The Greatest Thing That Has Happened in My Life

When we started seeking out the stories behind our lodges and hotels in Africa and the Indian Ocean, we very quickly began to see the immense impact these properties were having not only on their settings, their destinations, but on the people they employed from local communities. We became attached, in that way you do when you’re getting to know someone who intrigues and inspires you. It’s what makes it difficult to leave a place, to look at the photos after a trip and not ache to be back on that river or sea or mountain, talking and laughing and living with the people who opened their hearts to you, for a moment.

What we discover each time is the power of tourism, its ability to transform lives and create opportunities that make for what Royal Chundu’s chef Teddy Mazonda calls “the greatest thing that has happened in my life.” Teddy is one of those people we’ve be fortunate to spend time with, on the banks of the Zambezi, one of those people who intrigue and inspire even when you’re miles away.

Meet Teddy for yourself in our Q&A below.

How did you start working as a chef at Royal Chundu and what is your role today?

I started as a scullery hand in 2011 and today I am sous chef. My role is to make sure that whatever goes out meets and exceeds the guest’s expectations. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life. It was in 2012 when we had a cook-off with the team. We were given a mystery basket and we had to cook one starter, one main and one dessert, which we would be judged on. it was so difficult because many of us had only had a few months in the kitchen but we produced sensible dishes and I managed to win. There were two Australian guests on the panel of judges who gave me good advice for the future. It was a great experience!

What has working at Royal Chundu taught you about yourself, life and love?

It has taught me to believe in myself, never to doubt that I can do better, to always be positive and remember that the sky isn’t the limit.

Life: in life you can be what you want to be, as long as you believe in yourself. In spite of where I started, in the scullery, I had that zeal to one day be a chef.

Love: if there had been no love, I wouldn’t be where I am today. We work together because it’s a family lodge.

Your favourite dish on the menu at Royal Chundu and why?

Smoked quail. We were the first to taste the dish with my colleagues and it helped give me an idea of the guest’s experience. The smoking process we use reminds me of my childhood in the village when we would smoke food as one way of preserving it.

What inspires you day to day – in life and work?

What inspires me the most is watching great chefs on food shows on television. It’s something to aspire to and teaches me how to go about life and how to become a great chef myself. Cooking new dishes everyday also gives me a zest for learning new things.

You could say that the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” refers to the making of a meal too. How does the whole team play a role in the creation of dishes?

In making a dish everyone is involved in coming forward with an idea and then we cooperate to bring out the best, like they say, “Together we stand, divided we fall.”

Where do you source most of your produce from and why?

We source most of our produce from the community so to ensure the freshness and taste of the product and also to support the community. Our concept is Zambian cuisine, celebrating local ingredients.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?

Impwa, Lusala, Ichisongole, Malaka (calabash), Munkoyo, Mubuyu (baobab fruit), and Cassava meal.

From a chef’s point of view, what is special about the Royal Chundu experience?

The breakfast and lunch picnic with our signature canoeing trip, because we are the only lodge on the bank of the Zambezi river doing it.

10 Questions with Mara Plains Camp’s Head Chef

I could see it in his eyes and in something of the intangible. Exuberance, I think the word is. It was as though his spirit was beside itself, overtly ecstatic at getting to inhabit the man it did. The man’s name is Benjamin Maritim and his soft glow emanates from living the life he most wants to lead, from doing what his heart has always called on him to do.

Benjamin is the Head Chef at Mara Plains Camp, on the northern border of the Maasai Mara. I could sense his joy for life from my first meeting with him, as he stood proudly beside the dishes he and his team had laid out before us for lunch. I felt it while talking to him about something seemingly simple, yet wholly consuming – food – as we stood out in the wilderness at a bush breakfast with the wild things of Kenya.

I had to hear more from him. I had to share his spirit with you. And I had to hold onto it for myself. So here it is… our Q&A with Benjamin Maritim, a closer look at the man behind the meals at Mara Plains Camp,  on the banks of the Ntiakitiak River.

10 Questions with Mara Plains Camp Head Chef, Benjamin Maritim

What is your first memory of cooking?

When I was doing my National Youth Service I was assigned to engineering however my roommate was training in hospitality, when he spoke of the cooking and all the skills he was learning I knew I had to transfer. From then on cooking has been my passion.

What five things has working at Mara Plains Camp taught you about yourself, life and love?

  • I have learnt how to interact with different types of people.
  • It’s taught me about different parts of the world.
  • It’s taught me about different perspectives and opinions.
  • I have learnt (a little of) different languages.
  • I have found comfort and built lasting relationships.

How did your path lead you to Mara Plains Camp?

Cooking is my passion and my life and since I learnt there was a chance to be the Head Chef at Mara Plains Camp, I couldn’t stop myself applying. I was called for an interview and I passed with flying colours. Thereafter I committed myself to becoming one of the family.

How do you bring a taste of the land to your dishes?

I learnt to cook western food in culinary school with different international ingredients, but my style of cooking is a little different, as I am using the local ingredients and natural resources from around the community. This allows me to cook fusion style dishes and make unique food with flavours that you don’t get anywhere else other than Mara Plains Camp.

How would you describe the kind of cuisine at Mara Plains Camp and the motivation behind it?

