“Food is our common ground, a universal experience…” ~ James Beard
What makes the chefs at Camp Jabulani’s dishes special is something beyond taste and presentation. It entails the journey of creation, the ingredients, the fresh produce sourced from local suppliers, and the spirit of all the hands involved. The hands of the gardeners, the fishermen, the farmers, the winemakers, in other words, the producers. One such producer, a specialist in the art of fresh herbs, is the Hlokomela Herb Garden, just outside Hoedspruit.
Camp Jabulani’s Head Chef, Dylan Frost and lodge owner, Adine Roode, recently visited the Hlokomela Herb Garden; which also serves as an Income Generating Opportunity (IGO) for local farm workers and their families. Discover more about the challenges of obtaining fresh produce in the remote bush environment, in this Q&A with Chef Dylan below – as featured here, in Camp Jabulani’s blog, Camp Jabulani: Fine Cuisine & Fresh Produce.
As head chef based in the remote bush, what are the challenges you face acquiring fresh produce regularly?
Sourcing fresh produce at the moment you need it, can prove a bit difficult. For example, I can’t just pick up a shopping bag and head to the local grocery store to get ripe cherry tomatoes or baby spinach – not to mention fresh herbs. In this type of environment, it is all about planning, planning and more planning.
Your menus include a variety of dishes in order to accommodate guests’ different tastes and dietary requirements. How does that influence your choice of fresh produce?
It has quite an impact, especially when ensuring special dietary and allergy requirements are met, coupled with working around the availability of seasonal produce. However, my kitchen is extremely flexible and we will always do our absolute best to cater for all special requests.
Are you able to ask the farmers to grow certain products for you?
I’m sure that if something specific is needed and it can be grown at the farm, they will do it with the greatest of pleasure.
In a way, you’re in the land of milk and honey if you take into account the agriculture in the area. Do you think the local farmers export most of their fresh produce and leave behind a lower quality for locals to use?
Camp Jabulani is situated near fantastic mango, citrus, avocado, pumpkin, sweet potato, tomato and many other farms. While they do indeed export a lot of produce, there is thankfully very little difference between the exported produce and what we source locally.
Does the farmers’ produce have a huge impact on the dishes you serve, or you always look for other ways to get the ingredients if your mind is fixed on a certain recipe?
When my mind is set on a dish that I believe will work, I will do my best to create it. My suppliers may take some time finding the required ingredients, but they usually deliver what I need. If they can’t get what I need, I’ll work around the missing element by replacing it with something that will be equally successful.
Camp Jabulani is situated in an extremely hot part of the country, how does the temperature affect the freshness of produce?
Being in the Lowveld, the climate does definitely affect produce; compared to the southern regions of the country where certain fresh produce thrives in high temperatures and humidity. But again, planning and good fridges go a long way to help keep produce at optimal level. Unfortunately, the heat here doesn’t allow us to work too much with chocolate and especially the tempering thereof. In addition, the humidity limits the use of certain snacks, as you can’t make macaroons or any sort of soft tasty snack.
Tell us about the dried mangoes. Do guests enjoy them?
Hoedspruit has fantastic mango farms that export fresh and dried mangoes. Dried mangoes are wonderful as they can be used in many ways; for example, in sauces, as garnish for plates, morning breakfast cereals, etc. They also have a high nutritional value as they are high in vitamin A, and contain higher calories than fresh mangoes.
Certain organisations and the media are in support of buying local, which has become an expectation; do you see that from Camp Jabulani guests as well, or do they not care where the ingredients come from?
Our guests regularly enquire about the produce we use; where we get certain items like our herbs, edible flowers and venison meats.
How did you find the visit to the Hlokomela Herb Garden – was it what you expected?
Adine Roode, the owner of Camp Jabulani, introduced me to the local herb supplier, Hlokomela. I’m happy with their produce, but only recently had the opportunity to visit their operation. They really care for the produce they supply and I can honestly say the work they do there is fantastic. They provide help to local farm workers with income, medical treatment and by creating awareness within the younger generation through education.