Matthew Ballenden has created a lifestyle that allows his love for fresh, wholesome flavours to flourish.
“Fresh Earth is an extension of my lifestyle – that’s why I went into it in the first place. I was unhappy in my corporate job and wanted to blur the line between work and living. To do that, I had to create an environment that was in line with me, and I dig food. I’m crazy about food; it’s the centrepiece of my life, but I refuse to eat junk.”
As we sit in his restaurant and health food store, Fresh Earth, Matthew Ballenden tells me how it all started. Surrounded by vegan, vegetarian and just generally natural products, it’s clear he doesn’t do junk. He continues, “I don’t like to eat food when I don’t know what’s in it, where there’s no traceability or accountability. No matter how nice it may be, I like to know the impact it will have on my body.”
When I ask about his personal food philosophy Matthew reveals he’s not a vegetarian or vegan himself. “I don’t label myself – I don’t want to attach myself to a concept. Having said that, I was there – I was a vegan and raw-foodist; my journey has been 20 years in the making and has taken me to where I am now. My concept is life, to the maximum and in full awareness. If I want to do something, I do it.”
Matthew is a trained chef who headed instead into operations. Being in the kitchen was always a hobby, but he has created the menu at Fresh Earth himself, with the concept being to offer exciting food in a relaxed environment. He wanted to ensure that just because there’s no steak or burger on the menu, the experience does not have to be diminished. “A dining experience is not only defined by food, there’s alchemy happening. Fresh Earth attracts individuals, from business people to students, and I wanted to create a safe space that offered knowledgeable advice and a non-judgemental environment that’s funky with great ambience and good service.”
These days he doesn’t spend as much time in the kitchen; the business has grown and he’s now the mind behind the creative ideas. Matthew works alongside chef André Brown, whom he trained. They have branched out with a bakery that specialises in gluten-free products, which they supply to outlets around the country. Fresh Earth also offers monthly cooking courses. “We’re teaching people that healthy food can be as exciting as ‘regular’ food. It’s all to do with the attitude and the skill of the chef. Our industry has a bad reputation; as soon as you mention foods like lentils people are put off. The issue there is that the chef doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Fresh Earth offers a daily harvest table and this is the concept behind the meal that Matthew has put together for his friends today. He’s a fan of variation, which is evident with the smorgasbord of vegetarian treats he has prepared. “Everything happens around food. For me, what defines a great meal is having an abundant selection. I don’t want to have one flavour, but rather bits of this and that, and of course a beautiful glass of wine and interesting people to fuel some good conversation.”
103 Komatie Road, Emmarentia, Johannesburg. Call 011-646-4404.
By ROELENE PRINSLOO
By DOMINIQUE BROWN