It was an extraordinary feeling walking along the wooden boardwalk as I arrived at Singita Lebombo Lodge, set against the majestic Lebombo Mountains in the heart of Kruger National Park. This had been my home for so long and I had not returned in over a year. Singita Kruger National Park is made up of fifteen thousand hectares of pristine wilderness, with a diversity of fauna and flora not matched anywhere. The rolling Lebombo Mountains hug the eastern boundary of the park, giving way to the vast basalt plains and supported by the N’wanetsi River that cuts through the mountains and makes its way to the east into Mozambique. It’s an isolated place, where the animals seem just a little more wild. This is because vehicles and people have only operated in the area for a couple of years as the lodge was only completed in 2003. It is a truly unique landscape bustling with life, renowned for the large concentrations of lion and general game and seldom-seen animals such as the sable antelope – and if you’re really lucky, the elusive and shy black rhino.
After our recent, mind-blowing experience in the Sabi Sand area I was eager to see the contrast that this environment has to offer. We would be spending much more time out of the Land Rover, and exploring vast tracts of land with nothing more than a backpack, rifle, and of course a camera. My aim was to rediscover all the secret gems the concession has to offer, such as walking the N’wanetsi River, traversing the mountain ranges and possibly tracking the Mountain Pride of lion, which was an exercise I had come to miss over the last year.
I was happy to see many familiar faces; the tracking team remained unchanged and Given, the tracker who I worked with, greeted me with a hug and a familiar smile. I listened enthusiastically as they told me all that had changed in the bush since my departure. I discovered the Mountain Pride was still eighteen strong, the resident female leopard’s cubs were healthy and were now fending for themselves, the Shish pride had grown to twenty six members, and one of the males from the Xirombe pride had been killed by a rival and so it went on. I lapped it all up.
So with all the thoughts of what I may encounter over the next couple of days I switched off the light on my first night. I could hardly wait for the next day’s exhilaration to begin.
James Suter, a Field Guide with Singita for several years, is now trekking across Singita’s private reserves in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, documenting his time spent in these incredible locations, and the amazing sightings.
Even within the comfort of a vehicle, a lion is one intimidating animal. At Singita we often have close encounters with these beasts as most individuals are fairly relaxed with the Land Rovers. They are unusually lackadaisical animals spending most of the day resting and we often forget the power these massive cats possess.
On this particular occasion, while some of the Mountain pride females were coming into season, the scene was far from lethargic. The two brothers who generally are more than tolerant towards each other were out to prove a point and brotherly love was put aside for the time being. This was serious business. The possibility to mate is every male lion’s ambition. Some are successful and some unfortunately don’t make the grade.
It was an exciting moment and tension was thick in the air as the two males sized one another up. It was inevitable what was going to follow and before we knew it the larger lion hurtled towards his brother. The vehicle seemed to vibrate as the two collided, with snarls and more hostility and tenacity than any I’ve ever witnessed.
The battle had begun and the victor would reserve the right to claim his female.
(Blog series by James Suter.)
Today was Lucien Green’s last day in the kitchen at the Singita School of Cooking. He managed to squeeze in one more demo before he left: confit duck gizzards, duck hearts, and orange segments all drizzled with a Dijon mustard dressing. I was worried I might not sample the duck delicacy as there was a sea of students in front of me destroying the delicious salad by the fork-full. As a thank-you to Lucien he was given a cooking school jacket with his name embroidered on it, a Singita book and an invitation for him and his wife to return to Singita Lebombo and Sweni Lodges. His remark? “I’ll certainly return but not in summer. I hear there are a lot of snakes around at that time!”
This has been a remarkable week. The students have gained mountains of knowledge and also a new friend. Everyone is looking forward to the return of Lucien Green.
The End…for now.
Four points separated the teams in the end, but let’s start at the beginning. Lucien Green, Senior Training and Development Chef from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Apprentice Programme, started the day by presenting his demo for plating carpaccio.
