Iconic chef Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen is undeniably an ambassador for world-class cuisine in South Africa, and has adopted the role as a trailblazer not only in the culinary scene, but now as a pioneer for water-saving.
Luke is genuine in his concern for the Cape drought, and like many chefs has put diffusers onto taps, uses water from ice buckets for cleaning floors, re-uses the grey water from the air-conditioners and has disconnected hoses in the scullery. Scullery and laundry staff have been halved and are now in training for vegetable preparation at his sister restaurant, The Pot Luck Club, also situated in the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, Cape Town. But that’s not all…
Media with an appetite were welcomed to TTK to experience the Drought Menu, and to offer feedback. After catching up on industry news we moved from the sunlight of the courtyard at the Old Biscuit Mill into the dark room. The welcome drink was a glass of sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka’s own white blend of Semillon and Chenin, called Kumusha, which in Shona means ‘my home’ or ‘my roots’. A knock on the door of the light room and we were in!
Once we had settled down, we began the serious business of eating five-class food. Our culinary adventure began with Bo-Kaap slangetjies and Tandoori quail. I decided on the colourful, indigenous tea pairing instead of the gourmand or iconic wine pairing, as I have not experienced it before. What a treat! The hot smoked trout with a buckwheat blini and watercress velouté was paired with a white tea flavoured by berries and anise. The scrumptious pig head salad and pork pie was paired with an African ball tea, a blend of local blue, black and red teas. The dish of Springbok with beetroot, bone marrow, hazelnut and curd married with the pink flamingo tea perfectly – I could smell the blossoms of this graceful green tea. The heavenly peaches and lavender dessert was teamed with a delicate, red crème caramel tea.
Luke took a few minutes out of the kitchen to explain exactly how the water saving will be managed. “Water used in cooking processes like blanching, making sauces, stock and dashi, is negligible. Laundry, washing glasses and the dishwasher is where it happens. Already 5000 fewer dishes are being washed a week, resulting in massive water saving”, claims Luke.
So that’s behind the scenes. What will the diner see when they arrive for an unforgettable dinner at The Test Kitchen? Disposable napkins (stylish of course) and no tablecloths. In true LDR-style, he raises the bar with unique wooden picture frames, fitted with handcrafted cards from Spain, as the backdrop for his edible works of art. Diners will, between courses, place their cutlery on a bespoke wooden cutlery holder. Sauces will be minimized, with a top-up separately served in a jug. Previously diners experienced half the adventure in the dark room and then moved through to the light room which has a sweeping view of the Test Kitchen team hard at work. Now the dark room will be used as the bar and for cocktails, and snacks will be served in the light room.
“We have embarked on a concept but will not compromise on the experience. Guests will get a letter explaining it and to check that they are happy. If not, their meal will be served on plates. This is not a publicity stunt, but we DO hope that it will raise awareness of the drought,” said Luke.
Minister of Economic Opportunities, Mr Alan Winde, was present to applaud Luke for his innovation. Addressing the group in his ‘save water’ t-shirt, he proudly said, “Luke is sending out the right message for everyone in our region.”
From 1 April to 31 May The Test Kitchen will offer this unique Drought menu, Tuesdays to Saturdays, at R890 per person excluding wine, with a tea pairing at R1040, the Gourmand wine pairing at R1190 and the Iconic wine pairing at R1340. The six-course menu is still heart-stopping. Let’s hope it stops diners and restauranteurs in their tracks, and they follow suit, pulling out stops to ensure that Day Zero becomes Day Never.
For more information on The Test Kitchen visit www.thetestkitchen.co.za or contact the team on 021 447 2337.
Address: Unit 104A, Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town.
Written by Jenny Handley
Photographs by Andy Lund