Zambia’s First Dessert And The Man Behind It

Tasting Menu

The Sour Milk Cheesecake with Musika (Tamarind) Jelly

“This is, dare I say, Zambia’s first official dessert,” Royal Chundu’s Executive Chef, Sungani Phiri tells me on the sixth course of our tasting menu.

We’re dining at Royal Chundu’s Island Lodge, on Katombora Island, on the banks of the Zambezi – the river that separates Zambia from Zimbabwe, the river that defines, quite literally, a nation.

With his sour milk cheesecake with tamarind jelly, Chef Sungani has created a dessert to do just the same.

“I say ‘first official dessert’,” he continues, “because, well, there simply wasn’t one before now. Normally, Zambians will eat leftover nshima cold instead of hot with sugar and sour milk – as a form of a dessert if they want something sweet. Sometimes it actually substitutes as a main course.”

Nshima, he explains, is a staple in most homes across the country. Made from maize meal, it’s used for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Sungani and Tina

“Because there was no dessert type approach in Zambia when I started at Royal Chundu, I wanted to create something to introduce the idea to the country’s cuisine-scape. I made a sour milk cheesecake using sour milk to replace the cheese. This makes the dessert much smoother. We use a tennis biscuit base to complement it. For the sour element I added tamarind jelly above the cake and a tamarind sorbet with cayenne pepper. Tamarind is rather dear to me… my mother used to drink tamarind with a dash of cayenne as a digestif when I was growing up. And considering that you’ve gone through the tasting menu’s six courses, it’s a nice way to speed up your metabolism after eating so much – despite the fact that it’s a dessert.”

And so Zambia’s first dessert was born…

As for the man behind it, both Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Manager at Royal Chundu, we asked him our 10 questions. Meet Zambia’s Dessert Pioneer below.


10 Questions with Sungani Phiri

1. Five important things to remember when living and working in a remote and rural setting like the banks of the Zambezi?
  1. Don’t be fooled into thinking town is close by. You’re basically on an island. You don’t have the luxuries of the city and can’t always get what you want.
  2. Don’t expect to keep your social life, but remember that what you’re creating makes it worth it.
  3. Engage the community as much as possible – without them the job is impossible. Besides the practical side, involve the community environmentally and culturally. Go to the community leaders if you have a problem; you need the leader, you need to understand their ways, not to impose your own. And remember that English is not everyone’s first language.
  4. Be more compassionate toward the community – don’t expect others to naturally understand things the way you do. And I’ve had to remember that for every one person whose life I affect here, I affect eight more, since most of them are supporting their whole families. You need to be very concerned about that.
  5. You need a good support system to cope with the remoteness and isolation… so you don’t lose the plot. We support each other – Aggie and Hessah, the other managers, Tina, our Mama of Royal Chundu, the MD. You learn to reach out when you need to.


2. Five things being a chef has taught you about yourself, life and love?
  1. Before you set expectations you need to correctly train. I trained with a 2-Michelin starred Chef, Sven Niederbremer from Germany, at the The Westcliff and The Monarch hotels in Johannesburg. My standards are much higher as a result, but working in Zambia, my expectations had to change. I had to devote more time to training people up – it was a humbling experience. Most of the people in the kitchen had no culinary background but four years down the road we have a very competent team.
  2. My love for the industry is the pursuit of culinary perfection but my love for Zambian cuisine extends to trying to put it on the map. I have developed a love for a culture I didn’t know growing up. My family are Zambian but growing up we moved around a lot. I lived in so many different African countries – Zambia, Botswana, South Africa. My dad was a diplomat with a Bachelor degree in English and a Masters in International Development and we basically only spoke English at home. But the more I get to know the culture here the more deeply bonded I feel to it.
  3. Every day you learn from everyone you work with. There are so many interesting characters and personalities. It is a good lesson in consideration for others.
  4. Working in Zambia and as a chef here with other people has made me less hot tempered. I had to tone it down!
  5. I’ve developed a greater respect for nature. You can learn so many life lessons from living so closely with Mother Nature here on the river, from the animals living out their daily lives here.

Royal Chundu

3. what would you say makes you unique?

