Although the UNESCO gastronomy designation encompasses the range of activities from “farm-to-fork”, inevitably visitors are going to judge the region by the quality and creativity of their restaurants, says Darryl Earl David, Director of the Overstrand UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, whose vision sparked the idea to apply for the recognition.
“You can’t say that all restaurants will do a roaring trade because of this designation. What it does mean though is that your top restaurants will do better. The competition will be healthy,” says Darryl.
Anton Verhoogt, owner/head chef of Barefoot Cook and Fisherman’s Cottage restaurants in Hermanus agrees. “Look at the places in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. You can go into any restaurant and you know it is going to be good because the competition is just so intense. The same is going to happen in Hermanus. The top restaurants will do even better. The others will need to pull up their socks if they are going to survive, or they will be swept under the carpet.”
Jacques le Roux, co-owner of The Wine Glass in Hermanus believes that the designation provides an important springboard for the growing experiential tourism sector. “The initiative will challenge the local industry to up our collective game. We need to live up to expectations and ensure that we retain the designation well into the future,” he says.
Jacques also believes that restaurants need to focus on authenticity and originality. “There is a place for the formula or franchise type of offering, but visitors will be looking for something that is not available elsewhere in the country.
“The focus will be much wider than just the plated product, including local sourcing of quality products; environmentally responsible practices by farmers and retailers, such as banning single-use plastics; ensuring responsible and equitable labour practices, and community integration,” he says.
Carolyn Martin, co-owner of Creation Wines on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, feels the designation will lead to greater creativity. “An example of innovation is taking exceptional local ingredients from a pristine environment and transforming these into value-added experiences and opportunities, such as wheat growers producing organic stone-ground flour used to create unique types of bread, such as vetkoek,” she says.
Petri Hendriksz, the chef/owner of Pear Tree and Char’d restaurants, believes his role is to inspire, push and mentor his team to culinary excellence. “There is a difference between creating and imagining. Creating is the act of turning new imaginative ideas into reality. We bring these creations to life by using local suppliers and adapting to the availability of their produce. All this is only possible by recognising the potential in employees, motivating them to believe in your creation, and providing training so that they can realise their own imaginative ideas. You are only as good as your dream and your team.”
But, cautions Darryl, “My greatest fear, in the context of South Africa, is that when you talk gastronomy and food, hunger inevitably comes into the discussion.” He says this is why it is so important that the Food Bank project is a success. “The Food Bank is an under-the-radar project that will not bring people into town. It’s a social responsibility project.” Setting up and successfully operating a Food Bank was one of the projects promised in the UNESCO application.
Other ideas that Darryl has include highlighting those restaurants that are pushing the gastronomic agenda of creativity and originality by putting together a Coastal Culinary Route in the Overstrand and an Inland Culinary Route in the rest of the Overberg, and to run a yearly competition to acknowledge culinary excellence and to create excitement about the designation.