Africa is a nation rich in a diversity of flavour, and as Virginia Woolf so adequately said: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”. The Elephant Camp is committed to providing guests with a delicious cuisine that celebrates our bounty of fresh local produce, ensuring that every meal is an experience to be remembered and revered.
Dean Jones, Wild Horizons’ Executive Chef, based at The Elephant Camp, recognises that food is more than just a meal, but an art in the most delicious form. He believes that “being a chef is an expression of character, passion, creativity and love”. Dean did his culinary training at Silwood School of Cookery in Cape Town, which is highly acclaimed for its three-year Grande Diploma Course. However, it was while watching his mother prepare sweet and savoury snacks for functions as a young boy that his seeds of passion were sown. He soon recognised food as a way of bringing people together and expressing himself through the different flavour profiles in each meal.
During his culinary training, Dean was taught the fundamentals of French Cooking. Throughout his first year, he mastered the techniques that would come to define, and radiate, through his expertly accomplished dishes. During his second year, Dean spent two months in five different kitchen environments, where he gained valuable experience working at several reputable restaurants, including The Conservatory at The Cellars Hohenourt, Myoga Restaurant at the Vineyard Hotel in Claremont, and The Foodbarn in Noordhoek. Dean’s innovative and creative recipe development and food styling skills can be attributed to his time spent with Abigail Donnelly at the Woolworths Taste Magazine.
In the April of 2016, Dean was selected as a semi-finalist out of tens of thousands of chefs from around the world in a global competition called The San Pellergrino Young Chefs Award. Due to this Global competition, at the age of 30, Dean was recognised as one of the worlds ‘up-and-coming’ young chefs.
If food is the body of good living, then wine is the soul. Under the guidance of Chef Margot Janse at Le Quartier Francais’s The Tasting Room in the beautiful Cape Winelands of Franschhoek, Dean gained valuable knowledge about the process of tasting wine, as well as the winemakers themselves. Dean will introduce and execute decadent Wine & Coffee pairings, as well as High Tea & Champagne pairings that are sure to exhilarate our flow of international clientele. Having been motivated by a variety of multi-talented and well-renown chefs, Dean is now striving to be the type of food connoisseur that future diners and chefs are inspired by.
Dean has a passion for pastry that arose while he spent time in his Ouma’s bakery as a young boy. Through his flaky phyllo pastry, tantalising tarts, and buttery crisp croissants, Dean’s freshly baked menu achieves a wow factor in textures, flavours and presentation. American humorist Erma Brombeck was right when she told the world: “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.” It will take a strong-willed person to wave away Dean’s pastry display.
The concept of travelling is infused with the aromas and tastes of each place that we visit, and in order to truly absorb a culture, we need to savour the delicacies that the region has to offer. The meals devised by Dean are well worth travelling for.
Happiness is derived from good food, good music and good wine, all three of which Dean has a well-nurtured passion for. His creativity in the kitchen shapes food artistry that introduces diners to new sensations, cultures and tastes.
“Life is made up of many wonderful, colourful people, and food has a way of bringing cultures, families and friends together. It has the ability to induce nostalgia, calm, healing and peace.” – Dean Jones.
While sitting in the stunning Lookout Café overlooking the Batoka Gorge, with a salted caramel pretzel milkshake in hand, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Chef Renzo on his annual visit to the Wild Horizons properties . Originally born in Portugal, Chef Renzo moved to South Africa in 1994. He has spent many years working closely with and for several leading hotel chains. His varied experiences have given him different and exciting perspectives on food. He visits the Wild Horizons group annually to work with the in house chefs and to bring in creative new ideas in the menus being offered. In keeping with current trends the Wild Horizons group, incorporating The Elephant Camp, Stanley and Livingstone, Imbabala Zambezi Safari Lodge and the Lookout Café, like to update their menus seasonally with imaginative ideas to celebrate the move from winter into summer.
Chef Renzo stresses that a key component of a menu is the availability of ingredients and at all times there is an emphasis on quality and freshness. He told me that a current food trend at the moment is the use of herbs and this will be a key component in many of the salads gracing Wild Horizons tables. He and the team are always on the lookout for delectable bites with a difference.
