Dining with a view at Singita
A determined young chef from rural South Africa comes to train at one of the world’s top restaurants
It’s a long way from Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Chef Dan Barber’s Michelin-star restaurant in Westchester County, NY, to a small village in the South African bush, where talented chef Tsakane Khoza (“TK”), a shy but determined young woman, began her career. But not long ago, the two worlds did collide, when TK, a graduate of The Singita School of Cooking (SSC) at Singita Lebombo Lodge in Kruger National Park, made the journey to train in the kitchen at Blue Hill with Barber and his team.
The oldest of four, TK grew up cooking with her mother and grandmother. When she first heard about the Singita School of Cooking, she was one of 400 applicants for eight positions. The school, founded to create sustainable employment for the nearby community, employs graduates like TK at Singita, or helps them find jobs at other lodges in the region. As a student, TK was taken under the wing of award-winning Cape Town chef Liam Tomlin. Eventually, she traveled to Cape Town to work in his restaurant, where, she says, “I learned a lot--but I still have a lot to learn.”
In the kitchen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, with Tsakane Khoza ("TK"), second from right
The internship at Blue Hill, TK says, not only taught her about mise-en-place, it taught her to be strong, “physically and mentally,” a job requirement in any kitchen. There were some things that took getting used to, especially the cold, dark New York winter. For the first time in her life, TK shivered in a new down parka as she awakened early to harvest vegetables from the Stone Barns farm and bring them into the kitchen so the chefs could decide what to serve for dinner that night. “It isn’t easy,” she says, “but I love it.”
Stone Barns, along with the Blue Hill Farm in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, is where much of the meat and produce served at the restaurants is raised. (There is also an educational center where guests can learn about sustainable farming and food waste.) It can take months to get a reservation--there is another outpost in the West Village, in New York City, but alas, the wait is just as long. Barber, considered an authority on food education, was appointed by former President Barack Obama to serve on his Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
Dining at Singita
Making the connection between growing and cooking food, and seeing where everything comes from has been exciting, says TK, who has decided to grow vegetables back home, “If I can “keep the elephants and birds from stealing the lettuce,” she smiles. “Everyone is excited to see what I’ve learned here. When I get back, I’m going to teach them.” singita.com
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