Celebrating heritage with food

Chef Jamie Rowmtree hosted a tasting menu lunch a few days prior to Heritage Day. He says its important to preserve local food.

Food is a part of our identity and heritage no matter who we are or where we come from.

This message was clear at a lunch hosted by Tamboerskloof chef Jenny Morris at Karibu Restaurant at the V&A Waterfront. Ms Morris has hosted a series of lunches in September in celebration of Heritage Month.

On Friday September 22, just a few days prior to Heritage Day, chef Jamie Rowmtree, owner and his team prepared a lunch based on South African classics. He said that food was a big part of South Africa’s heritage. “We need to keep our heritage alive by keeping our traditions and customs is. Like our country, it is diverse, it is very important to keep it alive.”

He said that he learnt to cook from his grandfather who was from England.

“I grew up with English food but then I went to an Afrikaans boarding school and was introduced to that side.”

Mr Rowmtree, who is a first generation South African, said that food was a big part of his childhood growing up. “It was a family occasion, we used to sit down for every meal. Especially on a Sunday it would be a big family gathering.”

Mr Rowmtree said that the Waterfront has a stigma from years ago that it was a tourist trap. But he says this is no longer the case. “Capetonians need to understand that it is for everyone and generally it is affordable.”

He said that his restaurant places a big emphasis on South African food. He encouraged people to study to become a chef if it was their passion but said it was hard work. “I work as a chef but I don’t consider this a job because I love what I do.”

Kevin Lee-Weitz, who is a 21-year old chef at the restaurant from Mitchell’s Plain, said that he always wanted to be a chef because he loved working with food. “The flavours, separate they are nothing but together they make a magical combination. That’s what you can get to a customer. Food is art and you are making art.”

He said that food played a big role in his childhood.

“Every morning my mom would make food for us and I would help her. That was the basis of why I wanted to become a chef.”

Another chef at the restaurant, Jonathan Mallon, said that he loves food and being a chef. The Mowbray resident said: “I love food and inspiring different people. My background of cooking was from my grandparents. They used to cook good, wholesome food and I learnt a few things from them. I like to bring that into what I cook today.”

He said he loved cooking simple, wholesome food. He said that his ultimate ambition was to have his own restaurant one day. “It’s nice to give a vintage twist to the food we serve now. It is not too over the top,” he said.

Chef Julia Mpengesi, who lives in Mfuleni, said that she loves working with food. “I’ve been working in this industry for 28 years. I like cooking very much and that is why I’m here.”

She said that her children always enjoy her cooking, especially on Sundays.

Her children’s favourites include beef stew, chicken curry or roasts and salads. “Cooking is a part of who we are.”