Review: Myrna Robins
Out of an African Kitchen, by Nicky Fitzgerald (Struik Lifestyle)
It couldn’t have come at a better time. As lockdown lifts and international travel beckons, it’s wonderful to receive a cookbook for review that is not only physically alluring, but offers a welcome glimpse of life on a luxurious safari lodge, perfectly perched on the edge of the Great Rift Valley overlooking the renowned Maasai Mara game reserve.
As we absorb the difficulties of producing great food in the Kenyan bush, we admire the enthusiasm and skills of an impressive team of chefs, and drool over a fine treasury of recipes.
Angama Mara was the latest in a series of well known hotel and restaurant ventures. Nicky and Steve Fitzgerald presided over the rebuilding of the Arniston Hotel, and then Blues Restaurant on the Camps Bay beachfront, followed by the Bay Hotel.
Five years ago the Fitzgeralds launched Angama Mara, but two years later Steve died a month after having a heart transplant. Nicky has kept the flag flying, feeding her international guests with fine fare that isn’t fancy. Using her experience of more than two decades of catering, Nicky decided that culinary focus should be on authenticity… “less fancy imported ingredients, more locally grown. Less drizzles, gels and foams… less ego in the kitchen…”
Vegetables are sourced from the Kenyan highlands, tropical fruits from the coast, freshwater fish from Lake Victoria, honey delivered in five-litre buckets from local beekeepers. Menus make full use of indigenous Arab-inspired Swahili dishes from the coast and Indian cuisine from the large community that has called Kenya home for generations. A kitchen garden enables guests to pick their own ingredients and toss their own salads for lunch. At the other end of the gastronomic spectrum Angama caters happily for vegan, gluten-free and low sodium recipes, adapts meals to cope with food allergies, makes sure that exotic ingredients – think sumac, za’atar and almond milk – are stocked.
And now, here is the cookbook, written by Nicky in loving memory of Steve, for their guests who savour their meals with enthusiasm and ask for recipes to take home.
What will they find between the deceptively simple covers? Recipes are organised by place, by type of fare, by exotic influence and more. Opening with five of their most popular dishes, including the “best burger in the Mara” we follow with Kenyan recipes that reflect something of its multicultural past: Arab, Portuguese, British and Indian influence contribute to Swahili cuisine. Here a trio of desserts star, chocolate pots with sesame shards, Muhamri coconut ice cream sandwich and rice pudding with mango.
Starters and sweets from the garden, pasta and a vegetarian casserole, ricotta pancakes and Moroccan minestrone add Med flavours, while Picnics on Safari present a refreshing trio of fruity iced drinks, a popular street dish of a flavoured omelette wrapped in a chapatti, (wittily titled Ugandan Rolex), South African pickled fish and a dessert of irresistible salted caramel brownies. Tempting Middle Eastern dishes precede a chapter of boma fare, another of an Indian dinner and a finale of outdoor eating at the forest barbecue.
The text concludes with a recipe index, while the beautiful food photographs by Sam Linsell pay homage to the cook or chef who specialises in that dish.
New trends in cookbook production? The plain cover followed by colourful culinary endpapers, no title page to talk of all could indicate such. But most of all, readers will relish this delicious collection of Kenyan flavours as a virtual safari that will titillate their tastebuds long after they have digested the contents.