T oulus learned to cook at the feet of his granny in the southern Namibian town of Maltahöhe. The little boy watched carefully as she mixed ingredients that reflected both her Nama culture and that of the white household where she worked. He loved the way she tossed in some plant, herb or other ingredient that brought new flavour to a traditional dish. One thing was sure – that ingredient wouldn't be lettuce, for Toulus's granny never liked salad. She told him that she wasn't a goat, so she certainly wasn't going to eat any green leaves. When he was eight years old Toulus was abandoned by his parents. He was raised by a lady called Lena who worked in the laundry of Wolwedans Lodge in the NamibRand. During school holidays he helped out with maintenance and building. One day Ralf Herrgott, the head chef, pulled him into the kitchen to clean. Impressed by his attitude he tried him out as a kitchen hand, peeling potatoes. Toulus did well and it gave Ralf and Wolwedans owner Stephan Brückner the initial idea for the Namibian Institute for Culinary Education ( NICE). In 1990, when Namibia became independent, tourists were mainly easy- going locals and South Africans, who often camped or visited the national parks, plus a few Germans and Brits looking for laid- back vacations. The better lodges were homely, comfortable and basic and the food was just the same: grilled meats, including game; beans, potatoes, mealie meal; simple salads, and German- style breads and cakes. There was a lot of beer and South African wine to wash it down. Nobody was going to starve, but nobody was going home with memories of gourmet delights. Ten years, even five years ago, local men who worked as cooks at Namibia's resorts and lodges went back to their villages on their days off and pretended to be working as labourers. They were unwilling to admit they were cooks in tribal cultures where cooking was only for women, and what they cooked was basic braaivleis ( grilled meats). Fast- forward to almost twenty years after independence and Namibian hospitality has moved ever upward, reflecting its status as the ecotourism capital of Africa. Namibia draws discriminating travellers to some of the most remote 5- Star lodges, resorts and game reserves on earth. These places are not easy to build, some taking years to complete. Roads must be hewn from rock and sand, and materials transported over dry riverbeds and steep mountains, across sand 36 Travel Namibia Until recently male cooks at Namibia's lodges told their families they were labourers, too ashamed to admit they worked in a kitchen. Now a new chef's school in Windhoek is changing perceptions, as Sharri Whiting found out.
Travel Namibia 37 Food Main: Students learn on the job in the NICE restaurant Oppososite totop: The NICE restaurant in WIdhoek Oppososite bottomottomottomottom: Ralf Herrgott helps students dish up