When you meet chef Wynand Schoeman, you’ll be forgiven for thinking he’s a game ranger.
For one, he waxes lyrical about spending time in the great outdoors. And second, he regularly swops his apron for some khakis and heads out into the wild yonder with nothing but a few ingredients, a braai stand and a bag of charcoal.
Wynand has just returned from Botswana, where he spent some time roughing it on the lesser-known tracks of the Kalahari, filming the pilot episode for a television show called Safari Sjef (yes, that’s how he spells it), a show he hopes to pitch to a local broadcaster when it’s complete.
“I have taken my two greatest loves and combined them into one challenging concept,” he says, with palpable passion.
But bush cooking is challenging, he says. “One has to find the right balance between easy-to-manage ingredients and cooking in the bush amongst wild animals. And of course doing all of this with no electrical appliances.”
The lack of electricity, which city slickers take for granted, and competing against either the blistering African sun during the day or fading natural light as evening creeps in, are just some of the challenges Wynand says he faces when cooking outdoors. But the intrepid chef says he wouldn’t have it any other way – it’s all part of the “bundu experience”, as he puts it.
Wynand says that when it comes to cooking, most recipes can just as easily be replicated in the bush as in a home kitchen, and it’s not as daunting as people seem to believe. The first order of business is to prepare in advance.
So he recommends that all the basics be done at home and to focus on just the cooking and assembling of the dish while you’re on your camp-out.
“You should try and do all the slicing and dicing and things that require a lot of rinsing at home and put those ingredients into containers to prepare on site.
“This way you don’t have to take so many ingredients or much equipment with you and you will save time, which you can spend with family and friends in the beautiful outdoors.”
Most people who camp outdoors think their only food option is a braai, but this is not so, Wynand stresses. “By taking simple South African favourites and giving them a little tweak, or just by using alternative ingredients that are available here, you can take outdoor food to a new level,” he explains.
“For example instead of using chicken kebabs try crocodile kebabs or even venison. Or make your own pizzas in the bush by taking a clean 25-litre drum, covering it in mud, letting it dry out and then lighting a fire under or around the drum. This way you have a homemade pizza oven in the bush.”
Even the side dishes, he says, can go beyond potato salad.
“By using locally produced ingredients you can prepare a very delicious, and different, root salad,” he says.
“Use parsnips, carrots and beetroots with some fresh coriander and splash this with a nice citrus and honey dressing. And you now have something other than a dull side dish.”
Wynand also insists that you can create the right setting, when you’re dining in the bush – you don’t have to rough it entirely. You also don’t have to resort to finding patches of ground where you’re overrun by creepy crawlies. Take along some inexpensive mobile outdoor furniture and some items from home for a funky African table-setting.
With Safari Sjef Wynand wants to revolutionise the way we cook outdoors, and show audiences the wonder and beauty of Africa.
This is not the only television project that he has up his sleeve. He’s also teamed up with award-winning television producer Julie Laurenz to produce a cooking show for KykNet called Sjef’s Tafel. It’s a show he believes will showcase his culinary expertise and solidify his position as one of the most creative chefs in the industry. It has yet to be set down for screening.
Says Schoeman of this project: “Take an Afrikaans chef, mix in some of SA’s best-loved personalities who will entertain in their own homes or favourite locations, and add a dash of drama by getting them to work with me to create a show-stopping dish to wow their guests every week and you’ve got a recipe for exciting and entertaining television.” - Sunday Independent