“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart” ~ Cesar Chavez
One would think that coming on safari is all about the wildlife. It is. But it’s also about the moments in between each safari excursion that makes for a richer, more memorable experience. So, while we take great joy in showing our guests the famous Leopards of Londolozi and the lion prides, we also thoroughly enjoy it when our guests sit back after a good meal with a satisfied smile on their faces.
The food experience has always been something that we have put a huge amount of thought into. At its core, our menu is simply sophisticated. Those two words describing the combination of elements that our Chef team is guided by. Our food must always be uncomplicated, wholesome, ethically sourced, and made. But it must also be something that brings a smile to our guests’ faces when it gets delivered to the table – something a little more sophisticated than one would expect to receive in the middle of the vast wilderness of South Africa. And driving these two principles is a committed, talented and experienced team of Chefs in the Londolozi kitchen. All lead by our newest Executive Chef yet, Chané Devonport. I thought it was time to share her food story (so far) with you, and so we sat down together – me at the kitchen counter and her pottering over the stove as she made one of her all-time favourite dishes…
For as long as I can remember, food has always been my passion. Growing up with a mother who was always in the kitchen cooking or baking, I would sit on the countertop watching and observing for hours. Spending the best part of 15 years in Hong Kong, my passion for food grew even more as I was exposed to different flavours and ingredients that Asian cuisine had to offer. Having traveled a lot, I was also exposed to different cuisines from a young age.
Knowing that food was a path I wanted to follow, I began my culinary career at Silwood’s School of Cookery in Cape Town in 2016. After completing my industry placements in my second year, the opportunity to move to the bush arose. Although I had not spent much time in the bush growing up, the excitement for a new adventure and environment led me to move my life across the country where I completed my final year here at Londolozi Game Reserve. Having spent so much of my life in the city the thought of being in the bush surrounded by nothing but nature and animals intrigued me. What I had originally thought would be a year in the bush has been almost four. From starting out as a student to working my way up to the Executive Chef, I have learned a lot about how to run a kitchen, but more specifically, how to create a culinary experience and provide that heartwarming feeling food gives.
If I had to define my food style, to some extent it is simply sophisticated as that is the style in which we produce food at Londolozi, and how I have been trained. But I’d also say the food I make has an element of fine dining, more in the way that it is presented (simply sophisticated with a fine dining twist). For me, it’s also about mixing flavours together – ones that might not necessarily make sense but, put together, complement one another. Going back to the basics, deconstructing the flavours and creating something you wouldn’t quite expect. I really enjoy keeping a menu vague – it allows the mind to wander and try to envision what the dish will be, but not completely painting the full picture. The element of surprise is something I really try to incorporate into each dish or dinner experience.
My go-to dish or favourite thing to make if I’m at home would 9/10 times be something Asian. Having spent so much time there and completely diving into their cuisine, and exploring their flavours from a young age, it is a big part of who I am and the food I love. A Tom Yum Noodle Soup is definitely one of my favourites – a beautiful spicy Thai broth with rice noodles. With strong lemongrass, kaffir lime base, hints of tomato, onion, and chilli, the combination of sweet and sour, flavour of prawn – it all hits the spot just right. Being able to slurp up some broth with rice noodles, for me, sums up Asian cuisine. Whether it be Chinese, Vietnamese, or Thai, the concept of noodle soups varies slightly but it all has the same warm feeling to it.
Good homemade pasta is also one of my go-to dishes to make. Very much like a Tom Yum Noodle soup, that feeling one receives when a craving has been satisfied… pasta does that for me. Whether it be my Mum’s chicken, asparagus, pesto, and pine nut pasta or a beautiful sun-dried tomato, chorizo Mediterranean pasta – the combinations are endless but the result is always rewarding.
For me, cooking isn’t about one style. I love a fine dining element and a beautiful 5-course dinner but I will always retreat to a wholesome home-cooked meal and foods that I grew up with, reminding me of my childhood and things my Mother used to make – going back to my roots. I think that is why the Londolozi style of cooking works so well.
Stepping into the position of Executive Chef has been a wonderful learning curve that has not only pushed me to be the best that I can be but has also taught me that this is more than a job. It is a family that supports me in my journey and a place that has quickly become my home-away-from-home. I truly do not believe that I could have done this without the incredible support of the team of Sous Chefs that surround me in the Londolozi kitchen. Their wisdom, their guidance, and their openness to let me grow and learn have been more than I could have asked for. Some of these Executive Sous Chefs have been at Londolozi for more than 15 years and I am blown away by the level of skill and by their locally grown talent. It certainly has been a masterclass for me…
The unique bond with one another and the way in which they work together is unlike any other kitchen I have worked in before, and it is inspiring. Being able to share my knowledge and passion for food with the chefs, and watch as they grow in the process has been the most rewarding part of this job. Having the creative freedom and ability to constantly think of ways to make the menu more interesting and exciting for our guests, while sharing a little bit of my background, has allowed me to add a touch of who I am. It has given me the ability to share my passion for food with guests and provide them with a unique culinary experience in the bush, which I hope to continue doing.
I love spending time with Chané. As someone who also loves to cook and be creative in the kitchen, I am always inspired to try new things when she shares her knowledge with me. And her passion for her job and the tenacity that she has shown in taking the reins as Londolozi’s executive chef shows in the food that the collective team of chefs is producing. Every mouthful is delicious. And every bowl or plate of food is prepared with love. I hope that you will have the opportunity to visit sometime soon and meet Chane, and taste her menu for yourself.