The Art of Embracing Life – and the Sea

North Island, Seychelles

The Indian Ocean… it sinks beneath your skin and starts to alter the very ways you define yourself, the way you see life. I’ve never considered myself much of a sea person, opting for the mountains and forests instead, but perhaps the things we love most are simply the things we’ve given more of our attention to.

In the name of embracing life, in all its intricacies and dimensions, my mission has been to learn more about that which I don’t know, that which I sometimes even fear.  For instance, the ocean.

Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

There have been a few muses on my escapade. The first was an ocean unlike any I was used to. One much warmer and with several islands to hop to and from. The Indian Ocean. Starting with Madagascar…

At Anjajavy le Lodge on the north-west coast of the island, a new world of sea life I’d never before glimpsed showed itself to me. And, beside my guide, heading down, down, down with our flippers and snorkels, I felt safe, protected, excited by the unfamiliar rather than daunted.

Anjajavy le Lodge, Madagascar

Hanli Prinsloo, an experienced freediver and ocean lover, talks about this new world and the feeling of merging with it in a piece entitled, “What freediving can teach you about your body’s potential.”

It is insight that has inspired my own journey, because, as she writes, “it’s when you’ve discovered your inner aquatic animal that you can experience the ocean as just another creature, not an interloper with a big, bubbling gas tank. The beauty of our oceans … becomes yours to explore.”

North Island, Seychelles

She continues: “On one breath I leave the surface and kick my way down to where the liquid turns black. The sun is only a memory. Water presses in on me from all sides squeezing me harder than I think I can survive. But it’s still only water. Kicking, I fall deeper and deeper. Down there, the ocean feels like my private ocean. I’m reminded: I am water.

North Island, Seychelles

“To freedive is to feel the deep ancestry of our species—and to know that our species is still adapted to life under water.” The sea is “the place where we came from, and where we can return at least temporarily.” Read more from her here.

20 Degres Sud, Mauritius

I returned to the ocean for further practice at mammalian diving on a trip to Mauritius, at 20 Degres Sud. For several hours, we snorkelled off the side of an old pirogue, in a sea so blue, soft pastel in its hue. We played in the warmth and freedom, the silence and solitude, for so long that I started to feel the shift.

No mermaid tail grew, but I understood, then, how surfers spend every waking hour in the waves, how a wet-suit or surfboard might replace running shoes or Nordic poles.

Blue Margouillat, Reunion Island

Flying over the island of Reunion in a helicopter, starting at Blue Margouillat, I saw the bigger picture: ocean surrounding land, connecting each island to the next; and around Reunion: the warm waters of the lagoon lapping the sand, ocean waves beating against cliffs. Down below, in the island’s clear blue, other divers would be gliding over coral that is described as twisted like ancient trees, with stalactites and large-leaved marine plants. Trunkfish, surgeonfish, butterflyfish: friends whose names I was starting to remember.

Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, Zanzibar

On the east coast of Zanzibar, at Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa, the same warm sea flowed in and out, in and out, on shore. But deeper in the turquoise, and with new sea legs, I found the peace again. Surrounded by sea like my own personal island, society and its restraints, rules and responsibilities were mere imaginings. Around me, others experienced the wilder side of ocean life, windsurfing, stand-up-paddleboarding, kayaking.

North Island, Seychelles

In the Seychelles, I sat on the sandy beach of a private island – North Island – and let the transformation take place. I pondered pre-human existence and the rich life I’d witnessed in the deep big blue. I watched a hatchback turtle lay her eggs in a nest on land and then return to the sea.

How much easier her travels appeared once the waves had taken her! On shore, she braked after each tiring step, lugging her heavy shell along with her. Her flippers could let go of the burden once in those crystal waters. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be a weightless hatchling swimming beside her, to trace her journey into the great unknown – a land where no maps detail each road and highway, because there simply are none.

