Lowveld chefs and cuisine connoisseurs have noted September 6 this year as a definite "yes" in their diaries. The eighth annual African Bush Banquet heralds a new season for the event with its spring date certain to inspire fresh and innovative menus from the participating chefs.
Odette Schuld, newly appointed coordinator of the event, is confident the Lowveld foodies will be up to the challenge. "We look forward to September when our top chefs will present tantalising gourmet creations during a culinary challenge that is truly proudly South African." From a small start in 2002 the African Bush Banquet has developed into one of the region's foremost al fresco competitions.
As in previous years, the Southern Cross Schools' courtyard provides the unique setting for this prestigious event. The school is situated on a wildlife estate outside Hoedspruit in Limpopo province. "As before, it will be a starlit outdoor event where chefs from the Lowveld game lodges, restaurants, country houses and even cookery schools haul equipment and ingredients over many kilometres to compete against their colleagues."
The chef and his or her small team have access to fire, gas, water and ice to make their main courses from scratch. They are allowed to prepare the starter and dessert beforehand. Judges from around South Africa and the United Kingdom will tackle the difficult task of scoring the imaginative table settings, the portable kitchens, the service and the plated entries, each course of which is matched to a complementary wine.
Entrants have to present 10 diners with a minimum of three courses, while two more plates are sent to the judges. Over the last seven years the African Bush Banquet has raised considerable sums for Southern Cross Schools and its outreach programmes, which include scholarships, raising teaching standards and improving buildings at regional rural schools, introducing environmental awareness to thousands of under-privileged children and helping advance careers in the hospitality industry.
Other charities to benefit from proceedings raised at the 2008 African Bush Banquet include the Southern Cross Schools' Kids-4-Kids project, the Hlokomela farm workers project in Hoedspruit, Klaserie Private Nature Reserve's eco-training, the Wilderness Vision conservation and tourism programme and the Chefs-4-Chefs upliftment programme.
In addition, other schools in the region will be asked to take part in ticket sales for the Shine 4 community show, with the school selling the most tickets being the one to nominate a charity. "In addition, this year we welcome Diners' Club International as one of our esteemed sponsors," says Odette.