Kate caught up with Wilderness Safaris Premier Chef Trainer Freedom Nxele during her recent visit to Kings Pool Camp in Botswana. Here are 15 questions that we put to him...
How and when did your Wilderness Safaris journey begin?
When I joined the company I had not worked in the bush before and I was scared of everything. I had come straight from working in the Middle East where I was a private chef for the Prince. I had no bush experience whatsoever. On my first night at one of our Botswana camps I had an elephant that kept shaking a tree outside my tent. I was so frightened the entire night. The next day I was ready to pack my bags and leave but decided to give it one more chance… This was four years ago, and I have been with Wilderness ever since.
After two months of living and working in the wilderness, I had fallen in love with it… This is the best job ever!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Pietermaritzburg in a community where being a chef was not considered a man’s job or a “proper” job. When I told my dad that I wanted to be a chef, he looked at me as if to say, “Are you serious?” I had done well in maths and science so I think he had hoped that I would study engineering or something scientific.
My dad’s opinion changed after attending an open day in the Midlands where we got to find out more about the International Chef School. After this, my dad showed his understanding and warmed up to the idea. He later expressed that he was happy to pay my tuition fees to become a chef!
What is your favourite part of your job?
My favourite part of my job is working with and training people who may not have been able to have the same training that I was fortunate to have. I love being able to share my knowledge with other people.
My biggest challenge is training chefs from the local community who do not speak English or speak very little English, making them tough to train. It’s not easy for someone to quickly become proficient in English and it’s often very difficult for people to learn the pronunciation of French and Italian food terms. That said, this is also one of the reasons why I love my job. It keeps me challenged and makes things interesting.
What’s your favourite camp recipe?
Actually this is one of our recent additions to the menu… It’s the Botswana hand-made beef burger. It’s really delicious!
What tip would give to an aspiring bush chef?
One of the main things that the bush has taught me is how to make Plan B. It’s not like you can quickly run to the market to buy something. For young chefs I would suggest trying to work at one of our camps – it teaches you so much, everything from the importance of timing to stocktaking.
One thing we probably don’t know about you…
I am actually shy! I am happy to talk in front of people but I am shy…
Do you have a favourite wild animal?
A leopard. I love the colours of their coat and how they eat and manage to keep so clean.
What’s the next project that you are excited about?
Our next big project is re-opening Mombo Camp. This will come with a lot of big challenges and a lot of different menus and food selections. It’s going to be an interesting project for sure.
What foods are your “must-haves” in a kitchen?
I cannot work in the kitchen without lemon, butter and garlic. These are my favourites. I can do so much with these three ingredients. I need at least one of these foods when I cook.
How would you describe WS foods in two words?
Tasty and Healthy.
Favourite thing to do in your spare time?
I love deejaying. I even deejay in my room. I love loud music so I put headphones on and play around with music. I enjoy listening to house music and rock ‘n roll.
Do you have a camp that’s closest to your heart?
I have a special connection to Mombo that stems from working on the camp’s a la carte menu. I worked on the menu from scratch so I always tell guests to let me know about their food experience and whether they enjoyed it.
Any memory that stands out?
One day I was taking food (at Little Vumbura) to the buffet at the camp. On my way to the buffet table I got chased by an elephant. I had to run away along the boardwalk but this meant that I dropped the entire main course onto the ground in the process. I had to go and explain to the guests what had happened. I said, “Your dinner is going to be a bit late as I had a roadblock.” This story turned out to be a highlight for our guests. I mean, you don’t get that kind of experience in the city – try explain this in the urban jungle and you’ll receive a very different response.
Kate grew up exploring the bushveld on her family rose farm, living among Nguni cattle, geese, warthogs, ostriches and horses. After completing an Honours degree at the University of Cape Town, Kate began working at Wild magazine as a journalist and as the Digital Editor of the Wild Card website. Kate has travelled to destinations throughout southern Africa, enjoying the many rich offerings of our country. Her work at Wild magazine helped secure her next move to Londolozi Game Reserve where she worked in their Creative team managing online communications and assisting guests with their wildlife photography. Kate now lives in Johannesburg and is proud to be a part of Wilderness Safaris in her role as copywriter. “I am very excited to work for a company that makes such a huge difference to people’s lives and to the wild places throughout our incredibly beautiful and diverse continent.”