How The Heck Do They Serve 5-Star Food In The Middle Of The Serengeti?

singita grumetiFrank Louw, the executive chef at Singita Grumeti

Photo: Julie Zeveloff

I recently had the opportunity to visit Singita Grumeti, a 340,000-acre private game reserve in northern Tanzania that’s been named the “best hotel in the world” by Travel + Leisure for two years running.From the setting to the accommodations, it was easy to see why the hotel gets rave reviews. But one of the most remarkable things about Singita Grumeti was the cuisine. It was truly five-star, from a dinner of pumpkin soup and king fish to a prosciutto and Camembert breakfast sandwich on a warm croissant.

Click here to see a typical lunch >

Singita Grumeti is hours by car from the nearest city; most guests arrive by chartered flight to a barren airstrip. But with prices over $1,000 per person per night and the promise of a luxury safari experience, it needs to deliver on food.

It’s a huge challenge.

Frank Louw, a South African-trained chef, has been the executive chef at Singita Grumeti for four years. He oversees dining at the hotel’s three main lodges, each of which can accommodate 18 to 34 guests, as well as its smaller lodges and the staff kitchen, which feeds 200 people daily.

For him, the toughest part of his job is getting fresh produce.

“Sometimes people expect more, but once I explain to them what we are doing at Singita, they are amazed by what we can deliver,” he said.

Over the past several years, Louw has worked with Singita’s community outreach team to teach local farmers in the communities surrounding the reserve to grow high quality, organic produce. These days, about 75 per cent of the produce served at the resort is grown locally, including lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots.

Louw places his orders with the farmers six days in advance, and anything they don’t sell to the hotel — or doesn’t meet Louw’s high standards — can be sold elsewhere.

Hard-to-grow produce like strawberries and raspberries are shipped in from Arusha, a small city several hours away, as are proteins like beef and chicken, and dry goods. Seafood arrives from the port of Dar es Salaam several times a week.

The other major challenge for Louw is working with a limited number of proteins. Singita Grumeti is devoted to conservation and doesn’t serve game meat, so Louw and his sous chefs have to get creative.

Most of Louw’s kitchen workers come from local communities, and the resort has an extensive training program to educate them.

Running the resort’s kitchens is a vast effort, but from the varied menus and seamless service, most guests would never suspect a thing. Click through to see what a typical lunch is like at Singita Grumeti’s flagship lodge, Sasakwa.

Disclosure: Our trip to Tanzania, including travel and lodging expenses, was sponsored by the Tanzania Tourist Board, Africa Adventure Company, Singita Grumeti Group, Coastal Aviation, Qatar Airways, Tanzania National Parks, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority and Wildlife Division.

Sasakwa is the flagship lodge at Singita Grumeti. It was the first lodge on the property and is still the largest, and has a reputation for having the most formal fare.

The lodge has a formal dining room, but it's only really used on rainy nights.

It's much better to eat on the terrace, which has expansive views of 340,000-acre Grumeti Reserve below.

It may be terrace dining, but it's still pretty formal.

The table was set to the nines, with starched linen napkins, fresh flowers, and silverware for a multi-course meal.

The lodge is decorated with a 1920s hunting theme, but there are traditional Tanzanian touches, like these placemats that resembled Maasai beaded necklaces.

Menus are printed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and each of the lodges has a different menu every day.

But first, the bread basket. There was a big assortment, and everything was warm. That's more than I can say for most New York City restaurants.

Of course, there was wine to accompany the meal. Most of the bottles came from South Africa.

I started with the roasted vegetable soup, which was thick and fresh. Singita Grumeti gets 75 per cent of its produce from local farmers.

One of my lunch-mates ordered the the calamari salad with citrus dressing. The resort gets its seafood from Dar es Salaam, where there's a major port.

For lunch I ordered the club sandwich. It ha slices of fresh tomato and bacon, and the crusts were even cut off the bread. A gourmet sandwich.

My lunch-mate ordered the homemade tagliatelle, which was delicious. Hard to believe that there's pasta being made by hand in the Serengeti.

Between courses, we looked out at the reserve. Sasakwa is built on a high ledge in the park, and had some of the best views I've ever seen.

Dessert time. There was a passion fruit semifreddo with cinnamon doughnuts.

But I was stuffed so I went for the fruit, which was locally grown and incredibly fresh.

Now take a trip to Singita Grumeti.

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