From hotel cleaner to the inspired Head Chef at the iconic Bumi Hills Safari Lodge at Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe. That’s the heart-warming story of Naison Lungu who for the past three years has been delighting Bumi’s discerning guests with daily gourmet menus. And he can thank the sardine-like kapenta fish of the lake for his lofty status today.
Son of a Hwange Colliery coal miner Naison (31) left school in 1999 and his happy demeanour secured him a job, ahead of a long application list, as a public-area cleaner at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. “That’s when I got interested in cooking and became determined to become a chef,” he recalls.
Through hard and committed work he was promoted to bedroom hand and then floor supervisor, all the while keeping his eye on a chance to get into the kitchen. “I wanted a professional career as a chef and when the lodge advertised for apprentice chefs I was eager to step forward. I made the final list of six and was called for an interview by the lodge chefs.”
He was excited, yet nervous. They fired some random questions at him and then asked if he had a personal favourite recipe he could recommend to them. “I had one I used to prepare at home for my brother,” says Naison, “a very simple one on kapenta....it got me through and I overheard this panel saying that I would fit well at The Boma, which is a traditional restaurant on-property at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. I got that job in 2004 and had achieved my dream!”
He also trained at the lodge’s signature a la carte Makuwa-Kuwa Restaurant and made his mark sooner than he anticipated. “Suddenly many chefs seemed to be running away to South Africa and Botswana. That helped me a lot and I became a senior chef in 2005.”
After graduating from hotel school in Bulawayo Naison moved to The rainbow Hotel in Victoria Falls for two years and then to Ilala Lodge in the town as Chef de patie. “Camilla Bowes and Roddy Meiring taught me a lot then ...many new dishes, new sauces and different ingredients I had never known.”
Since 2010 Naison Lungu has been head Chef at the famous 24-room Bumi Hills Safari Lodge, probably the most inspiring location of any safari lodge in southern Africa. His menus and presentation also continue to be inspired: “I choose the menu every day myself and I have the internet to look at so many out-of-this-world presentations. I read food magazines and buy cook books whenever I go to Victoria Falls.” He has a team of six in the large and modern Bumi kitchen, including sous chef Charles Zulu who worked at Imba Matombo in Harare.
And has he kept faith with the common kapenta fish? “Kapenta are plentiful in the lake right on our doorstep and the way we prepare them kapenta bar snacks are always very popular.”