Cordon Bush — Herman Breedt’s Botswana Gourmet

by Sandy Salle on May 3, 2017

Bream ceviche with smoked eggplant puree . . . garden pea and thyme soup with cauliflower tempura . . .  exotic mushroom and spiralized zucchini noodle stir fry with baby bok choi. Definitely not the kind of dishes you expect to come across in the African bush.

Yet Duba Plains Camp in the Okavango Delta of northern Botswana offers these decadent dishes and more thanks to a skilled cooking staff and the culinary flair of head chef Herman Breedt.

One of a dozen Great Plains Conservation safari camps spread between Botswana and Kenya, Duba perches on the edge of Africa’s legendary wetlands. The camp is open year-round — both rainy season and dry season in the Okavango — and comprises only five luxury tents.

Amazing wildlife and lush landscapes are the main reason that people travel to the Okavango. But anyone who stays at Duba Plains comes away raving about Herman, too.

“I was stunned with what he was able to do in a ‘bush kitchen,’ says Amy Green from Hills of Africa, who visited Duba Plains and sampled Herman’s wondrous concoctions last September. “He created a fabulous six-course tasting menu for us. It’s amazing what these chefs are working with, yet still manage to provide gourmet food. Always fresh and sometimes very surprising.”

We recently caught up with Herman again at Duba Plains Camp to ask about the secret to his success at wilderness cooking:

How did you get your start cooking? Do you have formal training?

Photo courtesy of Great Plains Conservation, Duba Plains

Photo courtesy of Great Plains Conservation, Duba Plains

I can’t say I’ve ever had a calling to become a chef. I’ve always been passionate about food, but like many people, I had no idea what to do with my life after school and somehow ending up being assimilated into the hospitality industry. The best description would be that I came for the food and stayed for the surreal life experiences — seeing the world through the “back door.” I indeed have some short formal training. However, everything I’ve learn was outside of that. I was very fortunate to have a handful of incredible mentors who I will always be indebted to. Actual work experience made me a chef.

What’s the biggest challenge to cooking in the bush?

Has to be the isolation from the world. The outside world stops existing after a while. Being out here in the wilderness for so long changes the way you see the world when you’re back again. The transition can be difficult. Like a pause/play button for the world. It certainly isn’t for everyone. Also, remaining passionate and creative every day for three months — under lots of constraints — as we are in such a remote location.

What’s the best thing about cooking in the bush?

The moments that guests can’t buy. Going on a helicopter ride for the first time thanks to the kindness of a pilot. Joining a maintenance trip through the Okavango Delta for a whole day in the most uncomfortable truck, losing the lights for hours and driving with a cellphone torch [flashlight]. Forgetting where you are and nearly driving into a lion on your commute. Elephants eating berries off my roof when I go to bed. Living with the staff. Enjoying the contrast of the enormously different worlds between guests and staff.

What are your favorite dishes to create?  What’s your specialty, your style?

I spent two years working in an Italian restaurant, so that has forever cemented my love for anything Mediterranean. I love the robust, simple flavors and the celebration of seasonal produce. Dishes that show off something as honest and humble as a tomato. I also love all Eastern food for the amazing variety — so much more interesting than Western cuisine — perhaps as I didn’t grow up with it. So I would say my style would be a fusion between Eastern and Mediterranean. Great Plains gives chefs total freedom, so I make the food I love and also experiment with new ideas.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Food is one of the most real tangible things I can think of. It lived and died for us to enjoy. I can experience it with all my senses. It’s as infinite as music in the endless variations of countless ingredients. But mostly, it’s a common thing that all humans share. It brings people together and makes us feel good. All these things make me very happy to devote so much of my life to this. And truly sincere compliments make all the slavery worthwhile.

Photo courtesy of Great Plains Conservation, Duba Plains

Photo courtesy of Great Plains Conservation, Duba Plains

Is there something you are requested to cook that you secretly despise?

Meringue. Silly weather-dependent, overly sugary white crisps.

What would you like our readers to know about experiencing a safari in the Okavango?

This is one of the last natural systems barely touched by humans. Come and see it sooner rather than later, as it’s difficult to be an environmental optimist in the world we currently live in.

What are your dreams for the future?

I’m still just as lost and confused about my future as when I started doing this 11 years ago. But what an amazing ride it’s been thus far. I can happily report that I am much more contented with the fact that life is totally unpredictable. If you had told me I would be writing this from the heart of the Okavango Delta a few years ago, I would have laughed at you. So I plan to continue the ride blissfully unaware of what the future holds.

 

Come join us on an African Safari Vacation.  It’s time to say YES and create memories in 2017.

Call us on 1-800-940-9344 or email us at hoainfo@hillsofafrica.com

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