A Great Big Foodie Adventure!

Edible flowers picked from our garden.
Edible flowers picked from our garden.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The earth laughs in flowers.” Last week I not only laughed, I rejoiced. These dazzling edible flowers pictured above led me down a path that turned into the happiest foodie adventure ever.

In the anonymity of the African bush one doesn’t expect to meet a young chef who was awarded two Michelin stars before the age of 30. And one really doesn’t expect to meet this chef here on the farm. A neighbor of ours, who brought his visiting sister and husband–a mango producer from Puerto Rico–to see the farm, encouraged a consulting chef from nearby Tongabezi Lodge to join them.

“You never told me there were so many edible flowers,” whispered the half-French, half-Spanish, born-in-Venezuela Yomar Monsalve to our friend as they walked past our vegetable garden. “I can see 12 different types out of the 23 types of flowers I use … right here!” All that was missing, he said, were the “citrics.” I told him they had just been in flower but were incinerated by the recent onslaught of summer.

Yomar’s obsessed with using edible flowers in his cuisine, and I am obsessed with learning more about his obsession. And his cooking techniques. And his cooking experiences. Which leads us back to the anonymity of the African bush. Yomar’s in the Zambezi Valley teaching Tongabezi’s cooks lots of new techniques in the hope of heightening the dining experience in one of Livingstone’s top lodges. Among other things, Yomar’s sharing with them how to intensify flavors using fresh, local ingredients (a chemistry degree comes in handy here); how to waste as little as possible; and how to present a dish that would be at home on a table in an award-winning European restaurant.

“Would you like to come and cook with us sometime?” he asked me. Ummmmm, HELLO!

Yomar Monsalve with the Tongabezi cooks, who he has been training for the last three months.
Yomar Monsalve with the Tongabezi cooks, who he has been training for the last three months.

I went to Tongabezi last Friday. We spent the afternoon learning new techniques while preparing a dessert we ate later, as part of a candlelit dinner on one of Tongabezi’s sampans floating in the Zambezi River. We were joined by Chris and some friends, including Ben and Vanessa Parker, the owners of Tongabezi, as well as a resident hippo.

Chris and our friend, Elaine Danckwerts, about to enjoy the candlelit dinner on our sampan, the Titanic (yes, that's its name).
Chris and our friend, Elaine Danckwerts, about to enjoy a candlelit dinner on Tongabezi’s sampan, the Titanic (yes, that’s its name).

The recipes and techniques I learned from Yomar will be spread through a series of posts, as and when I use them here on the farm. So much of what he taught us was about improvisation, imagination and magic … all conjured up in a simple kitchen alongside the Zambezi River. He showed us how to flavor oils.

Smoked citrus oil, Tonga-style.
Smoked citrus oil, Tonga-style.

He showed us how to make dried tomato tuiles.

Roasted tomato skins.
Roasted tomato skins.

He showed us how to make strawberry snaps to go with the tuiles.

Tuiles and Snaps.
Dried Tomato Tuiles and Strawberry Snaps.

He showed us how to present the dessert we made.

Yomar's Hippo - a strawberry mousse filled with strawberry, rosemary and cracked pepper coulis, on a boat of creme anglaise, decorated with a dried tomato tuile, a strawberry snap, mint coulis, fresh strawberries, and (my) edible flowers. Phew!
Yomar’s Hippo – a strawberry mousse filled with strawberry, rosemary and cracked pepper coulis, on a boat of crème anglaise, decorated with a dried tomato tuile, a strawberry snap, mint coulis, fresh strawberries, and (my) edible flowers. Phew!

And he showed me a great place to raise a glass to the Joy of Cooking [together]. Thank you, Yomar … see you next year! (He’s off to Paris next.)

Evening drinks at Tongabezi, looking out over the Zambezi River.
Evening drinks at Tongabezi, looking out over the Zambezi River.

Annabel Hughes is an award-winning chef and blogger, and the creator of “bush gourmet” cuisine.

