Duncan Welgemoed: The good old days are gone

02 November, 2017 by Annabelle Cloros

Africola’s Duncan Welgemoed reflects on the past and present of the industry. Image: Simon Bajada.

I don’t think kitchens have a place for nostalgia. I don’t lament the aggression, the misogyny, the tunnel vision, the ‘don’t ask questions, do as you’re told’ attitude. Those things have no place in today’s kitchens. If anything, I lament the romance I see lacking in young cooks today.

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I’m all for using fancy things like probes and circulators, using science to achieve exact results, but I’m too stupid to understand much in that realm beyond the difference between up and down.

My problem with the world of science in food is that it takes away the romance of cooking. I’m a tactile person. Use all your senses — smell, taste, feel the food. There’s a lot to be said for teaching the seduction and sex of cooking to young chefs. It inspires passion and inspiration; it encourages them to be connected to the food and ingredients they cook.

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I’m not interested in being a Nordic-inspired automaton that could only cook by numbers, those spritely mise en place machines. Those kids, faced with real ingredients in a domestic setting, will end up regurgitating things they are currently seeing on Instagram or out of a $200 cookbook instead of using their stomach and cooking something they actually want to eat. Turning what we do into an exact science will inevitably come to food being 3D-printed and consisting of edible micro morsels of gellan gum, nasturtiums and flecks of Neil Perry’s ponytail.

Like everything about cooking, the science to romance equation should be balanced. To be cooking on planet Earth is to be pinned by an unseen gravitational force beyond your control to the surface of an almighty bauble of consumerism, cluttered with Kiwi knives, Birkenstocks, MasterChef, sneaker sponsorships, stock cubes and Blumenthal’s interview on The Project, concocting new, frightening and exotic means of confusing the young chef, all of it revolving silently in an infinite and eternal cryovac machine.

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Yes, we should be using every bit of tech at our disposal however, we cannot ever forget that something so primal and beautiful should never just come from the head; it should dribble off your fingers, burn your lips and ultimately come from the gut.

This article originally appeared in Hospitality’s August edition.