For the Women of Africa, For the Women of the World

Above: North Island, Seychelles

On our travels, there have been so many men and women that have arrived seemingly out of the blue and stepped right into our hearts as though they were there all along. They arrive and never leave.

Today is about the women we’ve met. The phenomenal women that make an occasion like International Women’s Day such an obvious day to embrace. It feels, oceans and mountains away from those women, as though they are all here with us right now, smiling their big warm smiles, linking arms around shoulders in a show of that “We got this” strength and support.

Above: ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

The women we’ve met have been in some of the most remote and wild parts of Africa, but also in the cities, in the boardrooms. We have walked together, talked together, we have cried and laughed and understood. We have shared in endless meals, in our homes, in restaurants, out on riverbanks and under infinite starry skies. We have sat with lions and shared in the “don’t make me look” fear and the “wait, let’s stay longer” excitement of Africa.

Above: Julia Geffers of Relais & Châteaux and Shan Varty of Londolozi Private Game Reserve

We have cycled across the Damaraland Desert of Namibia and the Maasai plains in Kenya. We have canoed with hippos and crocodiles on the Zambezi and sailed rough and calm seas together, in the kind of way that bonds you for life.

Some have battled the worst of life, only to emerge more in love with the best of life. Together, we have been quiet and loud, with children, families, lovers, and alone. We have given and we have received.

Above: 20 Degres Sud, Mauritius

In our travels, we see women across the great stretch of land and ocean embodying the words of Rudyard Kipling in his great poem, If, but instead of a man and a son, they make us desperate to rewrite our own version, to extend it to the truth of what it means to be a women…

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Woman, my daughter!”

Above: Annie-Claude Bergonzoli, Director of Relais & Châteaux Africa and the Indian Ocean, at Mara Plains Camp, Kenya

In the women of Africa, the women living, loving or working here or those simply passing through, we have seen the greatest examples of spirit, persistence, love, community and a great joy for life, for all of life.

It is all of these women, the women seen and the women unseen, the women heard and the women not heard, that we celebrate and hold close today, that we honour for all they have shown us and all that they are. Happy International Women’s Day!

Above: Hoby de Foucault at Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

Above: Exec Chef, Anna Ridgewell at Londolozi Private Game Reserve

Above: ol Donyo Lodge, Kenya

Above: The Cellars-Hohenort, Cape Town

Above: Jill Wagner, Great Plains Conservation

Above: Tanja von Arnim, Delaire Graff Estate, Cape Winelands

Above: Adine & Lente Roode of Camp Jabulani, South Africa

Above: Tina Aponte at Royal Chundu, Zambia

Above: Beverly Joubert of Great Plains Conservation, in Botswana (Zarafa Camp and Duba Plains Camp)

Above: Sophie Vaillant, Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge, South Africa

Above: Ellerman House, Cape Town

What’s More Beautiful Than Making People Happy With Food?

“Food is a beautiful way for people to connect and build relationships. What’s more beautiful than making people happy with food?” These are the words of the new Head Chef at Johannesburg’s AtholPlace Hotel & Villa. A chef whose cuisine we can’t wait to savour. But until then, we’re getting acquainted in another way.

Read more about Omar Koenen in the Q&A below.

Meet Omar – Q&A

You have been cooking professionally for over ten years – how did you get started?

In Holland, I got my first break by securing a weekend job in a restaurant when I was 15 years old! This experience nurtured my interest in food and encouraged me to go to culinary school and work towards my professional qualification which I received when I was 19.

Being a professional chef is very demanding – share some of your experiences with us:

In top rated professional kitchens the hours are long – 17 hour days – six days a week. The work can be physically demanding as I’m on feet all day in a hot kitchen. But having the opportunity to work in Bib Gourmand and Michelin star establishments is really a thrill! As part of a team I was able to learn something new each day. That’s exciting!

Tell us about your journey bringing you to South Africa?

Travel is a great way to rejuvenate one’s soul! I needed a break from Europe and decided to visit Cape Town for a holiday. I fell in love with my wife and South Africa and the rest is history.

What is your favourite part of the job?

Having the opportunity to work in amazing establishments and create my own menus is a real privilege… this is really gives me a chance to express myself in the kitchen. I must say I generate a huge amount of pleasure from serving guests amazing food. Food is a beautiful way for people to connect and build relationships. My motto is, What’s more beautiful than making people happy with food?

Working  in Europe under brilliant chefs, you have a classical training. How do you combine your foundations with new thinking?

