Clinton Drake, head chef of Singita Lebombo Lodge in the Kruger National Park, has won the coveted title of Relais & Châteaux rising chef 2008 for capturing the spirit of an unrivalled safari experience in his gourmet game lodge fare.
The second edition of this prestigious international trophy, assessed by the board of directors of Relais & Chateaux from approximately 450 member properties worldwide, was conferred upon this 27-year-old Cape Town-born talent who has shown exceptional skill, creativity and dedication to a demanding art that sees him cooking for the most discerning guests from across the globe.
'Cuisine is one of the pillars of the international Relais Châteaux Association and I'm delighted that Singita is being recognised as a shining example of culinary imagination and initiative, proving that a five star dining experience can also be enjoyed in a safari milieu,' says Clinton.
Singita is one of the concessions in Kruger and acclaimed for its service excellence and world-class properties in southern and east Africa. Curious to discover how fast-paced city kitchens differ from preparing top class cuisine at a world number one rated game lodge, he joined Singita Lebombo Lodge as senior sous chef in 2004.
Since then Clinton has represented Singita in the kitchens of the most prestigious three star Michelin restaurants in the food capitals of the globe where he enrolled for brief voluntary experiential stints in an effort to up his own gourmet game.
These international cooking experiences included rubbing shoulders with Michel Troisgros of Le Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France; Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Yountville, California and working under the guidance of Roger Verge at Le Moulin de Mougin, in Mougin, France.
At Singita Lebombo Lodge Clinton allows full integration between his culinary talent and the great African outdoors and uses only the finest local ingredients to create authentic cuisine inspired by the flavours of the continent yet guided by the Western culinary tradition.
'Our guests experience Africa at its most majestic. The scale and silence leaves them completely liberated from the distractions of the world, therefore it is paramount to be flexible and less structured when it comes to cooking,' says Clinton, who integrates the natural environmentinto every eating experience at Lebombo.
He describes his culinary style as 'developing yet regressive' for treasuring the old ways of preparing food whilst constantly coming up with new techniques. In keeping with the minimalist, contemporary feel of Lebombo, Clinton concentrates on unrefined flavours and textures, whilst keeping presentations pure and simple.
He focuses on healthy eating for the discerning Singita guests and whisks up wholesome dishes that are balanced and nutritious by using salsas, crisp vegetables, olive oil and other alternatives to cream without compromising on taste and flavour.
His kitchen philosophy mirrors a strong support for local skills development and upliftment with 65 percent of his staff derived from rural northern South Africa.
Prior to Clinton's inclusion in the Singita family, he worked as junior sous chef under Garth Stroebel at Cape Town's leading Mount Nelson Hotel. ther career highlights include his year as chef de partie at the Emirates Towers in Dubai as well as working at the Hotel Eileen Iarmain in Isle of Skye, Scotland.