It is never too late to learn, even when it is about something you think you understand. And so, quite by chance, I recently gained some fresh insight on the subject of heritage from Chef Eric Bulpitt.
Heritage is part of my everyday life as it is one of our brand associations for La Motte. Our rich French Huguenot winemaking heritage does of course take centre stage, but we also farm sustainably and conserve our resources to preserve our natural heritage and we are passionate about our art as well as culinary heritage.
But the broader concept – heritage from a South African perspective – is quite complex. We have such a variety of languages and cultures, history and traditions. Celebrating heritage usually has everyone focused on what they hold dear traditionally, but this can easily be a dividing factor. And it is in addressing this complexity, that I found Eric’s perspective so relevant.
Explaining the estate restaurant’s focus on heritage cuisine in an interview, the chef said that he, like many other chefs, is inspired by the tastes and flavours of his childhood. Although this is an important part of heritage food, he also appreciates that heritage is much broader than our own experiences. He loves the authenticity of the concept, but struggled to come to terms with what exactly it entails. He then realised that heritage is really about stories. And from a culinary perspective, it is the stories told by the food on your plate. Our love for smoky flavours tells the story of an outdoor-lifestyle, cooking over open fires. The various methods of preservation, from fermentation to curing to drying, tell the story of our vast country, how we had to preserve food on our travels and explorations. The interesting use of spice shares the spice route story. Innovative ways with fruit ending up in preserves, jams, sweets, chutneys… tell the tale of sailors in need of vitamins, the famous company gardens…
Stories, whether they are about food or art or culture, exist because of people. People who cared about creating and preserving and establishing a tradition. And while the variety that is heritage in South Africa might cause us to focus on our differences, it is when we hear the stories and meet the people behind the stories, that we find what we have in common. If we focus on the people, we would get to the heart of heritage and have even more to celebrate on Heritage Day!