Many guests of the Wild Horizons group are often lucky enough to visit at least two of the properties and as such it is important that each lodge boasts its own style of food. In keeping with the Wild Horizons mantra that every dining experience must be different Chef Renzo is planning on implementing a revolving menu at each lodge that will include a buffet, a set menu including at least 3 options and a bush braai out of camp. He plans to make even further use of our unique and glorious African settings on the doorsteps of our lodges.
Of course availability of stock can sometimes hinder the imagination but there is no shortage of fresh salad ingredients in Victoria Falls . Much to the delight of our chefs, local entrepreneur Dave Cooper has started up his own hydroponic vegetable garden within Victoria Falls. Moving away from mass market gardening Dave is growing, with unbelievable success, a wide variety of the more unusual and yet sought after salad ingredients including fancy lettuce, a variety of tomatoes, several varieties of edible flowers and a spectacular array of fresh herbs.
Wild Horizons look forward to spoiling you with our new and creative menus that are welcoming in the summer of 2016. Written by Libby White
The Elephant Camp has recently been invited, with other leading hospitality establishments in Victoria Falls, to spearhead a new project in Zimbabwe. This is to be part of Green Tourism, the largest and most established sustainable certification programme in the world, with the aim of achieving one of their respected awards.
A Green Tourism Award means that a business works responsibly, ethically and sustainably; contributes to their community; reduces their impact on the environment and aims to be accessible and inclusive to all. Businesses that meet the required standard receive a Bronze, Silver or Gold award.
The Elephant Camp has worked tirelessly since its inception, to reduce the impact of the business on the environment and improve links with the local community and now feels the time is right to join the programme. We currently have the following initiatives in place and look forward to expanding upon these:
- Solar Heating: All of our water heating systems are either solar or currently in the process of being converted to solar.
- Worm Farm: All plant waste there from Elephant Camp, as well as most elephant dung from our resident herd, is fed into our worm farm, creating valuable compost for use in our organic vegetable garden.
- Organic Garden: In order to supply as much organic produce to our guests as possible The Elephant Camp produces much of its own herbs, spices and vegetables for use in our kitchens.
- Indigenous Tree Planting Program: To rehabilitate areas that were once denuded of trees by uncontrolled wood collection, we created an indigenous tree nursery. Trees are grown from seed and are transplanted once established, into areas in need of rehabilitation.
- Biological Monitoring and Erosion Control: The Elephant Camp employs a qualified Environmental Officer to monitor the biology of the reserve and assists with mitigation. Bi-annual biological surveys are conducted, alien vegetation is eradicated and soil erosion is carefully managed in the reserve and on neighbouring communal areas.
- Community Relations: We make every effort to employ staff from neighbouring areas, and work closely with the community on projects such as transporting thatch from neighbouring areas annually for roofing of homes in neighbouring areas annually for roofing of homes.
- Education: The Elephant Camp frequently hosts school children on educational trips, teaching them about and allowing them to experience, the beautiful natural environment and the threats that face it today.
The Elephant Camp will be graded on-site by a qualified team of assessors against a rigorous set of criteria, covering a range of areas such as energy/water efficiency, waste management, biodiversity, social involvement and communication.
Craig White, Operations Director said:
Wild Horizons pride ourselves on being driven by a team that is passionate about our environment, and fully committed to sustainable environmental practices. The inclusion in Green Tourism is an exciting development to our business, as The Elephant Camp strives to be a leader in sustainable tourism practices. Whilst we have come a long way on our own initiatives, the inclusion in such a prestigious body gives us a host of new challenges which we are determined to meet in our quest to reach Gold Standard status.
It is also extremely exciting on a National level, to see that Zimbabwean Tourism has evolved to the stage where international bodies such as Green Tourism are keen to establish a foothold in the country. This inevitably encourages local companies to strive toward sustainable environmental practices. International travellers are seeking out establishments that practise environmentally sustainable tourism. This naturally encourages operators to look closely at their businesses from an environmental perspective, or risk being left behind as tourists become more discerning in their holiday choices.
