Running around trying to capture beautiful people, extraordinarily decorated tables, wonderfully creative kitchens and carefully prepared dishes, I was fortunate to enter the Golden Orb "hot room" at a moment of great appreciation, which was also an eye opener to one of the many facets an event that has taken huge strides over the last few years.
The judges in the Golden Orb room had evaluated the taste, texture, colour and overall appearance of more than 22 exquisitely prepared dishes.
They were on the desserts when I heard the judges Nigel Boschetti and Anna Trapido's conversation. "This is good, this is really good." "I agree," interjected the other judge, Marlene van der Westhuizen.
Their verbal appreciation of the chef 's skilful use of indigenous ingredients like dates, nuts and Amarula for the date and nut cake, Amarula crème brulée and rose petal preserve with crisp wafer was finally topped by Nigel's "This dish can be served in London," which sent goosebumps down my spine.
So this is what the bush banquet is about - at least on the night. (I later learnt this was the dessert prepared by Prue Leith Training School.).
A special moment had just occurred, one of many small but significant milestones that marked the 2006 Cape to Cairo Southern Cross Schools Bush Banquet that took place on the somewhat chilly, but clear Saturday night of May 27, 2006.
Another special moment was when Hennelie Steyn embraced her husband in utter joy after hearing that Liv Lodge had won the Tammy Trophy for the best overall food in the Golden Orb Category.
The shaky hands, broad smiles, uncontrollable tears and bear hugs were testament to the passion that saw the Liv Lodge team also win the prize for the best food and wine pairing.
Marlene van der Westhuizen sponsored a fiveday stay at Chateau La Cruezette in Boesak, France for the delighted winning chef. The Jackalberry Lodge team won the silver cluster leaf category, as well as the best kitchen and best service.
Another special moment was when Jackalberry's manager, Lee Deeks, who was also the professional photographer for the event, heard how Zakile Thabede was called to receive the prize for the best waitron in the silver cluster leaf category.
"It's the second year," he proudly whispered next to me, as he captured the moment for this year's annals. Andrew Nyati of Royal Malewane won the golden orb waitron category, also for the second year running.
Taking the event beyond the night, the proceeds of the evening and an accompanying auction go to several of the school's programmes - a bursary scheme, reach-a-cross, and 'kids-for-kids' - of which Jumbo Williams, headmaster of the school, briefly described to the diners at the banquet.
Master of ceremonies,Val Donald-Bell, of Madam and Eve fame, kept the programme on time, while Red Hand Blues Band played moody blues that had the guests on a trip down memory lane, some recalling special moments of their own.
The fifth Southern Cross Bush Banquet was yet another highlight on the Hoedspruit social calendar, with new entries that came from far afield such as from Entabeni Private Game Reserve in the Waterberg, Liv Lodge and Daktari in the Hoedspruit area, Prue Leith catering school in Centurion, Pretoria and from the Pafuri Camp (Wilderness Company) in the Kruger National Park.
"It was hard work, but absolutely worthwhile for the greater Hoedspruit area," says Hennelie Steyn of Liv Lodge.
She believes the exposure and interest generated by the event will add great value to tourism development, in particular hospitality and culinary training. Chris Smit, chef at Royal Malewane, who did his second bush banquet believes it was a great event. "It is always a challenge and the idea is to balance having fun while you learn something at the same time."
"The tables were extraordinary and all the competitors tried extremely hard. The energy was wonderful. One of the judges has proposed a mentorship on guidelines of what to do and what not do before next year's event which will be of great help to all the participants,"' says Terry Dold, one of the organising committee.
By Lynette Strauss