A Day in the Life of a Delta Chef

Dec 4, 2015 Trip Reviews
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When your day starts by bumping into a hyaena you know it's going to be extraordinary. Jao Camp’s Executive Chef Cindy Swart describes a typical day in the Delta…

"When the alarm goes off at 3:30, you know there is a long day ahead with a bunch of adventures. Well, anyway, that's what I try and convince myself is happening. So after a quick prep to get ready for the day, I am off in the darkness and hoping not to meet the hippo family along the way. As I get to the kitchen and start putting on the lights there is a weird feeling in my tummy and around the corner comes a snout, then a head and then the body of a hyaena! Not too sure where she went or if she got as much of a fright as I did, but I was through that door at high speed. Kettle on the stove, ovens lit and the bread dough starter is warming up and coming back to life.

Day in the life of a Delta chef

We are putting the final touches to the picnic lunch, packing the koloi (Land Rover), and putting ice into the coolers as a faint light appears in the distance and the sun starts to rise. Nadia and I are off to Hunda Island to set up a brunch for our guests. We do our last checks, see we have some sunscreen between us and we are off. As we drive across both the Jao and Kwetsani floodplains we have the local wildlife giving us quite a show, lechwe leaping across the paths, flocks of spur-winged geese flying out to start their day, and a plethora of birds and animals to guide us along the way to the audi (Setswana for fish-eagle) boat station for our time-slotted shuttle across to our next meeting.

Day in the Life of a Delta chef

Tables first, then the chairs, then the trunks and finally the food… this is an order that by the end of the day we are going to become very familiar with. The boat starts up with a roar of the mud buddy engine, and we are off. As we cruise along the shallow waters we are privileged to watch flights of the many egrets, herons and other water birds which have gathered to catch all the little fish on their way from the shallow floodplains back into the main channels.

We arrive at the jetty and meet up with our next mode of transport, one of the concessions tractors. Tables first, then the chairs, then the trunks and finally the food, Nadia and I are starting to get used to this, and it's starting to go a little faster. As the tractor starts up and we get going, around the corner there is a herd of elephants. Sitting on the trailer of the tractor, we are given a unique angle for observing the herd, and we look down on the elephants – something that not many people are able to claim that they have done.

Monatsa, the legendary tractor driver of NAS, stops and tells us to hold on, and we do! We go down and around a termite mound and then we are there, the hide at Hunda, one of my favourite spots on the whole Jao Concession. Tables first, then the chairs, then the trunks and finally the food… and then the set-up is started, we get all the tables set, the bar up and running and the food out. This doesn’t take too much time, and then we get to sit and watch the animals visiting the floodplain in front of us… we see the lechwe herds arriving and skittishly leaping across the water, the elephants, so confident in their size, elegantly sail through the shallow waters and come out on the other side. The birdlife is incredible and I am in my element. Nadia is having a good giggle at the levels of excitement that come with a flock of 11 wattled cranes landing near us or black herons, wing shields up, and shadow hunting for the little morsels that live in the water.

Black heron fishing

“Jao Bravo Bravo, five out” and it’s time for action. Nadia gets the face towels out of the ice buckets, I start unwrapping and doing final prep on the food and then there is a flurry of action as the guests arrive, eat the food and get their drinks. As they sit down, a herd of elephant we had seen earlier arrive and spend a good while playing in the water. “So this is how you sort out lunch time entertainment”, "This is a picnic?” are just some of the comments that are made about the set-up. We sit for a while chatting about the island, the Delta and life in general and then the guests are off on their trip back through Hunda Island and back off on their journey to Jao.

Tables first, then the chairs, then the trunks and finally the food – well the platters – as there is not much food left… back onto the trailer, and this time it all goes a little slower, we are starting to feel the weight of the trunks now. We get back onto the tractor trailer and Monatsa takes us back to the boat station. As we get to the boat station, we have to wait a few minutes, as there is a herd of elephants that are using the crossing, again a different kind of road block in a different kind of place. We repack the boat and are off to the so aptly named audi boat station as there are three-fish eagles calling as we pull into the jetty.

The final leg of the day is an amazing one, and we are lucky enough to have Isaac doing the driving for us, and we get to sit on the back of the koloi, and see the floodplains out in the open. We watch a thick-knee sitting on her eggs, a few days’ old lapwing and a huge number of lechwe; we also have a good laugh as we see flocks of spur-winged geese on their way back to their roosting spots, just the opposite of this morning.

I wonder if they thought the same thing of our journey? We get back into camp as the sun is setting and do final unpack. We stand next to the koloi and enjoy a moment of WOW, what a day it was…

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By Cindy Swart

Cindy is the Executive Chef of Jao Camp in the Okavango. She originally hails from Pietermaritzburg in Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, but her profession has taken her to the Drakensburg Mountain Range in South Africa, the Savute in Botswana and to Oxfordshire in the UK. With more than a decade of experience in not only the culinary trade, Cindy boasts experience in all aspects of lodge management and has an Outdoor Adventure Instructor qualification to add even more excitement to lodge living. Cindy’s passion for wildlife and cuisine is evident when you are in her company and when served one of her masterpieces. Her particular fondness for birds has often led to Cindy's casual strolls around the lodge resulting in a trail of guests in pursuit. Her outlook on the Delta is refreshing and warm, and is ever apparent in her literary contributions to this blog.

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