10.12.2015

Pick and Chews

A day in the scrub with some real tastemakers

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon

Before the Alliance Brands team launched their latest venture, Outrage of Modesty, they invited us on a foraging expedition to explain what they wanted to achieve.

The barman who invited us, Devin Cross, was joined by consulting barman, Luke Whearty from Operation Dagger in Singapore, Wesley Randles from the Pot Luck Club, Jessica Shepard from The Table and Roushanna Gray who runs foraging courses from the Good Hope Nursery near Cape Point, which would be our location for the day.

The idea was twofold: to share ideas about using local flavours; and then mixing these up with food and drink we’d enjoy a meal together.

Roushanna kicked things off with a little chat about everything on the table in front of us: sour fig, pig face, bloukoeniebos, wild rosemary, tick berry bush, garlic buchu, num num, aromatic sage, confetti bush, wild sorrel… and then grabbing a basket and a pair of secateurs we all went walkabout, foraging for these things.

While picking plants we picked Roushanna’s brain about foraging, as she’s the type of person who skips the produce aisle at the Pick n Pay every single time.

We don’t encourage picking bulbs and underground roots and tubes, for sustainable reasons. Because once you’ve picked it then it’s gone. The only one we encourage is the wild garlic. It’s quite popular in landscaping and grows very fast. It’s delicious and you can use the whole thing. The leaves are like chives and the white root you use as you would garlic. It also has a beautiful purple flower for salads.

Num num is a delightful berry and my favourite fruit. It’s really high in vitamin c and pectin, which makes it great for jams because it sets so quickly. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s poisonous because when you pick it there’s a milky substance, but the clue is that it has these very sharp thorns and that’s to protect the fruit. Plants are clever.

Spekboom is full of vitamin C. They say if you have two of these leaves a day then that’s your vitamin C quota done. It’s indigenous and very easy to propagate. Break a piece off and stick it in the ground and it will grow. One spekboom plant compensates for a family of four’s carbon sequestration over their entire lives. If you cook with it the flavor turns lemony. So it pairs really well with egg dishes like omelets and frittatas.

There are some rules for sustainable, responsible and legal foraging practices. Only pick what you need. If you come across a bush only pick a third at the most, so that the plant can regenerate again. It’s also very important that you leave flowers for the pollinators. Only pick at unpolluted environments. In town especially. If you’re foraging along dog walking paths or jogging paths then only pick from the waist up. And then always make sure that you have a 100% positive ID.

After a trip to Scotland last year, where he foraged for botanicals that are native to Isla in order to win a cocktail competition up there, Devin sought out Roushanna so as to become more accustomed with South African fynbos. Speaking to him while foraging for fynbos it became clear that craft spirits and the spirit of Aperitivo are about to change the cocktail game as we know it.

I realized that there’s so much stuff that we’re not using that we should be using. A lot of these botanicals are quite bitter, and if you look at things like Martini Rosso, Campari, and the really bitter Vermouths, they’re all made with botanicals, so why can’t we make our own?

Caperitif is made with fynbos and is blowing up overseas. Our biodiversity here means that using the stuff around us isn’t such a big ask, and instead of waiting for the next small batch Vermouth or Amaro to come from overseas we should create our own.

If you look at Italy, they have a long history of making these drinks and that’s because of their biodiversity. Ours is as good. We make wine and we could make these other drinks, too.

The culture of Aperitivo is really important. It gets you ready for the night. Gets your digestive juices going. It’s really bitter and makes you crave things and so it’s nice to start your dinner with. We don’t really have that culture here. But we could.

Maceration is where you steep alcohol in something. So that’s where you’ll put your wild mint in gin.

Liqueur you take a spirit and then add sugar to it, quite a lot, and then you add herbs and spices.

Vermouths are just fortified wines. You take wine, steep it in wild botanicals, sometimes a month, sometimes years, and you fortify it with a high proof spirit before adding sugar.

An Amaro is more spirit focused. You add more sugar and more bittering agents. You’re essentially making a bitter liqueur.

Our clientele want something different. They’ve learned how to drink spirits, they’ve learned how to drink spice, and now they need to know bitter.

Negroni’s are the new Old Fashioned. They’re becoming more popular. That’s gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. It’s an unctuous acquired taste and the colour and texture is really nice, too.

After we’d finished foraging, our baskets pregnant with produce, the chefs amongst us set about using what we’d foraged to make lunch.

The Table

Together with her husband Luke Grant, Jess took “an extended holiday” where the couple moved to Greyton, rented a cottage and grew vegetables. “As long as you give something attention you can really grow anything,” Jess tells me while finely slicing squashes that she’s grown herself. When they were ready for their next venture, The Table, the couple took the gardening skills they’d learned from their sabbatical and focused on fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Pot Luck Club

Wesley has already rubbed wild garlic on filets of trout and is busy with a granola that has so much going on I can’t write all the ingredients down fast enough. “We have a guy who forages mushrooms for the restaurant,” says Wesley chopping up num nums. “And he brought these in once and I had no idea what to do with them. So this is actually a first for me.” Wes has been working with a few smaller independents that have started businesses selling stuff to the restaurant, but is now facing a problem where he needs a constant supply to meet the demand of feeding 80 people a day. “So we’re trying to find a balance now.”

The food is ready and all that’s left is for Luke and Devin to put a heap of foraged fruit and herbs into a cocktail shaker and smash it all up for some refreshing Gin Smashes. We sit down on rustic furniture under a tree for lunch where Luke and Devin tell us about the bar they’ll open in a few days time, Outrage of Modesty.

“Bartending isn’t just about the drinks,” says Devin. “That’s the easy part. The real work is being a good host, making people feel comfortable and making sure that they have the right drink at the right time. From when you walk into the door to when you get to the bar is half the experience. Inside there’s no standing, it’s a seated venue, super minimal, light and airy, quite a Scandinavian meets Japanese style. Then you get into the drinks.”

“At Outrage our main focus will be making drinks using native ingredients,” says Luke. “So if you come down and order a Negroni, okay, we can make that for you, but you’re going to miss out on the whole experience because you could have a Negroni anywhere in the world. It’s only three ingredients over ice, but lets try get a little bit more imaginative, why do you like a Negroni? It’s bitter. And there’s so many different ways that you can incorporate bitter into a drink other than using Campari.”

The changing menu will always be small, less than ten options, and will include a drink called Bee Pollen, which is essentially an old fashioned, but not quite…

“We’re taking a blend of whiskies and will macerate it overnight with the native bee pollen, which produces a really waxy, not sweet, unique flavor. A big part of me being here with you today is just figuring out how we’re going to do all this. How much do we forage daily, things like flowers, and then what do we pick monthly, or seasonally, and preserve? I very much want the menu to be seasonal and alive.”

Imbibers can expect a cocktail that uses Amasi as well as something with fynbos and toasted puffed rice. It’s all about a complete experience where the visual is as important as the taste.

Says Luke: “You must want to drink it when you see it.”