I’m really trying to pioneer a new era for Zambian cuisine. No one is really doing that right now. Most of the cuisine you see here is either ‘colonial’, inherited from the colonial time, or isn’t really from Zambia. There is so much potential here. I also play with more unique styles of plating – I have the Jackson Pollock concept of plating – as in when placing the sauce, the spoon can never touch the plate. Pollock is my favourite painter.

The Tasting Menu 1

Above Top: Chibwantu Cocktail

4. what are your challenges as a chef in zambia?

Challenges? Availability of stock and consistency of produce, but it drives us to find other ways – ways that end up being more sustainable and that support the local community. I can always get fresh bream fish from the local fishermen who live alongside us and vegetables and herbs from the garden at Mushekwa or in the local market. We’re also working on our own veggie garden which is thriving – we’ve planted beetroot, carrot, eggplant, mustard spinach, lettuce, radish, watercress and a variety of herbs. I’m busy working on a new menu right now, using produce from our garden.

5. What drives you?

Zambia is one of the most fertile countries in the southern hemisphere. I really believe we can be on par with the culinary scene internationally – it just requires some work, and I have made that my task, starting with simple things like community awareness – teaching locals how to make bread, which isn’t part of traditional gastronomy. The job never finishes but I hope to leave a legacy and empower people from the community.

 The Tasting Menu 4
Above Right: Impwa Tart with Peri Peri Sauce | Above Left: Trio of Fish with Mundambi Jelly

6. What is your favourite part about living on the Zambezi?

That there’s no cellphone network. (mostly). You have to actually plan to get a hold of me. It’s so beautiful and peaceful – no noise.

7. Favourite dish to make?

Pasta. It’s so “zenny” – it makes me so calm. If I want to relax it’s what I make. It’s what my mentor made me do constantly when he was training me and since then I fell in love with it. He always made me make open raviolis, lasagna, tagliatelle and fettuccine. It was such fun.

The Tasting Menu 2

The Tasting Menu 3

Above Top: Organic “Village” Chicken Ravioli with Rape Salad | Above Bottom: Protein Happiness with Nshima & Spinach Puree

8. How do you unwind on a day off?

I love getting to stay in and having the odd braai.

9. You recently got engaged… how did you propose?

In Zambian culture I can’t actually propose. You have to tell a senior family member that you want to marry and they will approach the family of the woman you’re interested in, to tell them about your intentions. The senior will put a bowl on the table at the meeting, with a certain amount of money, or something to show they want to start “talks”. It’s a sign of respect. Then the family will call the woman of the moment and ask her if she knows the family. For me they called us out together. In Zambian culture it is the mother who is the most involved; the mother gives you away because she’s the one who carried the woman in her womb. With me, my fiance and I both just decided we wanted to get married. It was mutual…


10. Most memorable adventure so far? And the next one for the bucket list?

Most memorable – once on safari in Botswana when we got caught between a lioness and her cub and she decided to charge the vehicle… And at Royal Chundu on the river in a canoe. We were on a wide bend and came across a hippo. We didn’t see it and went right over it. It charged at us and stopped about five metres away. My heart was in my mouth the entire experience. But I went canoeing on the river again the next day.

What’s next? Marriage! And I’d like to go white water rafting on the Zambezi and sky diving – perhaps over the Victoria Falls.

The dishes shown above make up the Zambian Cultural Tasting Menu at Royal Chundu. Discover more about the lodge’s dining experience here.

How To Dine In The Wild

There are three important rules for dining in the wild.

Rule one: There should be no distance between you and the wild at any time. Unless the wine is flowing a little too freely. Then keep your distance.

Rule two: There is no reason to dine poorly. Not even in the wild.

Rule three: This one comes from a man who knew both the wild and fine food and drink well – Ernest Hemingway. Be entirely present in the dining experience, don’t let either the food and drink or the surroundings cloud the other out. Or in his own words:

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive…”

These are the rules we carry with us on safari in Africa. But perhaps the right person to explain the intricacies of the gourmet safari is a man like Pierre van Zyl, Executive Chef of Zarafa Camp in the Selinda Reserve.

Discover more about the wilderness dining experience and life behind the scenes in our 10 Questions with the Wild Chef of Botswana below.

