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What do you get when you combine two Gauteng-based chefs and a chartered course of seafood discovery? An epic #Soweto2Sodwana adventure!
I was very fortunate to have grown up at the coast and have many memories of beach clean-ups (before they became “cool”) and wading through rock pools exploring the hidden secrets of the sea with my mom.
Sadly I left the Durban shores for the bustling streets of Jo'burg, but it seems the ocean was not ready to leave me as I now have the honour of protecting the ocean’s resources as WWF’s Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) officer in Gauteng.
At its core, WWF-SASSI is a consumer programme, aimed at making people aware of the crisis our oceans are facing. With an easy to use “traffic-light” guide, WWF-SASSI helps you to make responsible choices when it comes to seafood. Over the past 14 years WWF-SASSI has been very successful in working with chefs to help tranform the seafood industry, but this has not been the case in Gauteng, especially when you consider that the province is the second largest consumer of seafood in South Africa.
How do we begin to transform the Gauteng seafood industry? With a road trip to the coast of course!
The “Soweto2Sodwana journey of chefs” was the brainchild of Explore4Knowledge and WWF-SASSI. The chartered journey was aimed at creating greater awareness around the impacts of unsustainable seafood consumption, understanding the critical value of our oceans and impacts of fishing.
We invited two young and dynamic Gauteng-based chefs Freedom Khanyile and Terror Lekopa – both gastronomy masters – to join this epic adventure. Terror won the coveted Unilever Junior Chef of the year award in 2017 while Freedom took top honours in the starters and mains categories of the South African Avocado Growers Association competition last year.
Together we were going to explore where the seafood they serve and love to eat comes from. Along the way I got to relive some of my fondest childhood memories.
Traversing the seven-hour long-drive from Soweto to Kosi Bay in a convoy of three 4x4’s, the chefs got their first taste of the importance of sustainable seafood and making responsible choices when choosing what to buy and serve. It was immediately clear that living in landlocked Joburg posed a challenge to our chefs’ understanding of the importance of conserving our marine resources… until we got to Kosi Bay.
On arrival at Kosi Bay, the team was treated to the warm, pristine waters of the Indian Ocean. Here they got to observe an old artisanal form of fishing and actually witness how fish can be caught. Then it was time to get wet. For both chefs, this was the first time they would don a snorkel and mask and submerge their heads below the ocean waters. This snorkeling experience left them flabbergasted. A child-like wonderment and fascination of the sea sparked in their eyes. We then headed out to open waters on a chartered boat for an ocean dive in Sodwana Bay.
And voila! The chefs started to really connect with oceans – seeing where our fish comes from and exploring the interconnectedness of the natural systems they are very much part of.
After submerging the chefs in all things ocean, they were pitted against WWF-SASSI braai ambassador, Chris Kastern in a sustainable seafood ‘braai-off’. Hake, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and green-listed mussels were transformed into five-star restaurant quality dishes and exquisitely presented. Refined techniques were employed to expert levels such that we were served a delicious strawberry and coriander cheesecake in the bush, nogal!
Meanwhile, the trip was inspiring conversations centred on being sustainable, making wise choices, developing new and creative recipes using green-listed species. Not to mention, the snorkel and dive experiences!
The city of Durban was our last port of call. Terror and Freedom were thrilled to meet some of our WWF-SASSI associated chefs who go above and beyond to promote sustainable seafood. The line-up included SASSI’s Trailblazer winners, Chefs Jackie Cameron, Constantijn Hahndiek and Graham Nielson – all true ocean champions. Chef Nielson played host at his bistro, serving up an impeccable green-listed menu and proving that seafood can be both sustainable and delicious!
No journey would be complete without a closer examination of one of South Africa’s most loved seafood dishes. The chefs learnt how prawn trawling is one of the most destructive forms of fishing with an estimated 75% of the prawn catch being wasted. And farmed prawns are not the “silver bullet” solution either as hectares of mangroves are removed to establish these farms. A trip to the mangroves and the Raffia Palm forests made the impact of unsustainable fishing practices clear to Freedom and Terror.
Our final stop was another highlight with a guided tour of uShaka Marine World, where we learnt about turtles and the impact of bycatch (accidentally catching species you don't want) followed by more snorkelling and the cherry on the top of the cheesecake, shark cage diving!
As our journey came to an end, it was heartwarming to hear both chefs revealing that this experience had been life altering and that they are now more than ever committed to becoming champions for our oceans. For me, the real work starts now. In turning the tide in Gauteng, with champions like chefs Freedom and Terror, we have the ingredients for a winning recipe for change!
The handy WWF-SASSI seafood list makes best choices, easy!