November 18, 2013 – Between the morning and afternoon game drives I had the incredible privilege of being invited into the kitchen of Chef Stephen Masike. I am a foodie at heart as are my sisters, and our brother is a professional chef, so I like to think that I know a thing or two about good food. Chef Masike was generous enough to give me a personal tour of his kitchen as well as a gluten-free pastry lesson, all of which he accomplished while preparing for “Afternoon Tea”, a delicious meal unto itself. The food on our trip has been absolutely extraordinary, especially at Zarafa and Duba, and we have Chef Katherine Milton (Zarafa Chef) and Chef Masike to thank for their creativity and flair. They express their passion for nutritious food and beautiful presentation in every dish that comes out of their kitchens – and remember these meals are created in safari camp kitchens powered by generators. I was particularly impressed with Duba’s “cooler” – which Chef explained to me was precisely how many people in Botswana keep their food cold for long periods of time. While Chef has a freezer located in his kitchen, it is primarily used for the super-perishables. The Camp receives food supplies only once a week and every meal is extremely well choreographed, including back-up contingencies. All the fruit and vegetables get stored in this outdoor cooler. It is the African version of a “walk-in” which any chef in the States would describe as their restaurant’s own room-sized refrigerator. The African walk-in consists of four framed walls and a flat roof at least six inches thick (if not 12 inches) made of large charcoal chunks held in place by chicken wire inside and out (charcoal is a natural form of insulation). Running around the top edges of the cooler room is a hose which constantly drips water over the walls and roof of the outdoor cooler – maintaining the cool temperature inside to keep the week’s supply of fruit and vegetables from perishing in the 100+ degree heat of the day – and all of this done without the use of electricity! I became even more appreciative of the meals when I learned the ingenuity incorporated into each and every creation.
Because Evan is gluten and dairy-intolerant, the kitchen staff was on double duty to create dishes that would accommodate his dietary restrictions. Chef Masike and Chef Katherine were definitely up to the task and even sent me home with a number of recipes that I had been particularly impressed with. Chef and I spent a bit of our two hours together preparing a sweet pastry crust with warm brownie filling – dessert for the evening (recipe to follow on my soon-to-be-launched LEO Kitchen Chronicles). In the midst of our prep work, our kitchen became a bit crowded – while Chef runs with a very lean staff, we soon found ourselves dealing with an UNinvited food aficionado, specifically one focused on all-things mangosteen. Yes, the same cheeky elephant who had done some “renovations” to our tent’s plumbing had decided that the mangosteen fruit hanging over the kitchen tent was perfectly ripe for devouring, and so devour he did, just feet away from our canvas front door. I wish I had brought my camera with me but it is the one opportunity between game drives to get the batteries charged so I don’t have any pics of the wanna-be sous chef. He was ultimately shoo’d away and we got back to the recipe at hand.
I helped serve afternoon tea – and then we were off again for the second drive of the day.