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
Anyone who has visited Victoria Falls, intends to visit Victoria Falls or has an interest in visiting this seventh wonder of the world will by now probably have heard of the increasingly popular Lookout Café. It is well known and popular for a number of reasons ….. its delicious food, its stunning location above the Batoka Gorge and its friendly staff to name but a few. Diners at the Lookout Café can observe adrenaline junkies flinging themselves off the gorge on one of the many Wild Horizons High Wire activities, watch the Zambezi River surging below or take in the magnificent spectacle of the Batoka Gorge. What many people don’t realize is that there is also a wonderful opportunity to see Verreaux’s Eagle (also known as the Black Eagle in Southern Africa). This is a great treat for anyone with even the slightest interest in ornithology. This very large eagle (the 6th longest in the world) can often be seen swooping and gliding over the craggy rocks of the gorge in search of hapless hyraxes.
To those who are not too familiar with this magnificent bird of prey, Verreaux’s Eagle is one of the most specialized species of raptors. These birds typically live in hilly and mountainous regions of Southern and Eastern Africa, including our very own Batoka Gorge. The distribution and life history of these birds revolve solely around its favorite food, rock hyraxes, or ‘dassies’ as they are known as locally. When hyrax populations decline Verraux’s Eagles have been known to survive with mixed results on on other species, but considering their highly specialized tastes they have survived the test of time exceptionally well in terms of keeping up their numbers! Their successful survival rate can also be attributed to the fact that they prefer to live in rugged and remote areas. Fortunately it is difficult for humans to destroy rocks and mountains and these areas are generally not favorable to humans so the areas in which these Eagles live have stayed relatively unchanged!
Unlike other eagles with their haunting cries, Verreaux’s Eagles are largely silent, giving no clue to their prey about their whereabouts. The first indication of the presence of one of these incredible Eagles is a flash of black or an ominous shadow cruising past in your peripheral vision. These birds will often hunt in low level flight and catch the rock hyraxes in a fast, twisting dive a few seconds after ‘surprising’ the hyrax. Interestingly, cooperative hunting has also been seen with one eagle in a pair flying past and distracting the prey while the other strikes from behind. ‘Dassies’ are so well camouflaged in their natural environment that we often all we see of them is a brief flash or fur but these Eagles can fly out and return with a kill in just a few minutes.
So the next time you are sitting and relaxing over a delicious meal at the Lookout Café bear in mind that you are in the heart of Verreaux Eagle country. Keep watch amongst the craggy rocks and in the lower levels of the gorge for this large black eagle with its trademark white ‘V’ mark on its back and listen for the silent whoosh of its enormous wings as it too seeks out its own specialized lunch! Written by Libby White
Moeketsi Ndlovu is a 30-year-old chef who grew up in Victoria Falls but was originally from Esigodini, Zimbabwe. His family noticed his talent in the kitchen early on.
My Grandmother used to enjoy my cooking so she always encouraged me to become a chef though she had a belief it was not a paying job.
His grandmother was right about Moeketsi’s talent but wrong about there not being paid employment in his field. He was employed by Victoria Falls Safari Lodge as an Apprentice Chef in 2005. Moeketsi is now a head chef with 10 years of experience under his belt and says one of his accomplishments was winning the restaurant of the year for the Palm Restaurant, Ilala Lodge, Victoria Falls for three years running during his time there.
On the 23’rd of December, Moeketsi opened the Wild Horizons Lookout Café as the head chef. The café is cantilevered on the edge of the Batoka Gorge and offers diners truly stunning views of the canyon and the Victoria Falls Bridge. However, the tasty and affordable menu brimming with simple, fresh flavours is what draws people. Moeketsi changes the menu with the season and loves to experiment with new dishes while still keeping the same value and quality the Lookout Café has become known for.
Planning a new menu has always given my career its challenges; playing around with combination of flavours, the health aspects of the menu and finally the costing which turns me into an accountant as well!
It is a technique that works and The Lookout Café has been an incredible success, garnering great reviews from international customers, and quickly becoming a favourite for local clientele. In the short space of a year café has more than doubled its seating capacity as a response to the overwhelming demand from the public. Much of this has been due to the innovation and hard work of the head chef and team in the kitchen who work hard every day to ensure the best food is served.
To young people wanting to become a chef Moeketsi says
‘…chefs have good job opportunities so if you have a passion for cooking it’s a fantastic job, but I repeat, only if you have passion!’