North Island, Seychelles

There is still much more to learn, but as I write this there is a snorkelling mask beside me – and a wetsuit that has finally made it out of the wardrobe. Which is a glide in the right direction – one out of fear, toward understanding. And maybe even love…

A Reverie of Music & Food – The Ellerman Sessions

It starts with Cat Stevens…

But take your time, think a lot,
Why, think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not

The first song Ard learned to play, long before he would become the front man of well-known and loved South African band, Just Jinjer. Over the course of two decades, singer and songwriter, Ard Matthews, has been honing his craft and charming people the world over.

His lyrics and melodies led the way to the incredible success of the band’s album title ‘All Comes Round’, becoming one of the biggest selling rock genre albums of all time in South Africa, achieving double platinum status in its first year.

We’re seated in the dimly-lit wine gallery of Ellerman House in Cape Town, a venue that has become, over the course of the Ellerman Sessions, a home of inspirational music, food, wine and company each month, with top musos and chefs telling their stories to hypnotised audience after hypnotised audience.

We start with the first courses of the night, creations of world-class chef, Peter Tempelhoff, whose own story is weaved alongside Ard’s.
In between each song, Peter, Executive Chef at The Cellars-Hohenort’s Greenhouse restaurant in Constantia, introduces himself and the evening’s cuisine.

He tells us about how his journey began… “My mom, a Canadian, was so bad at cooking when we were growing up in South Africa that I had to cook for the family or help mom cook. I wasn’t exposed to food in any big way but I knew that carpentry and tree-felling were not for me. I followed food and worked in the United Kingdom and then came back to South Africa 12 years ago. It’s great to be cooking in South Africa and to see how the culinary scene has taken off.”

And then to one of the primary reasons Ellerman House guests and Cape Town fans have come together for the evening:

“Tonight I’m going to take you on a journey of my culture, of South Africa. We will start with a range of breads, which came about somewhat by mistake – how the best inventions are made. You’ll taste ingredients like foie gras, which is part of my essence as a chef, pistachio nuts, black truffles from a farm in Kokstad, flavourful and pungent, and maples (inspired by my Canadian mother and her love for maple syrup).”

“We then have a Japanese inspired dish, born out of my love for the country and its cuisine, using kelp we foraged from our own Cape beaches and tuna that is fermented to make digestion easier. And before the final chocolate bento box, we have a Camembert cheesecake, which is the kind of dish that stays with you for life as a chef, it’s just so perfect.”

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

Ard follows his Cat Stevens’ cover with an original, the well-known Shallow Waters, a song of heartbreak, of losing a true love, a song he wrote about an ex-girlfriend who moved on “way too fast”.

I’m leaving shallow waters, I’m leaving all my dreams of you, I can’t go on, I want to run away… I think I’ll go today.

His song, Father and Farther follows and then those lyrics…

Sugar man, won’t you hurry
Cause I’m tired of these scenes
For a blue coin won’t you bring back
All those colors to my dreams

A cover of Sugar man, by Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, known professionally as Rodriguez, an American singer-songwriter whose songs were the soundtrack to many South Africans’ lives in the 70s and 80s. A man of myth and mystery, whom many thought had died, on account of that myth and mystery.

Ard tells us about the phone call that let him know that the great idol was well and truly alive – the day Sixto’s sister called to say that Rodriguez had heard his version of Sugar man, and “really loved it”. A call for Ard to continue on, if ever there was one…

“I never sit down to write,” Ard adds, sitting on a chair with his guitar resting on his knee, microphone standing tall in front of him. “I let it come to me, I never force things. The song comes to me in an instant. Like any art. I have such gratitude for this process. Sometimes I have the melody first and then the words come.”

Before starting his next song, What He Means, Ard tells us that the message of these lyrics is as important today as it was back when he wrote it: a message of “peace, love, more tolerance…” and, “Freedom, kindness, warm deliverance.”

With a little bit of ease and a little bit of calm
Acceptance is the key to all we know
What about a stir of compassion and lenience
What about some understanding
What about some sympathy

Ard continues to share tales about gypsy life, about having moved 30 times with his dogs and bags, about following the music, and about what drives him: “There is enough negativity in the world, I try to sing uplifting songs. I mean there’s some heartbreak in there, but overall I’m trying to shine a light of hope.”

