Set on a working farm in upstate New York, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a celebration of renowned chef Dan Barber’s commitment to locally-grown, farm-to-table cuisine. He is internationally recognised for his imaginative approach to cooking, transforming what would usually be considered food scraps into award-winning dishes for diners from all over the world. Barber’s crusade to minimise food waste and celebrate the bounty of the earth echoes our own food philosophy, where sustainability is at the heart every plate. This shared ideology formed the basis of a partnership between Blue Hill and the Singita Community Culinary School, which saw star graduate Tsakane Khoza (known as TK) join their ranks as an intern late last year. What follows is the story of TK’s remarkable journey from rural South Africa to one of the busiest cities in the world and back again; an experience which demonstrates the power of Singita’s community partnership programme to transform the lives of people living in and around our reserves.

TK, who comes from a small village just outside the Kruger National Park in South Africa, successfully completed the demanding Professional Cookery qualification at the Singita Community Culinary School (SCCS) in 2013 and was invited to join the kitchen team at Singita Lebombo and Sweni Lodges as a commis chef. With a natural talent for cooking, lots of hard work and her unwavering determination, TK was soon promoted to demi chef and spent two years creating mouthwatering dishes for our guests. In January 2016, she travelled to Cape Town to work with Liam Tomlin, Singita’s consultant chef, at his popular Chef’s Warehouse restaurant in the city. The experience served to broaden her experience and develop her palate even further, and provided a valuable reference for the difference between the service in a luxury safari lodge and the bustling energy of a no-reservations kitchen.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns by Andre Baranowski

Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Photo: Andre Baranowski

TK flourished under Liam’s mentorship, growing in confidence every day until the opportunity to work at Stone Barns presented itself. Despite having proven herself as a skilled and versatile chef, a challenging programme awaited her in New York, where many cooks have tried and failed to meet Chef Barber’s exacting standards. Suffice it to say that TK’s grit and expertise saw her through four months of intense service under his watchful eye. She proved her mettle time and time again, all the while absorbing Blue Hill’s farm-to-table principles and keeping pace with the rest of the chefs in one of the most highly acclaimed restaurants in the world.

Breakfast is served at Singita Sweni Lodge

We are extremely proud of TK, as we are of all the graduates of the SCCS which has recently moved to a brand-new location at Singita Lebombo Lodge. The state-of-the-art facility is home to 10 carefully-selected students every year as they work through the rigorous, Singita-crafted professional culinary course. Successful applicants, who are all young people from local communities, learn the basics in the demo studio and then go on to get hands-on experience in the five Singita lodges in South Africa. Graduates emerge with the qualifications and experience to become commis chefs in any professional kitchen and indeed many of them are offered positions with us and other lodges in the region. Approximately 70 chefs have found new careers since the start of the program in 2007, of which 95% are currently employed.

The Singita Community Culinary School at Singita Lebombo Lodge

The Singita Community Culinary School at Singita Lebombo Lodge

The SCCS plays an important role in creating employment opportunities and expanding the horizons of people living alongside our lodges and camps. Cultivating entrepreneurship, improving education and building environmental awareness are the main focus areas for our community partnership programmes, which are all designed to help build capacity and empower neighbouring communities to thrive as a result of the conservation work we do in the protected areas. Their belief in our vision to preserve what is left of our continent’s pristine wilderness for future generations and their understanding of the depth of our commitment to them is essential for the success of these programmes. The ripple effect of this approach has been profound and continues to motivate our community partnership and conservation teams to continue to strive for our shared success.

With an established brand, a world-class hospitality infrastructure and measurable successes in conservation across Africa, Singita is perfectly placed to make an enormous impact on the future of the continent’s most vulnerable landscapes. However, in order to fulfill our ambitious conservation goals, it is essential to generate sustainable revenue streams from avenues other than hospitality. At the SCCS, the cost to sponsor a student is R100 000, which covers tuition, uniforms, equipment, ingredients, transport and a monthly stipend. Please click here to donate.

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