I believe nothing beats a brilliant culinary education. This sets the foundation for one’s future career. But new ideas and taste experiences are exciting and I’m always looking for innovation in food. I love Asian food and enjoy exploring all those flavour combinations and since learning about curries from colleagues in Cape Town I’ve become obsessed with creating the perfect curry.

Which ingredients are your favourites?

South Africa has amazing, fresh, local produce available and I believe in seasonal food. I get very excited about fresh local seafood-  like scallops, langoustines and crayfish. I also have a soft spot for micro-greens and edible flowers. They really elevate a dish.

What is your vision for AtholPlace Hotel & Villa?

I’m really excited to be living and working in the biggest city in Africa – Johannesburg has a special energy which I’m tapping into. My goal is to work alongside the established team at AtholPlace and share my food philosophy – which is food and cooking equals love. I’m totally motivated to bring my enthusiasm and experience to this new kitchen and develop new ideas alongside my team. Morukuru is all about family and I’m blessed to be welcomed into this five star family.

10 Questions with Bushmans Kloof’s Head Chef, Charles Hayward

This is a land of wide open plains and rugged red mountains, Bushman rock art and free-roaming antelope. It is a land of rooibos fields and starry night skies. It is a place of history, myth and mystery as much as stillness and romance. It is the sanctuary known as the Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, at the foothills of the Cederberg Mountains270 kilometres from Cape Town.

Here, the cuisine of the Cape combines with the unique tastes and influences of Italy and Asia, presented in fireside dinner parties at the Homestead and outdoor summer lunches at Makana, picnics in the wild and braais at Embers under the stars.

The man at the helm of it all? Well, that would be Head Chef, Charles Hayward… Discover more below in our latest 10 Questions Q&A.

1. What is your first memory of cooking?

Sunday lunch at my grandparents’ house in the Karoo, beautiful blue skies with everyone helping to contribute to the lunch and lots of laughter and happiness. My Grandad’s tender Karoo lamb roast with wild rosemary and golden, crispy, fluffy on the inside potatoes; delicious pan gravy with little roast onion; hot bread from the wood oven; roast pumpkin with cinnamon, green beans from Gran’s garden, tossed in farm butter; lentil salad with a touch of spice from the spice markets in Durban sent by Granny’s friend from her WAF days; and to finish, my Granny’s baked Queen pudding. Simply delicious and made with so much love and care.

2. What five things has working at Bushmans Kloof taught you about yourself, life and love?

  1. The close connections and care between the wide-spread communities in the Cederberg.
  2. The local community’s homemade recipes for great breads, bredies (black pot stews to feed all who are hungry) and of course the remedies and local ‘to-do’s’… to cure and comfort all ailments.
  3. The importance of serving food as close to the harvest as possible; this is very difficult or impossible in cities.
  4. Life slows down just a little… urgency is replaced by importance only.
  5. The beauty of the harsh arid land and the life and importance of rain.

3. How did your path lead you to Bushmans Kloof?

I was working at the Grand Roche hotel in Paarl, a little gem of a property holding onto the art of fine dining and service in the Cape Winelands, and I was offered a position at Bushmans Kloof to work very closely with the owners (who are big foodies) to create something fresh and wholesome, with no pretense, a farm-to-table approach using local producers and suppliers. Well, challenge accepted!

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

I focus on simplicity, nothing over-complicated, dishes that are accessible to all and that are created using the freshest and where possible local ingredients available – while being adventurous with flavours.

5. How would you describe the kind of cuisine at Bushmans Kloof and the motivation behind it?

Wholesome, delicious home-cooking taken up a notch! Guests should feel healthy, comforted and nourished.

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

My children… the sound of their laughter and unbridled joy as they play.

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

Clanwillian, the little town closest to us, for the best meat, especially lamb, potatoes and citrus, and then Lamberts Bay, for fish straight off the fishing boats.

8. What are some of your favourite local ingredients and dishes?

–  The kapok bossie and rooibos for ingredients
–  And the popular local dish, Skilpaadtjies… lamb’s liver wrapped in crépinette and slowly roasted over an open fire with fresh crusty bread.

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

Freshness is key! I try to use lots of olive oil, fruit and vegetable purees instead of loads of butter sauces.

10. What do you enjoy most about working at Bushmans Kloof and what makes the camp so special?

Because of the intimacy of the place, I think the communication with the guests is really great. In the city you hardly ever meet the people you are cooking for.  The closeness of the local  community and my fellow staff members in the reserve is also a big plus.