Franschhoek’s chefs rally round in the heat of battle
Firefighters’ hard work stopping wildfires around the town has more than paid off
While flames engulfed nature reserves around the winelands town of Franschhoek, Western Cape, the town’s award-winning chefs turned up the heat in their own kitchen crucibles.
About 170 firefighters battling to prevent the blaze from affecting agricultural property in the valley since Wednesday were served breakfasts, lunches and dinners prepared by chefs at some of the country’s top restaurants.
Chris Erasmus of Foliage wakes up at dawn most mornings to forage for mushrooms, but over the weekend he wandered the scorched fynbos and veld in vain after a week of rampant fires. That didn’t stop him from lending a helping hand though.
“All the chefs in town get together for a beer or on our WhatsApp group to talk about organising suppliers and giving each other a hand when we need one,” he said.
“So it was simple for this situation to get everyone together and help out the guys who are battling to save the town. Over the last few days, all the restaurants have chipped in to prepare these guys meals.
“People forget that this is a farming community, and we are still trying to be a part of that and help where we can. Some of these farms have been having a really difficult time this week.”
The effort has led to friendly competition between restaurateurs, who have vied to whip up the “ultimate meal” for the crews.
Frittatas with minced bacon were on Friday’s menu, while the firefighters enjoyed an “enormous” full continental breakfast on Saturday.
Lodine Maske of delicatessen Fromages de France, who has been involved in the logistics of getting the food to the fire crews and co-ordinating the restaurants, said the effort was nothing unusual for the small community.
“This is what Franschhoek does,” she said. “Everyone is prepared to help each other, and we thought that the guys should be eating something substantial, so we arranged for some of the [South African] top 20 restaurateurs to help out.
“Many of the firefighters have never eaten at these places, but now they are getting treated to top food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The WhatsApp group has been ground zero for the gourmet operation, with chefs rallying to get fish and chip dinners, hamburgers and chicken quarters to the crews.
“It’s been a tough week so it’s great to get the spirits up with a bit of banter and some light competition,” said Erasmus.
As of Saturday morning, the fire was deemed to be under control and the Franschhoek Pass was reopened. The road – one of only two into the village – had been closed for most of the week by flames that tore through the Hottentots Holland, Limietberg and Mont Rochelle nature reserves.
Kyle Norris, from La Petite Ferme restaurant, saw his premises in the pass evacuated on Wednesday night, with the flames “120m from our door”, but returned to contribute hundreds of meals to the feeding effort.
“It was a close call, but these guys on the ground have been machines, so we needed to do our part too,” he said.
“We heard that they had been fighting fires for two weeks already, and the poor guys had been eating bully beef and baked beans, so we helped them where we can.”
Residents have been helping in other ways, moving livestock to safe zones and ferrying food to wherever it was required.
Several properties were evacuated during the week, but there was no damage to structures, and no injuries were reported.
Cape Winelands district municipality spokesperson Jo-Anne Otto said the community effort and “gourmet food” had been “incredible”.
“The whole situation is so heartwarming, there are also people who have individually donated homemade gifts, which is also really sweet,” she said.
“We would like to thank the community of Franschhoek for the incredible support in the form of food, water, equipment and manpower.”
Charcutier Neil Jewell of Bread and Wine restaurant, who is renowned for his bacon and gammon cuts, threw a few rashers into the mix.
“We like to spoil our firemen here,” he said. “It’s about community spirit. When you put things into perspective, these guys are working extremely hard to protect our farms and vineyards, so the price of food is totally offset by the need to ensure that they’re able to do their jobs. It’s a way for us to give back.”
Asked who had prepared the best meals, he was unambiguous in his judgment. “Look, when it’s my bacon and Chris Erasmus’s cooking, then come on … we know who’s put the best breakfast together.”