Cooking is not time consuming, says Errieda du Toit. There is a need to break this stigma brought on by the convenience of fast food. Du Toit is on mission to encourage more South Africans to make the return to the kitchen.
There’s no such thing as “too busy” to cook a good meal, she firmly believes. Her biggest challenge as a renowned food commentator and content creator is inspiring people to understand that there is immense joy in cooking a meal from scratch.
“Time spent in the kitchen is valuable to one’s well-being,” she says.
Du Toit is an award-winning author who has published a total of ten cookbooks which tell the intricate story of South African cooking. The “Huiskok” (home cook), as she is fondly known, says that we have become complacent in our cooking practices and fostered a love affair with fast foods.
Food is fostering connections, she says. It creates bonds between yourself and ingredients, loved ones and even with the farmer who produced the food.
“If you look at food, it is an unselfish act. You put so much of yourself into it,” she proclaims.
This is especially valuable amid a global pandemic. The health crisis has highlighted the fragility of our relationship with food. Under lockdown we saw food prices skyrocket leaving many cash-strapped citizens in crisis, she says.
“Even if you cook the most basic foods, food is expensive. We are so reliant on supermarkets that we even saw the supply chain being broken. Now is an important time to be aware of how food is produced,” she says.
Consumers of food have slowly begun making the return to the soil, she says. Even city dwellers are now growing their own foods on balconies. “There is a big yearning to go back to the land, to go back to the earth, because we feel so vulnerable and we need our independence back.”
When Du Toit was a young girl her parents sought out better opportunities in the city and migrated from the Klein Karoo dorpie of Touws River to Cape Town, where she still resides today. Here the foundations of her deep appreciation and love for food were cultivated.
Her parents grew up in the countryside and had extensive backgrounds in farming. With their move to the city they brought along gardening techniques that they would use to grow a vegetable garden in the backyard of their suburban home.
Her mother, an avid cook, would make simple farm-to-table style meals and preserve fruits into jams or canned fruit from the massive fruit trees in the backyard. The garden came in handy in an era where supermarkets were not as easily accessible as they are today, she says.
“When you burn food, don’t think of it as burnt, think of it as deeply caramelised!”
“It was a natural thing (for us) to cook with the seasons and to be independent. My mother knew how to be thrifty with food, how to not waste anything; they grew up with a great respect for food.”
Du Toit never thought she would make a career of her passions for food. She took quite the detour on this journey.
She had initially studied art at Stellenbosch University, but was told that she was not all that talented and advised to set her sights on home economics. After completing her qualification in food direction, she did a two-year teaching stint and later entered the corporate world.
At age 40, though, something changed, she says. “You could call it a mid-life crisis or, better yet, an assessment of one’s life, but I realised that I would possibly like to follow my love for food and writing.”
She explored her passion for food and channelled it into her work as a food commentator, content creator, recipe developer and author. Her work in food commentary saw her present a radio programme with RSG that ran for 15 years. Du Toit has been recognised as the visionary behind KykNet cooking competition Kokkedoor. The show pits home cooks against chefs, bringing time-tested recipes and food history to the centre stage.
In 2019, she published her 10th cookbook Share, which as an ode to community recipe sharing. This book tells the story of South African food and its ability to foster connection between people from various backgrounds.
“Through food, we are all connected. Everyone eats, and everyone has their own personal relationship or story with food. That story-telling aspect is what truly fascinates me.”
Her cooking inspiration comes from those who came before us, she says. “Those are the home cooks that made food by hand and developed techniques and ways to cook food with simple ingredients.”
Du Toit believes that there is an urgent need to reconnect with fresh ingredients. The farmer-consumer relationship is crucial and has been reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic, she says. The reliance on supermarkets has severed the connection between farmer and consumer.
“We do not have an understanding of what it took to grow produce. That is why you see a resurgence in these fresh food markets, because people now want to see the person that raised the food that they eat.”
Du Toit says that her journey is littered with kitchen fails and she believes that food is in its essence about trial and error.
It was chef Peter Goffe-Wood who taught her this, she fondly recalls. “He said to me, ‘Errieda, when you burn food, don’t think of it as burnt, think of it as deeply caramelised!’” She bursts into laughter.
To this day those words have resonated in her cooking. “I think we take life so seriously and we can even take food seriously. I believe new dishes were born out of things that went wrong in the kitchen. From these mistakes we learn how to do things.”
“Come to grips with things that went wrong, pick yourself up and find a solution,” she advises.