Updated: Mar 11
Claudine Swart is a Food Experience Manager at Wilderness Safaris, acclaimed as one of Africa's leading luxury and sustainable safaris company with operations in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. She runs down her journey of how a decision to switch to culinary arts paved way for her successes to date.
Born 36 years ago in Sasolburg, a town in the Free State in South Africa, Claudine vividly remembers having to beg her parents to change one of her study subjects to Hotel Economics.
“It took a while but finally I was allowed to make the change and so perhaps one could say that’s when the food journey began for me. I was exposed to the world of food preparation, gaining experience beyond the kitchen in more commercial spaces by helping my cooking teacher with catering for private functions over the weekend,” shares Claudine.
It soon became very clear to her that her decision to make a change in her subject choice was her best one yet. While her mother in particular, was very surprised when she mentioned that she wanted to try a hand at culinary school, Claudine was relentless in her campaign to get the go-ahead to chase her dream. With time, off they went to Centurion to the very well-known Prue Leith Chef Academy to see where fortunes would take her.
With only 30 Students that get selected, favour was on Claudine’s side. Training was intense with 2 practical sessions at a time at an establishment for 2 months. With each opportunity, Claudine opted to get her practical training at lodges located remotely in the bush. Jaci’s in the Madikwe Game Reserve was her first choice. Little did I know, 4 years later she would end up back there, working her way up to becoming the Head Chef at Tree Lodge.
After 8.5 years in Madikwe, it was time for a change and Claudine headed off to Botswana.
“I started at Wilderness Safari’s in 2013 as a Food & Beverage Manager, before working my way up to a Chef trainer for our Classic Camps. Today I am proud to be the Food Experience Manager for our Classic camps at Wilderness Safaris,” says Claudine
Favorite ingredients to use:
“You will always find fresh ginger & garlic in my kitchen together with a collection of herbs out of my vegetable garden.”
“Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey, Heston Blumenthal and one of my new favorites Jan who has 2 restaurants in Paris and cooks South African favorites with a modern twist.”
Favorite South African dishes…
Where do I start? There are so many to choose from. Milk tart, Malva Pudding, Koeksisters and the list can go on and on, but if I have to choose, my favorite remains the Amarula Malva Pudding. Who can resist the sweetness of the pudding flavoured with one of South Africa’s favorite drinks?
Second is Koeksisters - a favorite throughout my childhood. My mom’s Aunt Lena used to make it for everyone’s birthdays, weddings and at Church functions. Everybody always hoped there would be a little bit left over to take home.
Another favorite of mine is a good Bobotie. This is a meat dish that has some Malay flavors in it, often served with yellow rice and a good old dollop of Mrs. Balls’ Chutney.
A winner with a good old South African Braai is a “Braai broodjie” which I can best describe to those new to South African cuisine as a toasted sandwich. Except you can’t say this out loud to a South African person! Think cheese, onion, tomato and Mrs. Balls’ Chutney with a mix of the goodness that comes off the braai.
And when Claudine’s outside the kitchen?
“When I’m not playing around with flavours in my kitchen or at the lodges, you can find me curled up with a good book or in my vegetable garden. If not there I’m usually out and about with my partner and our 3 dogs. On occasion I do try my hand at photography, and there’s still lots for me to learn, but I love playing around with my camera,” she says.