The Franschhoek chefs giving back during lockdown

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The Franschhoek chefs giving back during lockdown

Tourism and hospitality are the lifeblood of Franschhoek. When COVID-19 hit, chefs and restaurants turned their hands to a new kind of cooking – a project that needed to feed an entire valley.

When lockdown strarted, Chris Erasmus [of Foliage] and Darren Badenhorst [of Le Coin Français] sent out a call on the Franschhoek chefs WhatsApp group. “They said ‘Let’s cook for the community’,” says Margot Janse. Margot is the former executive chef of Le Quartier Français and The Tasting Room, who now runs school feeding scheme Isabelo, Feeding Hungry Minds, in the valley. With schools closed, she directed her efforts towards feeding the community as a whole.

With the chefs on board to help, she contacted a local veg supplier and asked for any surplus they could donate. “This huge truck arrived at 2 pm, and I joked, what if it’s full.” It was indeed. “We cleared out the tables of Darren’s restaurant and just piled it in there. There were tons, half a ton, of some things.” Another call went out on the WhatsApp group: “Now we really need hands!”

Epice, Foliage, Le Coin Français and  Maison all opened their kitchens, and dozens of chefs and restaurant staff volunteered. The team put its fine-dining skills to good use to make delicious food using basic ingredients. Large donations of veg, meat and bread helped, and Margot began negotiating for affordable maize meal and other starches. For the first time in years, Bisto made it into these restaurant kitchens.

By early May, some 34 000 kilograms of food had been processed. “It was unexpectedly hectic on many levels. I can work hard, I’ve done that many times before. But every day was different  and the days were too short. I would drive home completely drained on all levels,” says Margot.

But in a time when their businesses were in jeopardy, the project brought the chefs together. “It was a support base for the chefs. They could ask, what are you doing with your staff? How are you paying school fees?” says Margot.

In time, three NGOs – Margot’s Isabelo Foundation, FRANCO (Franschhoek Resource and Network Coordinating Organisation), and the Franschhoek Lions Ladies – pooled their efforts. Together Franschhoek (@togetherfranschhoek), was formed to pull together all the threads.

Building a long-term feeding scheme

In May, leaders from the valley’s soup kitchens met with the chefs and a new system was developed. The kitchens wanted to cook for their own communities, but needed the ingredients. Using this model, and with 14 soup kitchens cooking, Together Franschhoek is now able to provide between 12 000 and 13 000 meals a week. The chefs’ role has become managing the huge volumes of produce and ensuring that there’s always somewhere to get a meal. “I’ve got a spreadsheet. It’s all spaced out and we’ve put the kitchens on a roster,” says Margot.
“I do deals in tons now!”

“It’s like Margot’s got this huge restaurant and she’s feeding the whole valley,” says local shop owner Jeremy Afstalck. Jeremy got involved when he set up a hand-washing station outside his shop. To date, he’s set up 19 hand- washing stations, with a special focus on the soup kitchens.

In addition to the food, there are other needs – dishwashing liquid, cooking oil, gas, masks, gloves, soap. On the day we spoke, Jeremy was driving around the peninsula trying to source gas due to a province-wide shortage. Then there is a driving roster for volunteers who help distribute the food. “It’s been heartening to see the number of people who have stood up. It’s so inclusive – every race, age and gender,” says Jeremy.

Working on food security

Another Franschhoek NPO, The Barn Foundation, has goals for creating a long- term solution: helping the community to grow food. Guesthouse owner and Lions volunteer Suzette de Jonge and her husband, Jason, have dedicated two hectares of their Val D’Or property to creating a community farm. “We had a food garden for the community and when COVID-19 hit, we thought that we had better upscale,” says Suzette. Volunteers from the soup kitchens tend the land, and in six months, a lot of the food will come from this garden. “Eventually we’d like to be able to employ some of the volunteers,” says Suzette.

Looking forward

Jeremy has seen a rise in the demand at the soup kitchens. “This is not going to go away in two or five months. We’re looking at a year at least,” says Margot. While monetary donations keep the scheme going, there are other ways to help. “Come and support the industry!” says Margot. “Order food, or come and eat in the restaurants.”


1. Donate via SnapScan (see code below)
2. Donate via EFT: Name: ISABELO
Feeding Hungry Minds Bank: FNB Franschhoek Branch Code: 250655 Account : 62802899221 Swift Code: FIRNZAJJXXX Reference: FDM Fund
3. Donate via PAYFAST

TASTE Article by: TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.

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