0 Comments

  • Wow, Bella – that all looks absolutely amazing and SUCH great photos too! I’ll be seeing these lovely flowers in 3 weeks’ time!! Can’t wait! xx

    Reply
    • We can’t wait either! Thank you, dear Kate, for your kind comment. So much love to you … xo

      Reply
  • Annabel I recently discovered your blog via Louise stobart, how very fortunate I have been .Your writing is so fresh , snappy and vibrant…congratulations. This is a gem , your lovely blog award is thoroughly deserved , using the most of your own produce is always so satisfying , you are obviously relishing your natural haven , there is always so much joy happening in a garden ……already looking forward to next instalment .liz IJ

    Reply
    • Hi Liz! How lovely to hear from you after what-feels-like a thousand years! Thank you very, very much for your wonderful feedback. It means a huge amount to me. One of the best bits about this blogging business is that it’s led me back to so many people with whom I had lost touch. Like you! Do you ever return to Africa? If so, I hope you will come here one day. It is a haven, to be sure, and I would love to show it to you. Lots of love and gratitude … Annabel xo

      Reply
  • Flippin’ incredible, Annabel! You go! Love the writing, the photos, hearing of your foodie adventures and soaking up your life from afar. Congratulations on the blog award – well-deserved indeed! – and on the creation of a very lovely hippo-dessert. 🙂 I imagine it was a bit painful to bite into that beauty? Too pretty to eat! Look forward to your next posting. By the way, I will be using your tomato-sauce recipe soon. Intimidated by the sage-tortellini but may give it a go one day. Cheers.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Courtney. So good to hear from you again … especially having just found out you are now living in Madrid! I can’t wait to hear about all your culinary explorations. Well done you guys for taking such a bold and big step. I wish you all the very best as you move in to the world of tapas and very late dinners! You’ll have to come and visit us here now that you aren’t so far away. Much love to you all … xo

      Reply
  • OMG..oodnes !! I am speechless..what wonderful art you paint xx

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Hellie. I was privileged to spend an afternoon with such a maestro. We had a lot of fun!

      Reply
  • Your food stories from your Livingstone oasis just get better and better… always looking forward to the next x

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    • Thank you, Dee. I’m so grateful for your interest and support. I loved writing this story. The whole experience was a gift. xo

      Reply
  • You seriously get better and better at this!! Love love what you are doing…. well done and just keep writing!!

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    • Thank you so much, Lou! I love, love what I am doing, too … especially when world-class chefs knock on our door unexpectedly! It was such a perfect day for me …

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  • What a lovely post – beautiful flowers, photos and smiles!! Please let us know how many of those fragile flourishes you’re allowed to break in the learning …

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    • Thank you, Georgie … only two were broken, but it took a couple of attempts to fine-tune cooking the Strawberry Snaps, i.e. they burn easily!

      Reply
  • Annabel this is just unbelievable. I love it! Never ever stop doing this. You have aleardy started the next best thing in the foodie world. Without it we are doomed. Love to you and Chris. Mwah! oh we had rain rain and rain. WE are so blessed!

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind, kind comment, Fran. Lucky you having the rain! I’ve just published a new post in which I complain long and hard about the heat here. It’s searing, and I have no idea when the rain will arrive to cool things off. Phew!

      Reply
  • […] crafted out of a highly concentrated coulis using a technique I learned in my recent tutorial at Tongabezi Lodge. I planned to serve the ice cream with fresh strawberries and […]

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  • […] Rosemary & Black Pepper Ice Cream with Meringues. Here it is, with a grateful nod to Yomar Monsalve, the world-class chef with whom I worked a couple of weeks […]

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  • […] Yomar Monsalve, my new kitchen bestie, and I were back-and-forthing the other day about a dinner I was planning for his farewell from Livingstone, when he announced he’d bring along  a “formula made from the magic sindambi for everyone to taste.” My Zambian assistant, Adelina Banda, later let on that sindambi was the Lozi word for rosella, the ubiquitous wild edible about which I wrote in July. So, no surprises there. I, on the other hand, was sure Yomar had never tasted the indigneous muchingachinga fruit, only because they weren’t in season. Back in May we’d juiced bucketfuls of the fruit, and frozen it to be used later in the year. […]

    Reply

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