They say that inspiration comes from places big and small, be they as monumental as the Cape slowly inching towards becoming the world’s first major city left without a drop to drink, or as quotidian as a stroll around the Biscuit Mill.
Luke Dale-Roberts, arguably the country’s most-lauded chef, has been hard at work finding ways to reduce his restaurants’ water consumption. Although he was already doing the obvious, such as reusing ice-bucket water and forgoing tablecloths, and the slightly less obvious, such as reusing the 100l from his air-conditioning unit, it would be a stroll through the Biscuit Mill that would give rise to his biggest inspiration.
As he was eyeing some frames at Castle Framers, he was struck by the idea of using a frame and compostable backing boards to make the world’s most-stylish disposable plates. This approach not only cuts out 90% of the chinaware, but also creates a beautiful experience by framing the food as the art it is. It was these new plates that formed the cornerstone of inspiration behind Dale-Roberts’ new Drought Kitchen menu, where he’ll also be reducing his dishwasher use by 90%.
“We came up with this idea,” Dale-Roberts says, “and even though Day Zero was pushed further, we know the drought is still here anyway. The fact of the matter is, if we can reduce our water consumption by two-thirds, then we are at least doing the right thing and contributing to the solution, rather than the problem.”
Furthermore, diners at The Drought Kitchen will enjoy a pared-down menu: instead of the usual 20 courses, there’ll be a more modest, six-course meal, with three appetisers. It not only saves on water use and prep, but the reduced price tag of R890 opens the doors for the chef to share his food and water-saving techniques with a wider audience. Although there are a reduced number of courses — and fewer sauces, so as to not muss up the fancy new cardboard plates — you will not find any reduction in flavour. There are still promises of 12-hour, hot-smoked trout served with watercress and yoghurt snow, with the addition of yuzu caviar and blinis; and the ever-popular sweetbreads served with asparagus, peas, morels, and porcini hollandaise.
Although the pop-up will last only from 1 April to the end of May, Dale-Roberts assures customers that his restaurants will continue to make strides in water-saving, and insists that every little bit helps.
“All the measures we have taken now — over and above those to save water — we will continue doing them. It’s become habit,” he says. “It’s funny how these things become habit. Even at home, showering with a bucket — it all becomes normal. I think it’s important for everyone to maintain that, regardless of the fear that is attached to Day Zero and what it drives you to do.”