The Elephant Café wins Best New Restaurant Award + Recipe: Munkoyo Panna Cotta with Seasonal Strawberries & Baby Meringues

The nomination came as such a surprise. I’d neither heard of the Zambia Hospitality Awards (ZHA), nor expected any sort of recognition for The Elephant Café because we were still so new. But on October 10 we received a letter announcing we’d been nominated in the ZHA’s Best New Restaurant category, and were invited to attend a dinner at the Taj Pamodzi Hotel in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, on October 28, where the winners would be announced.

Chris and I were unable to attend due to a prior engagement, but my colleague, David Vinton from the David Livingstone Safari Lodge & Spa, a nominee for the Hotel of the Year Zambia, went instead. Below is the photograph David sent of the trophy he collected when we were announced as the winner.

The trophy presented to The Elephant Café at the first Zambia Hospitality Awards ceremony held in Lusaka on October 28.
The trophy presented to The Elephant Café at the first Zambia Hospitality Awards ceremony held in Lusaka on October 28.

Formed earlier this year, the ZHA “is a platform that recognizes and rewards professionals working within one of the toughest and most fierce industries.” Its core function is to “improve the service standards within the hospitality industry and to give credit to establishments that go an extra mile to ensure their level of service is excellent and consistent.”

The Elephant Café.
The Elephant Café.  Photo credit: Sean Edington.

According to the ZHA’s website, each category was carefully evaluated by a panel of four professionals who “submitted an evaluation report overseas.” The winner in each category [was] “assessed over three times to ensure that the standard [was] consistent throughout. The main areas of interest for the judges were ambience, food, and service.”

It's such a privilege working alongside this herd of rescued elephants.
It’s such a privilege working alongside this herd of rescued elephants.  Photo credit: Sean Edington.

The judges included Mr. David Goette, the National Culinary Arts Executive of the International Hotel School in South Africa, originally from Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. He said that “this agriculture-rich region served as the setting for my formative years, during which I was exposed to farm-fresh ingredients and nose-to-tail cooking techniques.” Mr. Goette counts himself fortunate to have eaten and cooked in restaurants all over the world, including in Dubai, London, Australia, Japan and Tanzania, to name a few.

The Elephant Café interior. Photo credit: Sean Edington.
The Elephant Café interior.   Photo credit: Sean Edington.

Judges representing Zambia included Rodgers Kazembe, a seasoned hotelier with over 25 years of experience, both in-country and internationally, and Prethi Singh, who was trained in Switzerland and has eighteen years of experience in the hospitality industry, specializing in groups and incentive coordination.

Gentle Danny interacting with a special guest earlier this month.
Gentle Danny interacting with a special guest earlier this month.

Much gratitude to my team at The Elephant Café, who have all worked so hard since we opened in July, as well as to our beloved elephants and their handlers for allowing us into their lives. Extra special thanks goes to all those supporters who voted for us, as well as to the Zambia Hospitality Awards for the recognition.

The Elephant Café chefs preparing the Munkoyo Panna Cotta with Seasonal Strawberries & Baby Meringues.
The Elephant Café chefs preparing the Munkoyo Panna Cotta with Seasonal Strawberries & Baby Meringues.

Munkoyo Panna Cotta with Seasonal Strawberries & Baby Meringues

Munkoyo is a wild root, which the Zambians ferment with masembe, or pounded maize, to make a traditional drink. It’s white with a sweet and sour, earthy flavor, which I guessed would work well in a panna cotta beefed up with some full-fat Greek yoghurt. I countered the sourness of the munkoyo and yoghurt with strawberry coulis, meringues and fresh strawberries. It was an unusual combination, but the restaurant guests loved it.

Munkoyo root.
Munkoyo root.
Masembe.
Masembe.

Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups munkoyo, strained
  • 1 sachet powdered gelatin, about 10 grams
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups full-fat Greek yoghurt


Method:

  1. Lightly grease the molds for the panna cottas with the coconut oil, making sure you leave only a light residue.
  2. Pour the milk and munkoyo into a small saucepan and sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over the surface. To bloom, let it soften for 5 minutes, or until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the gelatin grains have started dissolving.
  3. Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk and munkoyo gently, whisking frequently. The gelatin will dissolve quickly as the milk/munkoyo warms. *The liquid should never boil or simmer because you will destroy the gelatin. Watch it carefully. 
  4. Stir the sugar into the milk and continue warming until it dissolves as well, about 5 minutes.
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Cool slightly, and then whisk in the yoghurt.
  6. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared molds, and put in the refrigerator to chill until the panna cottas have set. 
  7. To unmold, run a small flat blade carefully around the edge of the panna cottas. Don’t slide the blade all the way into the cup; just release the top edge of the pudding from the edge of the cup. Dip the mold in the warm water up to its rim, and hold it there for about 5 seconds.
  8. Invert the mold over a large surface, like a plastic mat or tray, and shake gently to help the panna cottas plop out. They should fall out with ease. Using a large palette knife, transfer to individual plates for serving.
  9. Serve immediately, or refrigerate, lightly covered, for up to 5 days. The gelatin gets stronger as it sits, so this will be a bit rubbery by days 4 or 5. You can mitigate this by letting the panna cottas sit at room temperature for about half an hour before serving.

 

Munkoyo drink, prepared over a period of two days.
A munkoyo drink, soaked and fermented over a period of a few days.

Strawberry Coulis

Yield: Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh/frozen strawberries
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Method:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer until the sugar dissolves and the strawberries start to break up. Cool and transfer to a blender. Purée until smooth, strain, and set aside. Store any excess in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

 

Seasonal strawberries from our organic garden at the farm.
Seasonal strawberries from our organic garden at the farm.

Meringue

Yield: it depends on the size of the meringues, about 30-80.

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg whites (at room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 350g caster sugar


Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150/300 degrees. Line a baking tray, and lightly grease with coconut oil.
  2. Place the egg whites into a metal bowl with a pinch of salt. Using an electric mixer start beating the egg whites, slowly at first in order to them break down. Once they have begun to froth a little increase your speed and beat until stiff peaks form.
  3. Add the sugar, a heaped tablespoonful at a time, beating after each addition. 
  4. Transfer the meringue into a piping bag with a fluted nozzle. Pipe the meringues into small stars. Be sure to leave enough space for each meringue to expand a little.
  5. Place in the middle of the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 120/250 degrees. Cook for 45 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside to cool completely. *This method stops them cracking.
  6. Serve with the panna cotta, strawberry coulis and fresh strawberries, arranged as you like it on the plate.

 

Munkoyo Panna Cotta with Seasonal Strawberries & Baby Meringues.
Munkoyo Panna Cotta with Seasonal Strawberries & Baby Meringues.

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

11 Comments

  • I am so proud of you Annabel!! What great news. And it shows what good taste the folks from the Zambia Hospitality Awards must have!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Cynthia. It came as quite the surprise, but we were all delighted! 🙂

      Reply
  • Congratulations, Annabel and staff on this wonderful accomplishment!!

    Reply
    • So much gratitude for your continued interest and support, Candy. I can’t wait to feed you one of these days!

      Reply
  • Absolutely fabulous achievement in being awarded this prestigious prize!!! Well deserved – makorokoto! Big hug to the elephant, too!☺🐘☺

    Reply
    • Thank you so very much, Lindie. I really do appreciate all your support and encouragement. I hope one day you will come and eat with us, and meet our beloved elephants. I know they would like to meet you! Big hugs to you … xo

      Reply
  • Great achievement – congratulations to all of you! 👏👏👏 Interesting to hear about the judges too – an experienced panel.

    Reply
    • Thank you very much, dear Georgie. My team was so motivated by this award. Onwards and upwards!

      Reply
  • Congratulations Annabel! This is so wonderful! Love to hear about how you are uplifting so many! Hope to get to come eat at your amazing restaurant some day. xoxo

    Reply
    • I hope you do, too, Eve. So much gratitude to you for this lovely comment!

      Reply
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