Then the students split into their teams to begin their own creations and Amos started the clock-watch – a 25 minute challenge! All teams finished in time so the first challenge was met. Some great dishes were created by all and the sirloin was delectable and tender.
After the judging it was time to announce the winner. In 4th place with 39 points was team D. In joint 2nd and 3rd place with 40.5 points were teams B and C and in first place with a whopping 43 points was team A. The grand prize? Each member of the winning team proudly accepted a chef’s jacket from Fifteen, together with a Fifteen-branded apron. The smiles couldn’t have been any bigger.
(Written by Archie Maclean, Head Chef at Singita Lebombo Lodge.)
Here’s the winning team A and their scrumptious creation.
The excitement at Singita Kruger National Park has been contagious this week. What’s been causing the stir? Lucien Green.
Visiting from Jamie Oliver’s “Fifteen” Apprentice Programme in London, Lucien Green (Senior Training and Development Chef) has hailed an energy at the Singita School of Cooking like never before. Each day has been jam-packed with activities, revving up from one day to the next.
Day One – the Singita team whisked Lucien out into the bush to look for lions.
Day Two – stepping into the kitchen at the Singita School of Cooking for the first time, Lucien observed students elbow-deep in dough and perfecting their focaccia-making skills.
Day Three – Lucien took some time out to review curriculum. He gave the cooking school a thumbs-up!
Day Four – this was a special day – it was marked as the official opening of the Singita School of Cooking. Mark Witney, Singita’s Chief Operating Officer was also present for the honours.
Day Five – then it was back to the kitchen. Lucien conducted a day of teaching, introduced the students to carpaccio for the first time, and iniated a competition to see who could produce some winning results. For the competition the students were split into teams and over two days they’ll compete for the top prize. It is going to be a gruelling, fast-paced stretch. Stay tuned!
First day at Singita School of Cooking, Lucien Green, Senior Training and Development Chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Apprentice Programme in London arrived this morning to find the students all huddled around a bench paying attention to Amos, the chef in charge, giving instruction on stuffed focaccia. Amos was enthusiastically demonstrating how to prepare the fillings, which looked world-class: tomato, caramelized onion, mushrooms, all roasted with rosemary and garlic. He placed the filling in the middle of the bread then folded the bread around. Then the challenge was presented: Group A against Group B – whose baked delicacy will win? While the bread baked it gave Chef Lucien time to talk to some of the students individually as they continued with their prep duties. Forty minutes later with the smell of freshly cooked bread, the focaccia was done. In true chef style everyone approached, not giving time for the bread to cool and everyone waiting for a bite. Lucien was asked by Amos to do the honor of judging. All of the breads were mouthwatering but there could only be one winner and group A took the prize. Group B was a close second and poor Amos came third. It takes a good teacher to lose to his students!
In the early 90s, Jamie Oliver, one of the world’s best loved chefs, was struck by the idea of cooking as a potential career path for young unemployed people – specifically those who had fallen out of mainstream education and were in need of a fresh new start in life. And from there, the concept of Fifteen began to take shape. His idea was simple: to establish a reputable London-based restaurant that offered young, unemployed people the experience of learning to work in the restaurant business. In late 2002, he opened Fifteen London and recruited 15 young apprentices to train alongside a team of 25 professional chefs and mentors. Nine years on, Fifteen continues to have the Apprentice Programme at the heart of its busy restaurant operations. (Information from www.jamieoliver.com)
The story of the beginning of Fifteen resonates so deeply with us at Singita because of the reasons why the Singita School of Cooking was created. The Singita School of Cooking is located on site at the staff village that serves Lebombo and Sweni Lodges. It was established with the aim of encouraging the development of culinary skills amongst local youth. Eight to 10 students are selected and they attend an 18-month training programme. Having completed their training, some are employed as Comis Chefs in a Singita kitchen or in other Kruger National Park lodge kitchens. The first of these programmes was run in 2007, ensuring that a core of young people from the local area has already been equipped with life-long skills and a positive future.
