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Meal kits from Restaurant JDB a class act

It can’t be business as usual for the hospitality industry anywhere in the world, even with vaccine protection, but that hasn’t stopped inventive restaurateurs from upping the ante when it comes to creating delicious take away meals. In Harare, one can order for takeout or delivery anything from a meat pie to a tub of giblets, a mushroom and blue cheese burger to a canister of chicken and barley soup, or from a platter of sushi to a meal kit in a box worthy of a Michelin-starred chef.

Beetroot and fennel salad from Restaurant JDB.

Confined at home by the current lockdown level 4, and consuming TV dinners night after night while watching the Tokyo Olympics, memories of high quality food, stellar customer service and the bottle of Ernie Els Proprieter’s Blend 2017 you once shared with friends, will frequently return, making you pine for fine dining.

So when pot noodles and beans on toast are no longer acceptable, consult Chef J @ Home for a meal kit containing a three course feast, with all the trimmings.

Chef J, aka Chef Johannes de Bruijn, is the first restaurateur to offer meal kits in a box to discerning foodies in Harare. Beautifully packaged in a container resembling the mystery box in Master Chef Australia, the sumptuous repast comes with easy to follow instructions for preparation. There is even an online tutorial to help with the finer details.

Boxes are to be collected from the newly-opened, state-of-the-art Restaurant JDB, at Amanzi Lodge in Kambanji. A delivery service is also available. Every week the menu changes, each combination sounding more alluring than the last.

Meal kit from Restaurant JDB.

In Week 1, the box contained a starter of potato and roasted garlic soup, with small containers of truffle crème fraiche and herb oil, to be added after heating. Garnishes of crisp fried onion and croutons were packed separately. Main course was a deboned duck confit with new potatoes, on a bed of lentil and bean ragout, ready to heat up, with a small container of citrus duck jus to add at the last minute. A roast beetroot and fennel salad with a separate dressing and edible flower garnish, completed the dish. A dessert of lemon poppy cake, lemon curd, meringue and lemon froyo (frozen lemon yogurt) completed the feast.

The JDB experience (as Chef Johannes likes to call it) at home may be very different from a visit to larnie Restaurant JDB in Kambanji, but it’s nevertheless exciting, challenging and very delicious. In honour of the occasion, I took out my best table cloth, plates, and flatware, and George opened a bottle of Merlot. If your wine cellar/drinks cupboard is bare, resident sommelier Ernest can give you advice online or at the collection point, on what wines to pair with your meal.

Take your time reading the instructions. I think I got everything right, although in the heat of the moment, I forgot to open the little sachet of freshly chopped parsley to garnish the duck.

Poppy seed cake assembled at home from meal kit from Restaurant JDB.

The duck confit and lentil ragout were a huge success, and the flavour of the citrus duck jus was spectacular. Sorry, chef, but the potatoes were undercooked, although I left everything in the oven for the required length of time.

The potato and garlic soup, said to be a favourite in the restaurant, was not something I would order again, and I could barely taste the truffle in the crème fraiche. The crouton and crisp onion garnishes, however, did give the soup style and crunch.

Feeling replete after the main course, we decided to keep the dessert for the next day, and I put everything away in the fridge. There was some pressure involved in assembling the lemon poppy cake as beautifully as possible, as Chef J was offering a free meal kit to the most impressively styled dessert, entries to be submitted on Instagram. ( Sadly I didn’t win.)

Chef Johannes is young, talented and ambitious. He’s also an active member of the Restaurants Association of Zimbabwe, and keen to promote and support the hospitality industry during the dark days of the pandemic. Although trained in the French culinary arts, he’s also fascinated by Asian cuisine, and on rare moments off duty, he and his wife Kayla can be seen eating out at Harare’s popular Thai restaurants. On frequent trips to Thailand, he became proficient in the art of Muay Thai (kickboxing), where he won awards.

Nowadays, Chef J is focused on working with his team of talented chefs at Restaurant JDB, and creating the inspired meal kits that  have proved so popular. It’s not easy to get things absolutely right all the time, but the kitchen is now into Week 5, and there’s no doubt that Chef Johannes de Bruijn’s meal kits are a class act.

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