A positive trend in the Cape winelands has been a shift towards a ‘farm to table’ ethos, with properties such as Babylonstoren, La Motte, Oak Valley, Spier and Waterkloof having paved the way for others to follow.
The philanthropic owners, Rob and Sam Lundie, and the team at the skilfully revitalised Boschendal Estate in Franschhoek are serious proponents of this shift, driven by doing things the way they should be done to afford a sustainable future. While the werf (farmyard) and its gracious historic buildings retain their timeless appeal, they have stylishly revamped interiors and accommodation has also been added to the mix (Boschendal was this year’s regional winner in the accommodation category of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network Best Of Wine Tourism awards).
The farming principles are of key relevance, as their inaugural annual Farm to Table Festival, held over the weekend of 23 –24 April, embodied. Both days were filled with informative workshops, talks and demos, from urban food to biological agriculture and seed saving, as well as guided tastings of coffee, craft beer, artisan gin and, of course, Boschendal’s wines.
A national treasure, Boschendal was admittedly looking a bit neglected a few years ago but it has undergone way more than a mere facelift under its new ownership. There has been a metamorphosis on all levels, from the ground up, literally, with fallow soils re-inoculated and returned to a state of optimal health to create a bio-friendly food garden.
The Werf Food Garden, designed by Jan Blok, Boschendal’s landscape architect, is managed by the knowledgeable and green-fingered Megan Mc Carthy. A walk with her around the approximately 2.5 hectares under cultivation, which encompasses about half a hectare under protective shade cloth, was a revelation (informative guided garden tours are on offer; see the website for details). She follows a ‘no till’ gardening system so as to preserve the soil ecology, for example earthworms and other beneficial organisms, some of which assist in controlling invaders. No harmful chemicals or sprays are used. As a result, the space has returned to a more balanced natural state. Key indicators are a return of various species of frog, praying mantises and prolific birdlife. Also soon to be part of the garden’s eco-system are free-ranging chickens to aid pest control by eating insects and also to fertilise the soil.
It’s great to see Boschendal’s chefs getting up close and personal with their ingredients. On our walk we saw several in aprons with baskets, picking gigantic mushrooms and other fresh produce to serve at lunch later that day.
The gardens are brightened by pretty edible flowers for use in salads. There’s a quirky rhubarb labyrinth, the biggest granadillas I’ve ever seen, young fig trees, herbs, and beds of various types of lettuce, among other vegetables. All the leaves for the two picnic outlets are supplied by the food garden and there’s even a surplus, some of which goes into the exceptional value for money weekly ‘Boschenbox’, which can be pre-ordered on a Tuesday and collected from the farm on a Thursday. We bought one to try and couldn’t believe the flavour of the beetroots and other fresh produce, including beautiful rainbow carrots, all in biodegradable packaging. Some produce is sold in the on-site deli, and the remaining balance goes to various other winelands restaurants and several organic outlets.
The like-minded team includes farmer Jason Carroll, who is responsible for the pasture-reared herd of Black Angus cattle, and Rico Vergotine, who runs a new initiative on the farm: raising pasture-fed ‘happy’ chickens. He also manages the eggmobiles.
“All the restaurants on Boschendal are windows to what we are doing on the farm,” says executive chef Christiaan Campbell. “We don’t shout it from the rooftops but we do write it on our menus. The style of food is top-end dining that really is from the farm to the table.”
Their motto succinctly sums it up: ‘Innovative country-style cuisine, using the best of available local, seasonal and ethically sourced ingredients.’ At the deli, for example, the eggs are from pasture-raised chickens, and the bacon is made by the butcher on the werf, Mark Muncer, from free-range pork, as are the pork sausages and the beef ones too, which are sourced from the farm’s own grass-fed Black Angus herd.
Another part of the approach is a commitment to using the whole animal. As Campbell explains, a meat platter for two features more than just prime cuts; it could, for example, comprise a Klein Karoo lamb rack and sausages, or rump with slow-cooked neck and shoulder. Same with beef – prime-cut sirloin could be served with slow-roasted ribs and brisket. And here slow-cooking could mean up to 48 hours in the oven at a low temperature. Vegetarians are also well catered for with delicious dishes such as slow-roasted aubergines with cashew nut cheese.
As Campbell, who has been promoting awareness of what he terms “energetic food” since his days as executive chef at Delaire, concludes: “You are getting a plate of vibrant, vital food. If you look at it from a rand-for-plate perspective, you are getting a whole lot more!”
– Lindsaye Mc Gregor