And then… the audience breaks out cellphone lights and candle flames to sing along with that song… a song we all seem to know and love, a song that closes the night beautifully and leaves us in a dreamlike reverence for the great talent of South Africa, for the genuine power of music to unite and move and inspire, and for, well, that Camembert cheesecake slipped onto the table in front of each of us.

And there, she lies
There is no sound
For all I know
We dream the same

She knows, just what to do
Only yesterday
Speaks for yesterday
She finds all my weaknesses
She knows, just what to do

As for the full menu of Peter Tempelhoff’s treats for the night… take a look below.

Bread on the Table
Crispy lavash with pumpkin mousse, pecan granola, pickled maple, onion brioche with foie gras and pistachio, onion compote, Karoo truffle

Big in Japan
Bluefin tuna tataki, seaweed, compressed apple, wasabi furikake, sesame, tsukemono, paired with a Chenin wine

From the Braai
Koffie Bokkie, lacquered shallots, mushroom ragout, Parmesan pap, paired with Pinotage

Camembert Cheesecake
Pineapple compote, pine nut biscotti, extra virgin olive oil, paired with Paul Cluver NLH

Chocolate Bento Box

The Ellerman Sessions are the more special with their collaboration with like-minded partners, such as BMW, Bvlgari and Moët & Chandon. Take a look at future Ellerman Sessions here.

10 Questions with Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge’s Head Chef

We sat down with Head Chef, John Roux, the man behind the delicacies of a truly special corner of the Nambiti Private Game Reserve in South Africa – Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge. Get to know him for yourself in our insider’s Q&A.

1. What is your first memory of cooking?

As a child, the very first things I learnt to make were cakes and sweets. My sweet tooth has always been talking to me.

2. What makes Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge so special?

Our personal interaction with guests, the amazing experiences on game drives and unforgettable dining moments (like personal bush lunches and the boma outside under the stars), and our showcase of the unique cuisine that South Africa has to offer.

3. Favourite time in the bush and the best way to spend it?

Sunrise, looking out at the horizon and watching Mother Nature paint perfect pictures, and then sunset and moonrise, to see the sun fading away and the moon making its appearance over the mountains, the stars starting to shine in their own time and the sounds of night life filling the air.

4. How do you bring a taste of the region to your dishes?

I grew up on a farm in South Africa, working with game meat and nature’s produce, and I add this experience and influence to what we create at Esiweni, which is modern gastronomy using and celebrating local and fresh produce.

5. Describe the cuisine at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge…

It is nothing you will find in South Africa. We infuse French and South African cuisine on one plate. We are inspired by the unique flavours, methods, presentations and deliciousness of both countries and love merging the two in unique ways.  We are motivated by this and by that Michelin star and what it represents in the rest of the world.

6. Most unusual dish on the menu?

The zebra tartare, for sure. And all the wild game meat we use in our dishes.

7. What five things has working at Esiweni taught you about yourself, life and love?

– To be calm, to enjoy life and to connect with nature

– The beauty of the produce we get here in South Africa and how to work with it in special ways

– Our small dream team is like a family and we help each other a lot, enjoy each other’s company and help to lift each other’s spirits. It has shown me great love and joy.

– To love Mother Nature even more, to use what she offers, but most importantly to give back and look after her… planting trees, saving water and reducing pollution in our air and water

– Keep people around you that share the same dream.

8. What inspires you – in life and work?

I drive all my energy and positive thinking into my creations and get a lot back from seeing guests happy when dining with us and enjoying safari life… To take on a challenge and let the guest have an experience of a life time – that is what I strive for. They don’t have to remember every taste, but I’d like them to remember how we made them feel, wherever they are in the world – to just look back at the good times they shared with us and smile.

9. Favourite ingredient right now?

We have amazing cuts of meats from our local butcher. I love working with these organic natural meats and creating something beautiful with them on the plate, a taste of South Africa.

10. Your three fantasy dinner party guests?

The Michelin star chefs, the Roux brothers – to hear all about their stories and experience first-hand

My mother – she is always by my side, my rock, my supporter

The President of Ambassador from France  – so that he can experience how we use modern French food with our special African flair