Expert chefs on the exciting food industry, trends, and going organic

Chefs, Reuben Riffel and James Khoza, are two high profile names in the industry. I recently caught up with them at a food and hospitality trade show in Johannesburg and it seems the industry is en route to be more innovative and serve up even more talent!

Sampling freshly baked croissants, savouries, cocktails and coffees, and watching live celebrity chef demonstrations was the order of the day at the opening of the Hostex trade show in Johannesburg on Sunday.

I caught up with industry leaders to discuss South Africa’s food industry, sustainability, trends and challenges.

Newly-appointed president of the South African Chefs Association, James Khoza, is the first South African-born and trained chef to lead the association in its 44 years.

Khoza’s emphasised that his main aim is to bridge the gap between young and old in the food industry.

Bridging the gap

“We have a lot of youngsters, and a lot of older guys,” Khoza explained. “There is a gap and lack of understanding between the two groups. Older guys need to be mentors and the younger guys need to be coached in order to learn the basics.”

He noted both age groups bring value, as older chefs are wiser with more experience, while younger chefs “bring their flair and technology” to the kitchen, which is “moving the industry forward”.

Celebrity chef, Reuben Riffel. Photo: Riante Naidoo.

South African award-winning chef and restauranteur, Reuben Riffel, weighed in on this, saying that “youngsters” are what’s currently the most exciting thing about the food industry.

“You know, after serving their apprenticeships working in hotels with other chefs, they have the guts to actually open their own businesses,” he said.

He added it’s great that the industry has a variety of people who bring different and interesting elements to the table with their personalities and skills.

Sustainability and organic gardening

However, what’s key to maintaining a successful and healthy food industry is sustainability, said Khoza.

With society being more conscious of its impact on the environment, many consumers are now interested and concerned about knowing where their food is coming from. “This leaves the food industry with a sense of accountability and it forces chefs to be innovative and think ahead, think sustainably,” he added.

Also in line with farming and eating sustainably, is growing organic produce. But, as Khoza pointed out, that is expensive.

“What you’re seeing now is that many consumers and restaurants are growing their own produce on rooftop gardens or using small patches in their garden,” he said. “If you can, the best thing is for people to invest in their own gardens.”

He added that by moving towards healthier food consumption habits, “we can move away from being a gluttonous nation”.

“We need to understand that food is medicine. You need to know how to cook it right, treat it right and handle it right and that’s how it will benefit you.”

Food trends

In addition to what’s good for you, foodies love to keep up with the latest trends in the industry.

Riffel said popular cooking methods at the moment include smoking, braaiing, preserving, fermenting and pickling.

As for popular types of dishes and ingredients – pomegranates, cauliflower, vegetable noodles and poké bowls top the list of trendy foods right now.

Newly appointed head of the South African Chefs Association, James Khoza. Photo: Riante Naidoo.

Khoza’s vision 

In his new role as head of the South African Chefs Association, Khoza intends taking the industry forward by unifying the country’s chef community by listening to its needs, embracing chefs and providing the required support.

He also plans to continue providing education around the culinary training offered to 800 unemployed youths every year through the association’s Economic Development Programmes. These programmes also reach out to township chefs who are taught about aggressive hygiene, especially in the wake of the recent listeriosis outbreak, as well as how to create economically viable businesses.

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