I bump into Thonga Beach Lodge Chef Carl Moller placing the final touches on the colourful and healthy lunch buffet table. “How are you Carl?” I ask. “Very excited!” he exclaims. A multitude of possibilities flood my mind in the split second he takes to answer. Maybe he met someone interesting? Maybe he bought a new car? Maybe he got promoted? Oh no wait he can’t get promoted any higher – he is already Executive Head Chef of all Isibindi Africa Lodges. I focus back in on his actual answer. “This very Thursday – I can’t wait…” he continues, “we have a new delivery of fresh fish from a brand new supplier coming to Thonga!” I close my mouth and remember to squeal as an appropriate delighted response. “I know!” he says, eyes shining. “We have struggled for so long to get the right quality of seafood up here, even though we are at the ocean. The big guys swoop in and buy everything.”
This opens up a whole new line of inquiry. It seems that the utmost quality of produce is near and dear to Chef Carl’s heart and it is a big part of his job – finding the right suppliers to deliver the highest end, freshest ingredients.
The Isibindi Africa Lodges are set in pristine natural environments, remotely placed from the big urban centres in South Africa. This encourages shrewd creativity and indigenous knowledge in sourcing local, seasonal suppliers, because you can’t just walk into a high-end shop and buy imported anything-and-everything at all times of the year. Chef Carl enthusiastically lists off his precious cargo supply list – such as organic lettuce from a specific farm in Hluhluwe and free range chicken and eggs from another local farm. I ask about the brand of olives which he uses, as I have noticed that they are particularly tasty and fresh – last night’s olive tapenade which accompanied the lamb was full of flavour and at the same time subtle, not the slap-you-in-the-face rough tapenade which is usually found in my circles. “Yes,” Chef Carl nods almost reverentially, “very important to get the right brand of proper Calamata olives” and he names his supplier.
You can hear that underlying these details, this chef has a modern food philosophy. He believes in “not messing too much with the food” but letting the freshest and tastiest seasonal ingredients speak for themselves. As I move towards the lunch table, I find myself picking up each ingredient with new respect and awe. The salmon is light and unfishy. The beetroot and goats cheese salad is a celebration of contrasting colour and texture and a flavour match made in heaven. The lettuce is vibrant green and the fruit sings on the platter.
What a pleasure, I reflect, to have someone who is so passionate about quality and freshness to scour the local farms and markets so that people like us can grow in our appreciation of the flavours of the sea and earth of Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, simply by walking off the beach to the buffet table to taste all that this beautiful part of the planet has to offer.