Jessica Shepherd and her husband, Luke Grant, have grown something of a cult following thanks to their farm-to-table food philosophy and the extraordinary setting of their award-winning restaurant, The Table at De Meye. Here’s what makes them tick, plus some tips on how to introduce more sustainable choices into your own cooking.
If you have a taste for sustainability, you can take a leaf out of Jessica Shepherd’s book. This award-winning young chef and co-owner of The Table at De Meye is a foodie inspiration. Down-to-earth simplicity, mouthwatering and honest country fare and an idyllic boutique-winery setting are the hallmarks of The Table restaurant. Each week Jessica – who, together with Luke, is the creative genius behind this blissful Stellenbosch eatery – selects fresh seasonal ingredients from their abundant veggie garden as well as ethically sourced meats and delicious fare from local farms and producers in the area to transform into that weekend’s lunch menu.
So it doesn’t surprise us at all that Jessica’s favourite Le Creuset cookware includes iconic classics like the Signature Round and Oval cast iron casseroles. ‘They are perfect for cooking one-pot meals! I use them for slow-cooking meat at The Table or pot roasting whole chickens. I’ve even used the round casserole for baking bread. Marseille is a favourite Le Creuset colour, but I would love to add some of the Soleil yellow pieces to my collection, as well as the new Deep Teal – so warm and vibrant!’
It is just this kind of whole-hearted, sunny approach that has earned The Table its cult following as well as multiple accolades including the ‘Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award’ and a place on the coveted Eat Out 500 list of South Africa’s 500 top restaurants for the last four years running.
Inspired by The Table’s passion for truly good food, we asked Jess to tell us more. Here is what she had to say…
The defining essence of The Table at De Meye is a table shared with wonderful company, in beautiful and relaxed surroundings, a meal served generously and prepared from locally sourced ingredients.
The menus that I prepare at The Table are simple but delicious. The most important thing for me is to showcase the freshness of the ingredients and to share with guests the providence of their meal. Personal food philosophies include sourcing responsibly, eating with the season and growing some of our own. I was fortunate to grow up in the kitchen, not surrounded by professional chefs but by individuals with a natural love for food and cooking. That’s where I began to appreciate the importance of food in our lives, and where I discovered the joy I get from cooking for others.
I love to work with the ingredients provided by the farms and small producers that we support, and look forward to receiving their weekly availability lists as that is what determines what I will be cooking and putting on the menu that particular week. The way I cook is very much influenced by what is in season at that moment, and I love that I can be creative with the ways in which I bring ingredients together. Having my own garden at the restaurant in which we grow some of our own produce is also incredibly rewarding but has been challenging given the current drought in the Western Cape.
Food is so incredibly nostalgic. The taste, smell and sight of food have formed some of my fondest memories, and it is those memories that inspire me. Some of the best compliments I have received are from guests who, having eaten my food, have been reminded of their own childhood. I would like to see more people cooking at home and considering the quality of the ingredients they use – whether they are inspired by the vegetables at a local farmers’ market or supporting an ethical butcher.
Luke (my husband) was the initiator of building a garden at The Table and earmarked the perfect site for it. He played a big role in the design of the garden and introduction of permaculture techniques. We use recycled and natural materials for the construction of our beds, absolutely no pesticides or herbicides are used, and kitchen scraps go towards preparing the compost for the garden. I do most of the planting and decide what will be grown and, ultimately, served on our menu.
I will only serve pasture-raised meat and eggs, as well as fruit and vegetables that are in season. Imported fruit and vegetables are a big no for me.
Taste is the most important, non-negotiable element in cooking, and I believe that this comes from the quality and freshness of the ingredients you use. I value that the vegetables I serve at The Table have been harvested that week and haven’t been sitting in cold storage for a month. This plays a big role in the flavour of a dish. The same applies to meat, eggs and dairy. It is really just about sourcing the best ingredients possible
How to Introduce Sustainable Choices into Your Own Cooking
Here are Jessica’s five top tips:
1. Get to know your local suppliers, either by visiting a local farmers market or discovering an ethical butcher in your area.
2. Source responsibly, such as only eating off the SASSI green list.
3. Eat with the seasons.
4. Grow some of your own, even if it is just fresh herbs.
5. Eat more vegetables.
The Table is open for a three-course set-menu lunch from Thursdays to Sundays. To find out what is on this weekend’s seasonal menu or book a long, lazy lunch at this wonderful farm restaurant, visit The Table at De Meye.
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