Camphors, the signature restaurant at 317-year-old Vergelegen Estate in Somerset West, has not only scooped sixth place in the prestigious Eat Out Mercedes Benz Restaurant Awards, but has also won the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award. 50
Renowned for its long-term environmental initiatives, Vergelegen was the first Biodiversity and Wine Initiative Champion (2005) and has also received a Mail & Guardian Greening the Future award (2008).
“We are absolutely delighted with the Eat Out recognition, as we have invested in long-term sustainability ever since Anglo American purchased the property in 1987,” said Vergelegen MD Don Tooth.“I’d like to congratulate Executive Chef Michael Cooke and the other dedicated members of the Camphors team who have worked so hard to ensure its success. We hope more people will be encouraged to travel out to Somerset West to discover our beautiful environment, cuisine, wine and service.”
The restaurant is named after five giant camphor trees, legislated as national monuments in 1942, and is located in exquisite gardens near the banks of the Lourens River. This is the only South African river that is a protected area, and 10 kilometres (of a total 20 km) flow through the estate.
Vergelegen’s famous wine is the starting point for creating the Camphors menus, which encourage guests to experiment and explore various food and wine flavour combinations. A large percentage of the vineyards are dry land, receiving no added water at all. The entire 3000 hectare property is completely self-sustainable in terms of water, with its own purification plant and an on-site water filtration system.
Michael Cooke’s hyper-seasonal cuisine reflects the wide variety of produce sourced from the farm gardens, orchards and pastures, as well as from specialist suppliers.
Cooke said the menu always embodies a sense of place. The aim is to understand and appreciate the original produce – where it comes from, the story, and the imagination and creativity invested in producing every single dish.
“Our suppliers are our heroes – and when you have fabulous ingredients, you have the responsibility to make them shine.”
At least 80% of the ingredients are sourced from hand-picked small producers. They supply pasture-raised hens (no GM feed), free range, Certified Karoo Lamb and sustainable seafood. Both wild-caught and farmed fish are locally sourced, with only WWF-SASSI green-listed species on the menu. “The menu is designed to use the whole animal, plant, fruit or vegetable and forms part of the story when describing dishes to guests. Staff are trained to respect the humblest of ingredients and to do them justice,” said Cooke.
Staff harvest rainwater and also drain ice-buckets to mop floors and water kitchen herbs. Gardens are watered before sunrise and after sunset to limit evaporation and lower water usage. Composting systems are in place and packaging is returned to suppliers for re-use. Auditing systems capture data and monitor the results of recycling.
Staff enjoy excellent working conditions and the estate has paid for training in first aid, firefighting, health and safety representation, and wine and spirits education. Camphors is audited twice-yearly on its occupational health and safety policies and procedures under ISO 14001 and OHAS 18001 certification.
Tooth added that, in addition to the green initiatives at the restaurant, the estate has cleared nearly 2200 hectares of alien vegetation. Believed to be South Africa’s largest private conservation project, this has encouraged natural flora, fauna and 80 hectares of wetlands to flourish.
The estate now has numerous antelope species, Cape leopard, caracal, honey badgers, snake weasels, silver foxes and spotted genet. At least 279 plant species have been recorded, including 22 on the Red Data List.