MidAtlantic Wine and Food Festival

10 Questions with Pierre van Zyl

1. Five important things to remember when living in the wilderness?
    1. Always watch your back and remember these are wild animals.
    2. Get out. For me it is very important to take a step back once in a while and look at the amazing surroundings and the abundant wildlife around you. It keeps you sane and the fresh African air cleanses your soul. I try to experience the wildlife frequently and to understand how lucky we are to be able to work at a gem like Zarafa Camp.
    3. Stay hydrated. Water is gold and in the the harsh months when the temperatures get to 43 Celsius you need a lot of it.
    4. Mentally, you have to remember that you are in one of the most remote places in Botswana and that you have to do the best you can with what you have. As tough as it may be.
    5. Emotionally, it’s often best to just disconnect from life back home. Being away from family and friends, especially over celebrations and festive seasons, can be emotionally difficult. Hang in there and think about the time you will have to catch up with them when you go on holiday.

Chef Pierre

2. Five things being a chef, and particularly one in the remote stretches of Africa, has taught you about yourself, life and love?
      1. Being remote and far away from the “real world” has taught me that no matter how creative you think you are, you need to be even more so out here.
      2. No matter how hectic it gets, there are far worse places to be.
      3. Being so remote and having to cook with the bare basics has taught me to think out of the box and really to use my raw talent rather than to rely on fancy equipment.
      4. About love, well, I have the love of my life working with me, so no complaints there…
      5. Be the best that you can be and don’t look back. Enjoy everything you have while you can.



3. What was your culinary background prior to joining Zarafa Camp?

I did my culinary training at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, South Africa. After my studies I worked under Reuben Riffel, the acclaimed South African Chef. I then moved on to work in the bush – Molori in Madikwe Game Reserve was my home for six years. While working in South Africa, I heard about Great Plains Conservation and their camps in Northern Botswana. I was intrigued by their camps and what the company stands for right from the beginning. I started working at Great Plains Conservation’s Duba Plains Camp in 2012 and what a journey it has been! I worked hard to find my way, to adapt and learn the culture, train the staff and take the cuisine to a new level. Zarafa Camp is my new home now – a new adventure with endless possibilities. It will be the next level of African cuisine.

Chef Pierre

4. Favourite part about living in the bush and at Zarafa Camp?

My favourite part about being in the bush is that we live in such a beautiful environment with no noise pollution like sirens and racing cars. There’s no pollution at all. I love being so close to the wildlife and being part of an organisation that’s sole purpose is conservation – it is very humbling and enriching. To top it all off, I get to do what I love in such a magical place.

Zarafa Camp 3

5. What are your signature dishes/drinks at Zarafa Camp and some of your favourites to make for yourself?

I like to cook a good variety of dishes. Among my favourites would be:

      • Grilled Botswana grass-fed Beef Fillet with baby bok choi, seared exotic mushrooms, golden cauliflower puree and biltong hollandaise.
      • Slow cooked Beef Cheeks with pumpkin gnocchi,  green peas and tenderstem broccoli topped with a Parmesan and wild rocket salad.
      • Saffron and Smoked Paprika Risotto with pan-fried freshwater Botswana bream, grilled baby marrow and fresh dill.
      • My favourite drink would be the Dark & Stormy – dark rum with home made ginger ale. It’s a classic, but always works.
      • Cooking for myself, nothing beats a good ol’ grilled cheese and bacon sandwich.

Zarafa Camp

6. Best way to rest and unwind on a day off?

A day off, there aren’t many of those… When I do get time off I like to listen to music, go on a game drive and just enjoy being out in the beautiful nature. A slight change of scenery is always great for revitalising the mind.

7. What is your relationship with the other chefs and kitchen team at Zarafa Camp like, especially considering how closely you both work and live together?

The team is extremely close and I would not have it any other way. Because we spend so much time in the same place even when you are not in the kitchen, we are naturally close. The chefs at Zarafa Camp are very goal orientated and we strive to have the best cuisine in Botswana and ultimately in Africa. Most of the chefs don’t even have formal training and that way every day is like training for us, learning new things and experimenting. This keeps us determined and excited every day.



