I first met Ann when she was fourteen years old. And I think one of the very first things I knew about young Ann was that she wanted to be a game ranger when she grew up. Her passion for her unwavering dream has always been one of the things I have admired most about her. That vision and the fact that she can make the most delicious chocolate brownies in the world. So it was thrilling to watch her blossom into the owner and founder of Chef on Safari and to witness her achieving her goals and so much more as an adult.
Looking back, I now realise all the ways in which Ann was constantly preparing herself for the business she runs now: She spent a lot of time sketching and studying her favourite animals. She was often making homemade lemonade, muffins and other treats for her friends. She worked at a number of restaurants and learned a lot about hospitality in the process. She took amazing photos and preserved many of our memories with her camera. She loved planning ahead for elaborate birthday celebrations and making the important moments even more special. These are all skills she uses now and that she has developed through her formal training and experience in the hospitality industry.
As one of her oldest friends, I feel confident to argue that Ann has effectively been in the hospitality industry her whole life, which is even longer than the already impressive 21 years stated on the homepage. The following serves as a testimonial to that effect.
One of my earliest memories of the young Chef on Safari was her giving me a tour of her family’s trout farm in Dullstroom (also known as Emnothweni), Mpumalanga. I had never been in the area before, and I was struck by the beauty of it and felt something I didn’t normally feel in Johannesburg – safe! I think this was partly because of Ann’s confidence and knowledge of the land. I knew she was looking after me, and I could just ease into it as she showed me around. I am sure that the people who visit her now experience her warmth and hospitality in the exact same way.
Not that I eat fish, but I also remember being vaguely impressed that she knew how to fish, gut, clean and cook trout. That’s not something in the repertoire of too many teenage girls.
Another memory from the same year was at a school camp in the Magaliesberg, Gauteng. I had never been to this particular sanctuary before, but Ann seemed to know all about the place. She even provided a tent for me to stay in and knew how to cook over a fire, which was very helpful in terms of not starving while we were there. I clearly remember one sunny afternoon when she volunteered to guide me and another friend on a nature trail through the veld. She knew a lot about the surroundings and the creatures that lived there. She even knew exactly what to do when we encountered a troop of baboons on the other side of a stream. But my friend and I bolted back to camp before we heard what she said. Adult baboons look enormous when you are small.
Most of my memories of Ann are entangled with her hospitality in some capacity. She is also an excellent driver, and it was always fun being in the car with her. One of my most favourite driving memories with her was going for a series of game drives around a game reserve located in Bela-Bela, Limpopo. We were both in our early twenties. She was working as a private guide at the time, and it was the first time I had seen her kitted out in her game ranger clothes and driving an actual safari vehicle. She was so brilliant, and we got to see some of the best, biggest and most endangered animals, including a whole crash1 of rhinos trying to keep cool in the shade of the most ridiculously small tree. On an early morning drive, I got to witness a whole herd of elephants eating leaves from the trees surrounding us. I felt magic and love radiating from this gorgeous elephant family. I couldn’t believe that I had gotten so close to a baby elephant too. I also couldn’t understand how poachers could actually kill these majestic beings when they met them face to face. But I digress; the point of this paragraph is to lay witness to Ann being a good driver who knows where to spot all the animals you want to see – and these are absolutely the qualities you want to have in your guide and part of the reason she is so good at what she does.
At one point, Ann was managing a restaurant in my old neighbourhood, and I would often visit her there. It was at this restaurant that she introduced me to deep-fried camembert! It was so very good. I want to cry with delight just thinking about the crumbed outside and the warm gooey inside. I will always be grateful to Ann for that food memory. I am not sure if I can really give Ann credit for this, but she has often been present at some of the most mesmerising sunsets I have ever seen. Whether it is the magic of the African sky or a bit of Ann’s luck or both, she managed to capture some of those sunsets in her photos, and I will always associate them with her. You have only to look at the Chef on Safari website and social media pages to witness that Ann has the ability to facilitate and capture wonderful memories (potentially with sunset backdrops too).
If you are a keen or an aspiring wildlife photographer, then she will be able to assist you with both her knowledge of animals and cameras. This is worth keeping in mind if you are fortunate enough to go on a game drive or hike with Chef on Safari. She also knows a lot about food photography, too, if you want her assistance with capturing photos of her cooking and catering delights for your own Instagram account. Ann’s birthday parties were very memorable and special. From the fancy invitations to the beautifully decorated tables to the lovely meals and thoughtful details. It is good to see that she is now sharing her excellent eye for décor, her appreciation of good wine and a good time with guests at her catered events. The birthday cakes she creates now are also beyond gorgeous, and I cannot praise them enough.
This trip down memory lane has also highlighted for me how well travelled Ann is. Through her trips around the UK, Greece, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, amongst others, she has accumulated a wealth of food and travel knowledge. She has also reignited her love of adventure with every trip, and she shares this spirit and knowledge with all her guests.
Writing this has allowed me to indulge in all the memories of Ann’s delicious food, wine recommendations and her lovely smile. I am now very much in the mood to book a trip to Hoedspruit to create more memories in the wilderness and to experience all the ways in which she has advanced in all her areas of speciality.
Thanks for all the memories Ann and see you again soon!