Kitchen menu, The Drought Kitchen’s six-course offering is, as you might expect, straight out of the top drawer.
There were only two discernible differences. First was that dishes — from goat’s cheese and baba ganoush to 12-hour hot smoked trout with watercress velouté and buckwheat blinis; pig head salad and pork pie; springbok with beetroot and bone marrow; and a dessert of peaches and lavender — were intentionally designed to be less saucy. And the second? The meal itself was quieter, with less of the cutlery-on-crockery aural competition you’re accustomed to. Bet you didn’t see that coming.