8. What are some of your most memorable moments on safari?

We do a bit of exploring every day when we walk around camp or between the staff quarters and kitchen. There is never a dull moment at Zarafa Camp. I have had some insane moments here. One evening we were doing a tasting menu around the fire in the bush. Now imagine doing a five course menu with nothing but fire, the concentration levels are hectic and the planning even more so, regarding getting everything out hot and cooked perfectly. On this special night I think I was busy with the second course when one of the team members grabbed the back of my chef jacket and whispered in my ear that there was a lion behind us. Being in the moment you think to yourself, there is no way that’s true. I immediately replied, telling him that it wasn’t a lion but rather the hyena that was lurking around earlier. I carried on doing my thing and after maybe five minutes the same thing happened. This time I thought, let me just have a look and give the team member some reassurance. As the flashlight went across the bush there were two massive pairs of yellow eyes glaring at us – the two dominant male lions checking in on their territory. Time froze. Do you run, do you scream, do you talk in a different language and hope to get through to the lions? Needless to say the rest of the evening went by very quickly.

Zarafa Camp

Another amazing moment was when I walked home after dinner one night and in front of me in the pathway I saw something move. When I got the flashlight on it, there was a female leopard lying flat in the middle of the path. Now knowing how fast these animals move and how they can destroy you in seconds you think to yourself, now what? We had a face-off for about three minutes, after which she lost interest and moved off into the thicker bush. I took two giant leaps back home.

9. What type of cuisine do you focus on? Obviously there are different styles to cater for – such as the bush breakfast versus the pontoon lunch versus dinner around the campfire.

I try and do a bit of everything. I like to keep guests guessing. Every meal or meal time needs to be an experience and an adventure. The story you want guests to take home should be one of an experience. You want them to go home and say, “We had this awesome game drive and saw the leopard and wild dogs. Then we arrived at the pontoon, left the dock and cruised on the lagoon, enjoying Pierre’s fresh lunch in the midst of one of the hippo families in the lagoon.” That is an experience not every guest gets to have when they come to Africa. From breakfast around the camp fire at sunrise the to six course tasting menu at dinner, it’s all an adventure. Food has become such an important part of one’s safari that it needs to be just as interesting and exciting.

Zarafa 1


10. What drives you as a chef and gives you a sense of purpose and satisfaction?

Nothing feels better than hearing guests rave about the food. When you plan a dish or a menu and you’ve worked on it all day, the moment when it comes together and the plate leaves the kitchen exactly as you wanted it to be, you know that your guest is experiencing something they cannot find anywhere else in Botswana. That is a great feeling and it makes the next day even more interesting because you know you have to better whatever you did yesterday. A quote I always carry with me is, “Perfection is what I strive for and not its reflection on me”.

Visit our website to discover more about Zarafa Camp and going on a gourmet safari in Botswana or elsewhere in Africa.

The Art of The Road Trip

The Cellars-Hohenort

The art of the road trip is not merely about the car.

But we’d be fibbing if we denied that it mattered at all. The car can, in truth, make or break the journey, depending on your strength of mind. The most progressed traveller is of course unperturbed by any slight of comfort, unbreakable no matter the carriage… Mini, tuk tuk, LandRover. But it transforms the journey substantially when you have a car like the brand new BMW 640i Gran Coupé and 750i Sedan. With iPad-size TV screens on the back of the seats and a holograph projection of the speedometre on the driver’s window. Even the rain on our own road trip last Friday, which threatened to shake our travellers’ resolve, was forgivable in the seat of such a vehicle.

The art of the road trip is also not merely about the people.

While not the be-all and end-all, however, the company you choose is important. As Dan Eldon, the late photojournalist who was well-known for his journals documenting his travels through Africa, said: “Select your team with care.”


The team we selected for our adventure combined business and pleasure, our Director, AC, and familiar faces from the media – from Culinary Artist and Chef Magazine, Real Estate Magazine, iafrica Travel, and Premier and Slow Magazine. People like us. People with a taste for the finer things in life.

