When guests dine at Sun City’s The Palace Hotel, they expect the ‘wow’ factor – and this even more of the prevailing attitude in the wake of the pandemic, which shrunk budgets for eating out, and saw more people learning how to cook at home.
“People now regard themselves as chefs, so when they eat out, they expect magic, and it is our job to deliver,” said The Palace Executive Chef, Rocco Verster. In the two years that he has been at Sun City resort, Verster has focused on bringing his modern style of cooking to the tables of hungry diners, who, he says, are increasingly focused on eating healthier meals including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free.
“With Covid-19 in the back of your mind when you sit down to eat, many South Africans are focused on mental health and mood modifying ingredients. People want to be healthy and this has meant a move to lighter food and the use of walnut and avocado oils instead of sunflower oils, as well as more fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi which provides probiotic nutrients which aid digestion. Covid-19 has fast tracked chefs to create meals with better nutrition and to increase the number of healthy options available.”
Verster’s goal is to showcase South African food in a more modern way, personalising old favourites like samp and pap to give them culinary pizzazz.
“Around 30% of Sun City’s guests are usually from international markets. People from Asia don’t want to come and eat Asian food here. We need to use homegrown ingredients like Amarula Cream, game meats like crocodile or ostrich and the array of locally grown produce like African spinach. Creating dishes like chakalaka chimichurri, ostrich Wellington or mini vetkoek with ostrich bobotie with slices of pan-fried biltong keeps guests interested and guessing what is coming next. People come to The Palace with high expectations.”
Verster said one item on his new grill menu saw the staple of mieliepap “taken to the next level”. “After it is cooked, you add condensed milk, corn which has been grilled on the cob for flavour, and make crumbed, deep-fried balls which we serve with game meat. People go crazy for it.”
The demand for vegan and vegetarian food is growing steadily, so much so that The Palace breakfast buffet now has four dedicated dishes which are purely vegan – think items like mushroom and thyme sausages and vegetarian moussaka.
“Cheffing isn’t about cooking, it is about showcasing food, and plating the dish is part of the showpiece. Another element is live cooking demos – our guests just love interacting with our chefs.”
Covid-19 health and safety regulations have seen additional attention paid to the already stringent standards, especially on the buffet stations where individualised portions are served instead of loaded serving bowls.