When I met Erica for tea last Sunday morning, she told me she had been up since dawn making saffron, turmeric and coconut ice cream. “It is such a gorgeous golden colour, and I know it will taste delicious too” she grins. While she has grown the turmeric herself, coconuts are a bit of a challenge in Howick.
Erica is no ordinary cook – she is changing the world one delectable meal at the time and growing the herbs, salads, onions, garlic and greens she needs for her catering business right outside her door. “Sustainable, ethical, delicious food is my thing, and now I only cook vegetarian food.” No wonder I like her so much.
Erica wasn’t always vegetarian. Her journey started while swimming on a deserted beach in New Zealand. “Suddenly, I was surrounded by dolphins, as they circled their sonic clicking sound went straight through me. It was an incredible experience.” Knowing that dolphins were often harmed in tuna fishing, she immediately stopped using tuna and soon afterwards all fish because of overfishing and shocking farming practices. “I felt that I couldn’t complain about the state of the planet if I was not doing my best to make it better.” As a chef she started to ask about the produce and use only free range and organic wherever possible. This didn’t always go down well with the owners of the restaurants where she worked, as their focus was usually on profit. Eventually she stopped cooking commercially, horrified by the food wastage, food miles and over packaging.
Nowadays, Erica runs a vegetarian catering business in the Midlands and is a regular stall holder at the Karkloof Farmers Market, serving up scrumptious and inspiring meals that happen to be extremely good for you too. “The reaction is always amazing,” she comments, “people are surprised that vegetables taste so good and that there is such a diversity of interesting ways to use them.”
Juicing is another passion – a way to get nutrients straight into your blood stream – and her customers love her interesting, healthy combinations. “With so many people juicing as part of their cancer recovery diet, I always say, why not start drinking fresh juice while you are still healthy?” Certainly can’t do any harm. Naturally she only uses fruit and vegetables in season and is amused when asked for orange juice in the middle of summer, gently explaining that they are not in season then. She relishes every opportunity to spread the sustainable living message through her wholesome, home-made vegetarian food. “This is all part of a learning journey for many people. I am sticking to my guns even though some people tell me my business won’t succeed if I don’t compromise. I care that bears are starving because the wild salmon is overfished and no amount of profit can make up for that.”
For a taste sensation (and a little bit of learning) look out for Erica’s pop up restaurants, her foodie stalls and juicing demos – you will be delighted you did.
Contact Erica on 071 031 0182 Thank you Peter Upfold for the photographs.