This article first appeared in the Sunday Times SA on 4 March 2018
It’s no surprise that Luke Dale-Roberts, South Africa’s most celebrated chef, has devised a novel way to tackle his industry’s aqua drama by creating a drought kitchen initiative that is scheduled to run April through May, after which, all going to plan and prayer, the heavens will open up and Capetonians will breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Ironically it rained, albeit briefly, on the day I sat down to lunch at The Test Kitchen (TTK) for a reduced-water dining experience that showcased a sensitively curated and stylishly presented menu, the only one that will available at the award winning restaurant over the designated two month period. The six-course offering, thus far exceptionally well received, is uncompromising in quality and runs the gamut of flavour, texture and unique combinations. This is water-fasting with flair that gives hope to a fretting hospitality sector that is stepping up, one eatery at a time.
Until my visit last week, I was, believe it or not, a Test Kitchen virgin and as was expected, the meal was clocked as an uber culinary bucket list moment. To be privy to Luke’s efforts to re-invent TTK’s water consumption and observe his sincere commitment to keeping staff employed, made the occasion all the sweeter.
This particular exercise in sustainability has not been without stress though. Talking openly to media at the Drought Kitchen launch, Luke mentioned how the last time he felt this anxious was when, contrary to expectation, he opened The Test Kitchen in 2010 in the heart of Woodstock, a suburb not quite perceived as a fine dining destination. “I feel nervous again now as we embark on a short new journey,” he said as he explained his re-evaluation of plating, service, clean up and all that lies in between. “Everything is impacted by using less water,” he added, “it’s been an eye-opener.”
Aside from adjustments such as keeping sauces to a minimum, Dale Roberts has introduced disposable napkins, dispensed with tablecloths and all but closed his laundry. Maintaining jobs however is crucial to the team and the women who assisted with the latter have been trained to assist in other aspects of the business, both at TTK and The Pot Luck Club, also situated at the Old Biscuit Mill. Ceramic plates have made way for interchangeable bio-degradable paper cards placed cleverly within compostable wooden picture frames, and grey water collected from aircon units and ice buckets is used to mop floors.
Each dish, adapted from TTK’s original menu, is delicate and satisfying, the portions just right, and all are smartly paired with wines selected by in-house sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka, who also introduced guests to his own fine 2016 chenin Semillon blend, Kumusha. The Marriane Sauvignon Blanc was a divine match with the twelve-hour hot smoked trout with watercress veloute and yoghurt snow, as was Klein Constantia’s iconic Vin de Constance 2011 selected for the “Peaches and Lavender” dessert. Aromatic TWG teas were offered as well, a refreshing option for those less inclined towards a boozy lunch.
Truth be told, Luke Dale Roberts could whip up a baba ganouche in a veldskoen and win an award for it. The Drought Kitchen pop up is yet another feather in his cap and The Test Kitchen has set an excellent example to industry peers and citizens in a city with a global reputation for next level gastronomy.
The Test Kitchen’s Drought Kitchen dinner menu will be served Tuesdays to Saturdays from 1 April to 31 May. Prices vary depending on the choice of pairings. For further info and all bookings visit www.thetestkitchen.co.za.
The Test Kitchen’s Drought Kitchen menu will be served Tuesdays to Saturdays from 1 April to 31 May. Prices vary depending on the choice of pairings. For further info and bookings visit www.thetestkitchen.co.za.