About The Elephant Camp
The Elephant Camp is a luxurious and intimate lodge under canvas within easy reach of Victoria Falls. Situated on a private concession with breathtaking views of the Victoria Falls’ spray, and the spectacular gorges which separate Zimbabwe from Zambia. We also cater to exclusive groups and families at The Elephant Camp West, which has exclusive suite accommodation for 8 guests in 4 luxury tents.
About Green Tourism
Green Tourism awards recognise places to visit that are taking action to support the local area and the environment in general. Green Tourism is the largest sustainable certification programme of its kind, assessing hundreds of fantastic places to stay and visit worldwide, with Zimbabwe being the latest addition to their portfolio.
MEET OUR PEOPLE: ‘KHULE’
Mkhulekelwa Ndlovu or ‘Khule’ for short was born 44yrs ago in a small village in Matabeleland. As the last born of a family of 9 Khule was designated the sole cattle minder. He first went to school at the age of 10 due to the demands of home chores his duties herding cattle. Yet this uncomplaining man sees the silver lining in every situation and says:
This gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about the bush and survival skills before my academic education.
He completed his primary and secondary education in the same village where he grew up and after that began working for a private vet, who used to take him to game farms. Here he met some game rangers and safari guides who inspired him to go into guiding. When speaking about his decision to become a guide Khule’s passion for nature really shines.
I realised from my childhood there was something in me about learning and sharing with boys of my age on tracking and other bush life activities. It was like nature wears the colour of my spirit, as such becoming a guide was the only platform that could make me share the piece of heaven on earth with others.
Khule leads a walking safari
Khule has been guiding since he first got his learner’s licence in 1996. He says he was privileged to be under the tutorship of a renowned Professional Guide who encouraged him to work hard. He qualified as a full Professional Guide in 2001 and has never looked back. He says he most enjoys meeting different people and taking them on walking safaris.
It makes you feel very much close to nature and causes you to engage with the natural world with all your senses; smell, sight, touch, etc This is the time that I pay attention to all details of nature; from bugs to elephants, from grasses to trees from butterflies to birds, it satisfies your soul.
His career has also given the opportunity to see some truly amazing sightings.
I have had a few breath taking sightings but the one I recall most was a chase by painted hunting dogs after a kudu. This poor kudu dived into the water where there was a crocodile basking on the edge. It quickly went in and caught the kudu’s side. Within the few minutes this shallow water hole changed to red with blood. The dogs would go for the nose as the kudu tried to escape; it would turn back and the croc would have a go again. It attracted fish as well and this poor kudu was having cat fish all around attracted to the blood. This drama last a few minutes and eventually the crocodile got the ‘lion’s share’. But it was not over for the dogs as they saw an impala and gave chase. It was caught by surprise and disembowelled within minutes. Vultures started landing and dogs struggled to keep them away. It was like a staged act and we could hardly believe what nature could offer in such as short time frame.”
It’s clear from Khules’ answers that all of nature holds inspiration for this man who loves to share it with his guests. He has a particular soft spot for rhinos saying that they look prehistoric and fascinate him but also that he feels particularly strong empathy for them due to their persecution by humans. He encourages others to enter the guiding industry but says you should be prepared for the careers rigours;
“For starters, one has to love nature, love people and have patience and a soft heart. Being a guide is also being an ambassador for nature. You should be passionate, be prepared to live within ethics. Be a hard worker who can stand the hard demands of different people and be able to remain smiling. This one industry that can give you opportunities to meet celebrities, change the world and change lives.”
And finally, Khule has a few words to share to those wanting to come and experience the beauty of Zimbabwe. He says it’s important to experience nature without prior expectations so you can enjoy it all as it comes.
“To my guests, I say look deep into nature and you will understand it better. On earth, there is no heaven but there are pieces of it. The fact that you have come this far, make the best out of it, we start the journey together and share what is on offer here.”