This is surely the main crux of The Road Trip – the search for those finer things, the little pleasures in life that call on each of your senses. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells… For us, it is this sensory journey of the Route du Bonheur, as we call it, that excites us. Route du Bonheur… the Road to Happiness. A road paved with good food and wine, inspiring art and conversation.

The Cellars-Hohenort

Some road trips are an amble of spontaneity, the destinations decided on a whim en route. In locales such as the Western Cape of South Africa, this is particularly rewarding; there are unique sights every which way. This Friday, ours was a little more planned. We set the nose of our BMW convoy toward the Winelands, starting with lunch at The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia, moving on to Delaire Graff Estate between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, for a wine tasting, and ending at Ellerman House on the coast in Bantry Bay, Cape Town, for a guided art tour and dinner. Below is a glimpse into our sensory journey.


Above: Michael Deg of Delaire Graff

The Five Senses of the Road Trip

1. Touch

Ah, mon chéri! The touch of the BMW 640i Gran Coupé and 750i Sedan, the sweet cushion to our adventure…


2. Taste

The dining experience at both The Conservatory at The Cellars-Hohenort and at Ellerman House is very much a journey in itself. Beyond merely having a beginning and end, it veers right and then left, winds with the changes in flavour and surprises in the same way a road trip does. Discover more about the tastes of South Africa in our video interview about the Inspirational Chefs of Relais & Châteaux with Peter Tempelhoff, Executive Chef of The Collection by Liz McGrath, which includes The Cellars-Hohenort. Below is a glimpse into our lunch at The Conservatory, compliments of Chef Delia Harbottle.


The Cellars-Hohenort


The Cellars-Hohenort 1

Above, top to bottom: Linguine Nero, with seared and crispy calamari, tomato fondue, spring onion, squid ink sauce; butternut soup of the day and Pan Seared Potato and Parmesan Gnocchi with Broccoli, peas, deep fried halloumi, hon shimejii mushrooms, pea sauce; Grilled Springbok Rump; Pineapple tarte tatin with salted caramel sauce and chai ice-cream | Nougat ice-cream with crushed macaroons and strawberry jelly

3. Smell

The first swirl and whiff of wine is always what gets me. At our wine tasting at Delaire Graff, accomplished South African winemaker, Morné Vrey, who has been at the estate for nine years now, guided our noses through the reds and whites, and Delaire Graff’s very first Méthode Cap Classique – the Delaire Graff Sunrise Brut, in a wine experience paired with oysters from the kitchen of Chef Michael Deg.

Ellerman House

Delaire Graff


Discover more about the wines of South Africa in our video interview with Relais & Châteaux Somellier at Ellerman House, Manuel Cabello.

The aromas of nature are just as powerful – aromas that the gardens of The Cellars-Hohenort provide in abundance.

The Gardeners Cottage


The Cellars-Hohenort 1


4. Sights

The men behind Delaire Graff and Ellerman House, the owners, Lawrence Graff and Paul Harris respectively, are two of South Africa’s most established and envied art collectors. Works from their private art collections sit on the walls of their hotels. At Delaire Graff The Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff welcomes you in the entrance, along with works by artists you’ll find in the halls and gallery of Ellerman House as well (like minds…). Names such as William Kentridge, Angus Taylor, Dylan Lewis, John Meyer and Lionel Smit.

Margaret Slabbert, Paul Harris’ favoured art curator, guided us through the works of Ellerman House, our road trip’s final destination, shedding light on the deeper meaning behind the art.

Below: An art tour with Margaret Slabbert at Ellerman House

Ellerman House


John Meyer

Art at Ellerman

Below: Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff Estate

Delaire Graff Indochine Restaurant

Delaire Graff Indochine

5. Sounds

The chorus of the road… Barry White, the chosen soundtrack of our road trip (chosen by whom in our team, I’m not quite sure, but there he was, singing over the CD player…); the rain falling on the roof of our golf cart around Delaire Graff; the constant quack of the mother duck protecting her new hatchlings at The Cellars-Hohenort; the clink of wine glasses and the sound of our own voices making new friends at Ellerman House; and the comforting joy of silence when the trip is over. Such are the sounds of the art we call The Road Trip.


Take a look at our other Routes Du Bonheur for more inspiration for your tour of happiness through South Africa and further into the African continent.