Customised, Local and Seasonal Menus

Chef of Safari Blog Post – November 2022

By Dr Lauren Basson

Warning: Reading this will make you hungry. And if you’re like me, you may even drool a little.

I recently interviewed Chef Ann about her kitchen, and I now know the following:
Ann can cook just about anything. Her fine dining cuisine is appreciated as much as her whimsical desserts and fresh pastries. When she conducted a quick poll about her guests’ favourite food, she had a lot of people tell her that they couldn’t narrow it down to just one thing because everything she makes is so amazing.

One person said: ‘I really loved all the food you made, you’re just so good and talented’.

Another said: ‘It’s hard to pick because everything I’ve tasted of yours has been amazing’.

From those who had clear favourites, I was able to determine that her pumpkin fritters with caramel sauce were very popular. As were all of her pastries, including her freshly baked croissants, pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts), macarons and scones.

One person wrote: ‘Your little Portuguese custard tarts are the best I have tasted. The pastry was crisp, and the filling was creamy and delicious.’ Another said: ‘The freshly baked croissants in the morning. That’s something that only someone with a real passion for what they do can do’.

She was not the only one who was impressed with Ann’s breakfast-making skills; one person said of their favourite: ‘Eggs benedict. Ever since I tasted yours, it became my favourite breakfast’.

From Chef Ann’s repertoire of starters, the following were rated amongst the best: Stuffed mushrooms, camembert cigars and snoek pate.

For mains, most seem to have opted for meat at the heart of the meal: Bobotie, pork belly, lamb shanks, kudu, beef stew (cooked in the oven for 3 hours), lamb chops and lamb on the spit. Don’t cringe at all this meat; fellow plant-based diners, she caters for us too. Her potato wedges, roast veg and chilli pasta were also highly rated.

Ann’s bobotie was nominated by a guest who said, ‘I am picky about bobotie, I have tried it many times, and it’s often too sweet or too bitter from too much turmeric. But yours is amazing!’

And then for dessert (and I have to say I was impressed with this list): crème brulee, homemade ice cream (Ann’s grandmother’s recipe), malva pudding and poached pears.

Ann has also dazzled her guests with a fun waffle bar and awe-inspiring cakes.

Chef Ann told me that all her menus are tailor-made to suit her client’s needs, likes and dietary requirements. That is why she can create such a wide variety of feasts and treats.

And if you require your meals to be vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose, kosher, IBS friendly or especially healthy, Chef Ann has got you covered.

In addition to assessing the catering needs, requirements and desires of her clients, Chef Ann has to factor in several other things when planning a menu, such as where she sources her food and what is available. She cares about the environment and the sustainability of her enterprise, so it is important for her to source food locally.

And you can’t get more local than your own garden. She currently grows spinach, parsley, chillies, basil, and chives in her garden and has plans to expand when she can. She is very interested in hydroponics and building her own vertical garden.

This is because growing crops in nutrient-rich water is a much more efficient use of water and a vertical garden requires far less space. Her produce could even grow twice as fast, which increases the nutritional value of the food.

Chef Ann also checks what is in season and available locally before designing her menus.

She is concerned about climate change and keeping her carbon footprint to a minimum and this means not using food that has to travel a great distance.

Fortunately, there are lovely local options in Hoedspruit. One of these options is the Hlokomela Community Herb Garden, which is a programme of the Hlokomela NGO, intended to assist farm workers and other vulnerable populations in the greater Hoedspruit area.

Ann said: ‘I go in there myself and pick with the ladies what I want. Fresh stuff. It’s a complete herb garden. Sometimes it has spinach leaves and edible flowers. It’s a beautiful garden on the Blyde River Farm. Then it helps the community also’.

For seasonal fruit and veg, Ann heads to the local grocer called Le Bamba which is always well stocked with local ‘good export quality’ produce. Ann adds, ‘we’re very fortunate where we live in the citrus region here. And the lemons and oranges and mangoes’.

If there is an abundance of a particular crop that year, she will buy extra and freeze it. ‘So if I want to make something out of season, then I’ve got them’.

In addition to considering requests and the local offerings of the seasons, she also fuels her creative passion by looking for inspiration in current speciality food trends, going to different restaurants and travelling. Vietnam is the next place lined up on her impressive travel list.

Ann told me that she is always finding ways to improve her skills and learning about types of cuisine.

Ann and I started our discussion by exploring the favourite foods of her friends, guests and clients. So I wanted to end our chat by asking her if she had any favourite dishes to make.

She didn’t hesitate to mention meringue as one of her favourites. It was a huge challenge to learn and something she is proud of mastering. She is also very proud of her canape platters and sauces.

After writing this blog, I expect to find many more customers being catered for by the Chef on Safari in 2023. I hope they appreciate how much she has to offer and what all she considers when customising the perfect menus for her guests.