Chef Johke Steenkamp is on a culinary mission to create delicious vegan food and sweet treats based on her love for Mother Earth and all her creatures.
Steenkamp, a UCT fine arts graduate turned chef and business owner, is on a mission to change the way people enjoy vegan food and sweet treats. She aims to do this through her business called Grumpy & Runt, nestled in Dunkley Street, Gardens, Cape Town, alongside her partner Carla.
“There is definitely a perception that vegan food is boring, though I can see how that is finally changing,” she shares with Food For Mzansi.
“There are so many wonderful offerings on the market, and knowledge around vegan cooking has become much more abundant and accessible.”
Mara whoever said green was boring?
It’s 2022 and if you still think that all vegans eat are green leaves and fruit for dessert, then you’re living under a rock, Steenkamp says.
While the plant-based diet has gained momentum over the past few years due to its health benefits, many people are still ignorant to this lifestyle.
But this little deli is making baked sweeties accessible and fun for vegans and non-vegans with its delicious donuts that has everyone in Cape Town coming back for more.
“I do think that people have been uncertain about what exactly to eat or to cook and how to achieve those satisfying flavours. I have also definitely experienced the vegan food offerings in restaurants as unimaginative and strange.”
Love for veggies inspired the business
Steenkamp was a vegetarian from a young age and as she got older, she wanted to do more for her health, for animals and the planet, so she transitioned to veganism.
She admits that the decision wasn’t easy but after the overwhelming research she had done on the harmful effects her previous diet had on animals and the planet, she knew it was the right thing to do. Today she is slowly changing the way people perceive vegan food through her mouth-watering creations.
Vegan food does not have to be boring at all, she says. “It’s just in the way we put our food together and consider each element of the dish – the same we would for meat dishes. Vegetables are super stars too!”
Food For Mzansi talked all things vegan with the chef.
Yamkela Welaphi: When people think of vegan food they typically do not imagine sweets. What was the inspiration behind your vegan sweet treat business?
Johke Steenkamp: Carla and I both truly love desserts. There is an element of playfulness, fantasy, nostalgia and escapism to sweet treats. We wanted to create a small little pocket of happiness and love, with an offering that would be consistently good, but with flavours that could keep changing and surprising our customers.
If you are not baking up a storm in your business, what are some fun treats you like to make in your home kitchen?
I love trying new things and setting challenges for myself, some complicated and some very simple. My favourite simple dishes to make are dahl, veggie curries, ramen, crepes and apple crumble with coconut custard.
What is the inspiration behind your food journey?
My biggest inspiration has been my love for animals. I started this culinary journey to create delicious vegan food based on this overwhelming and ever-growing love I feel for the earth and for animals.
I also draw inspiration from my personal relationships and nostalgia – memories around food and trying to recreate feelings of happiness connected to food.
I’ve always worked in creative industries so sometimes a beautiful shape or colour can inspire me to create a dish or a range of desserts.
What have been some major highlights in your food journey?
The biggest highlights of my career have been to open a business with Carla and to be able create opportunities for other women to grow within this industry. It’s also been an honour to meet and cook for incredible individuals on film sets, in crazy houses and for weird and wonderful functions.
One of the things that really amazes me daily is to see how the vegan community is growing and knowing that I am contributing to that, even if it’s in a small way.
Where did your love for food stem from?
I used to bake with my grandmother. Everything she made tasted like love. She was very playful, and the kitchen was a naughty, experimental and expressive space. I also really love cooking for people, so I treasure memories of cooking for my family and friends. Food is really what brought me and partner Carla together. I have a series of memories so vivid, of us sharing food – what we ate, how it made us feel, what the atmosphere was like, what we talked about… It’s magical to me how food can capture these intimate connections.
What is the most important life lesson you’ve learned thus far in your culinary journey?
I’ve learned the importance of being able to adapt and to be resilient when times are tough. Things are always changing and to be able to fit in with that change, or even be ahead of that change, is not always easy.
Any future plans?
Our business is still young, so we have a lot of growth ahead of us. We would love to streamline Grumpy & Runt and then open more businesses.
Do you have any words of wisdom to share with the budding foodies of Mzansi?
Keep setting challenges for yourself and read as many recipes as you can, whether you make them or not.
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