I love how passionate the Isibindi Africa Lodges chefs are about local produce, and the team at the new Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge embody this love of all things seasonal and local. I ask about their food philosophy and the Head Chef’s reply is crisp: “Fresh!” He becomes animated as he describes his pleasure if something can be picked today and put straight on the plate. He has enjoyed finding local suppliers, enthusing about the range of local varieties of beetroot he has discovered for the Hluhluwe lodge. I wait him out as he goes into a trance about this ingredient, its colour, texture and the many ways it can be used to lift a dish to create a new experience. He moves onto other beloved ingredients and is even encouraging local farmers to expand their local speciality produce to offer his guests a full range of what is unique from this area. “Travel is about experiencing new things, new flavours from a different part of the world. Food is an important part of that journey” he explains and he loves showcasing the best of the region to the guests.
He describes how international guests are blown away by the quality of the food in South Africa, then laughs, saying “Phew but the South African guests come with the highest expectations of good food! I have realized that we have grown up with great ingredients and they are demanding about the quality.” He thoroughly enjoys this challenge in meeting the hopes of his discerning guests.
The chef’s favourite part of the day is to walk into the Rhino Ridge pantry and see what is ripe and seasonal and then to create a menu from the local produce. Beyond his love of the freshest seasonal ingredients, he enjoys playing with creative and classical flavour combinations. “How you put the ingredients together makes the difference between an ordinary dish and a potential wow factor” he explains. “I love to try to find a balance between sweet, sour, salty and bitter.” With a background in graphic design, his plates are art installations of colour, texture, balance and beauty. He even describes the pantry and plate in artistic terms, as a palette of ingredients, like he is choosing his next intense colour from which to paint his next masterpiece. I love this man’s energy and creativity and can listen to him enthuse about his craft for hours.
His enthusiasm for food is infectious and I find myself examining each artistic meal delivered to me at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge more closely to appreciate all the thought, design and passion which has gone into creating a magical local experience for us lucky guests.