Now the culmination of 2 and a half years’ work, building a connection with Fifteen, we are privileged to welcome Lucien Green, the Senior Training and Development Chef for Fifteen’s Apprentice Programme to the Singita School of Cooking this week. He will be reviewing the training curriculum, chef skills’ development, and also will be conducting Master classes for the Singita Kruger chefs and students at the cooking school.
Spirits are high at the Singita School of Cooking as the students prepare for their introduction to Lucien Green tomorrow. We hope you’ll follow our photo journal this week as we watch the next chapter of the Singita School of Cooking story enfold.
It’s peculiar, for the amount of times that lions mate, it is quite a rare sight to actually catch them in the act. However lions do not mate at any specific time of the year and are not always that easy to find. Singita Kruger National Park is lion country and during my guiding career I have been fortunate to have some fantastic opportunities to see these guys in action. A pair of mating lions is an interesting affair, which involves a fair deal of aggression, acrobatics, persistence and astonishing vocals all thrown into one performance.
On this particular day we found one of the young males from the Southern pride showing keen interest in a young female. It’s often quite easy to observe sexual behavior in lions and if one is patient, the reward is well worth the wait. Mating is initiated by both male and female, but seemingly more often by the female who is full of energy during her oestrus. We sat with the animals for some time before the female gestured to the male and presented herself to him.
Most lionesses will have reproduced by the time they are four years of age. This was still a young female and possibly her first intermit experience with the opposite sex. As with other cats, the male lion’s penis has fine barbs, which point backwards. Upon withdrawal, the barbs rake the walls of the female’s vagina, which may cause ovulation but obvious pain. After he mounted her we watched in awe as she clearly voiced her discomfort, lashing out at the male with snarls of displeasure.
This aggressive response from the female is all part of the act and a mating bout, which could last several days. They will copulate twenty to forty times a day each lasting about 20 seconds at a time. They may even go without eating during their time together.
We located the couple over the next few days, with the male keeping a close eye on his four brothers, making sure they knew this young female belonged to him and that it was going to be his genes that were passed on successfully. If mating failed, the lioness will come into oestrus again in 16 days and possibly another lion will be successful, however I feel in this case this male managed to seal the deal as he gave quite a performance.
We hope you’ll follow James Suter as he blogs from Singita’s private game reserves across Africa – tracking the natural rhythms of the wild.
The African bush never fails to surprise; a sentiment we observed from a small stagnant pool along the N’wanetsi River. It was a routine drive that turned out to be one of my most memorable. With the rains still to arrive, the majority of game concentrated around the few small pools along the river. This sets the scene, as opportunists make the most of the abundance of prey around this precious source of life.
We had often seen the lion prides along this particular stretch of the river as it holds water throughout the year, and during the dry season is often the only area where animals can quench their thirst. But what we didn’t expect to see was what transpired next. A massive sixteen-foot crocodile ambushed a herd of unsuspecting zebra which were drinking at the water’s edge. As the dust settled, we witnessed a young zebra being wrenched into the water by his front right leg and dragged into the middle of the pool.
The zebra put up a valiant fight and wrestled with the crocodile; biting, kicking and frantically trying to free itself from the crocodile’s crushing grip. The crocodile conserved it’s energy, applying five thousand pounds of pressure to the zebra’s leg with no intention of letting go. Eventually the zebra started to tire, it’s head dropped and it seemed to rapidly lose condition in the baking heat. The zebra dug deep and with one final effort managed to free itself. The crocodile loosened it’s hold and the zebra seized the opportunity to make a dash for the bank. It hoisted itself out of the water, but it was then when we realized the extent of the damage caused by the crocodile’s powerful jaws.
The zebra was fatally injured and now out of the water and exposed to the heat, it was in real danger being both exhausted and dehydrated. To our relief the animal eventually rolled back into the water and surrended itself to the crocodile. It was a tough ordeal to observe but this is how life in the African bush unfolds and the death of this one animal brought life for many others.
Keep up with James Suter as he brings the wild ever closer with his weekly Singita blog series.