A feast for the eyes, the ears, the nose and the mouth. I take inspiration from the master chefs from around the world and then I like to add a touch of Kenya. Being self-sustainable is the goal so using fresh items from our garden and the local community is key to show off the incredible Kenyan produce in globally-inspired dishes that are fresh, light and healthy.

What inspires you day to day – in life and work?

Guest feedback is incredibly important in my life and work. It helps me to sharpen my understanding and knowledge. It also shows me how important my duties are in the guest experience.

Where do you source most of your produce from and why?

We aim to be true to our local produce, sourcing all our fresh ingredients from the local communities and the farms and coastal regions of Kenya. Mara Plains  Camp has its own kitchen garden with a wide variety of vegetables and edible flowers, however what we do not currently grow here is sourced from the local community farmers. This is one way of promoting the community and farmers and also the products are local, fresh and healthy.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients and dishes?

My favourite ingredients are Posho, Sukuma, Arrowroots, Cassava, Coconut, Banana, Pumpkins and local greens, as well as the amazing local lamb and goat meat.  I cook dishes with this local ingredient like Irio, Ugali, Sukuma, matoke, mbuzi choma, or stew, Swahili fish etc.

What are some of the ways you incorporate a health focus into the menu?

The first thing I focus on in the menu is the clientele, looking at their dietary requirements, ages and then using the ingredients I have to plan menus that are fresh, light and healthy.

I try and avoid adding unnecessary sugar, opting for natural sweeteners such as our fantastic Kenyan honey. Selecting leaner cuts of meat and ensuring there is always a variety of fruits and vegetables with each meal. I want guests to be satisfied but not weighed down with carbohydrate and fat heavy meals.

What do you enjoy most about working at Mara Plains Camp and what makes the camp so special?

Honestly, since I started working here, I have been learning lots and growing day by day in hospitality. I enjoy the sharing of knowledge with my colleagues. Mara Plains Camp is like my family, they are very positive and supportive from my bosses starting with CEO’s, Directors, Managers and all the staff, they are all so friendly we work as the Great Plains family.

Mara Plains Camp is special for many reasons, but the conservation of animals and nature and promoting and helping the community is key. Plus it’s a non-profit company.

A Man on a Mission to Interpret the Past

It was their connection to the earth that spoke to me first, how lightly they walked upon it. It was a fascination tinged with a slight nostalgia – a longing for a simpler, better time. But as the years pass, I am discovering that the ways of the Bushmen of southern Africa have as much to teach us about the present and future as they do about the past. They may be the oldest living culture on Earth, with a spirituality that predates all the world’s religions, but their approach to life still remains a source of great wisdom – their nomadic, hunter-gathering way of life, not using more than needed and making the most of all that you have, the importance of community, and working to live not living to work.

Their customs, traditions and beliefs have been well-documented, held onto for long after the different San tribes began to fade, on the rocks of numerous caves across Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. One of the best places to view their rock paintings is the Cederberg Mountains of the Cape, and here at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat.

We caught up with Londi Ndzima, the Rock Art Curator at Bushmans Kloof, to find out more about their numerous sites and the stories behind them. Discover more below in our Q&A.

10 QUESTIONS WITH LONDI NDZIMA

1. What does nature mean to you?

Peace and quiet; the outdoors for me is the best place to be.

2. Explain your love of rock-art and the stories it has to tell about the people of the Cederberg.

The history of the hunter gatherer/San people is very similar to that of my own people, The Xhosa. Even down to things like using local plants for medicine, the role of ‘community’ and the art of storytelling. Through the rock art, one gets an insight into how they lived, who and what they came into contact with and what was important and significant to them. Through the ongoing research into rock art, there is constantly new information becoming available and I feel really privileged to be able to share these perspectives and insights with visitors.

3. Why is holding onto and preserving the past important to you?

Because there are no written accounts of the lives of the San & Khoi people in the area, we have to rely on what they did leave behind… in this case, these paintings.

4. Explain your passion for storytelling?

My Grandmother used to regale us with stories as children; about our culture, our traditions and ceremonies, such as when a boy kills his first eland which marks his entry into manhood and means that he is eligible for marriage. These stories connected us/ me to our history and our ancestors.  I have loved telling stories about the San and Khoi, through the interpretation of their art.

5. How have you continued to learn so much about the Bushman and their way of life?

Being exposed to the ongoing research through my relationship with Prof John Parkington and others researchers and specialists; as well as by reading reading reading; and talking to people from around the world (many of whom visit Bushmans Kloof). I learn every day and I’m able to bring all this knowledge to our guests.

6. What makes Bushmans Kloof such a special place for people to learn about the rock art?

There are so many amazing sites on the property, over 130, each offering its own unique bit of information and each a small piece in the puzzle of rock art in the Cederberg area. Having a Rock Art Curator on the property certainly enhances visitor experiences.

7 & 8.  What has your role as rock art curator here, and / your knowledge of the Bushman taught you about yourself, love and life?

I have fallen in love with nature, working at Bushmans Kloof.  It’s really strange because when I was young I loved maths (I wanted to be an engineer) and now I love history and medicinal plants. Quite a change… but I love my life exactly as it is now.

9. Where in the world are you the happiest and why?

Taking a walk in the rocks at Bushmans Kloof… the light here is amazing.

10. Words to live by?

–  Mentor – I’d like to leave a legacy of my love for what I do.

–  Happy –  I want people to have fun and be happy when they are around me.

–  Learn – I want to keep learning and sharing.