Chef Sarah Graham on curious elephants and cooking with waterblommetjies

30 November 2018

Chef Sarah Graham on curious elephants and cooking with waterblommetjies

When she’s not in production for her popular syndicated cooking shows Bitten: Sarah Graham Cooks Cape Town and Sarah Graham’s Food Safari, both available on Showmax, Sarah Graham is writing cookbooks, appearing on magazine covers (see her on the December issue of Essentials) and raising three daughters to boot.

She made time in her busy schedule to chat to us about her Food Safari adventures:

What’s your biggest challenge when you’re out cooking in the bush?
There are the logistical challenges like no electricity and no running water – you have to be super organised. You’re so remote; you can’t just pop out and buy a lemon!

The heat must be crazy…
When we’re shooting in the Kruger and Mozambique, the temperature is 40 degrees and you shoot for up to 16 hours a day. Our two cameramen’s gear weighs 14 kilos each! We keep our ingredients inside cooler boxes in a tiny tent on site. And I always end up putting some kind of ice-cream on the menu – we have to plug a tiny cooler into a cigarette lighter outlet in the car so we can keep the ice-cream chilled while we’re filming.

What else is different when you’re cooking outdoors instead of in a studio?
You don’t have the stable conditions that you have in a studio; our DOP [director of photography] has to be so aware of how the light changes throughout the day.

What’s your favourite South African dish to make or ingredient to prepare?
It depends on the day, the time and the occasion. One dish we make fairly often – that my husband loves – is a bobotie. An ingredient that’s very nostalgic for me is a waterblommetjie. Growing up we lived on a farm near Hermanus, and I remember my mom pulling the farm truck off on the side of the road, tugging on her wellies and picking waterblommetjies fresh from a pond.

While filming Food Safari, did you have any close encounters with wild animals?
Ja! Both involving elephants actually. One incident happened in Zimbabwe, at my parents’ reserve. They have four elephants that roam around. We were filming at sunset and the ellies were getting closer and closer. So close, that they walked right through the set! People were hiding under vehicles and climbing through windows. The thing is: elephants can smell citrus from miles away, and we had oranges and lemons in our food truck. Then, on the other end of the excitement scale, we were in the Kruger trying to track collared elephants for a shot. We tracked them for three hours and when we finally found them, they were literally standing up fast asleep, under a tree. We wasted three hours of daylight finding them.

Any bucket list stuff?
In Mozambique, we were lucky enough to be there to see the turtles come up on the beach and lay their eggs. It was such a beautiful experience. We were there at the right time of year.

Has anything you’ve ever cooked on set ended up being a flop?
Back to the ice-cream! In episode 1 on Food Safari, we made a granita. The thing is, it was more like a Slush Puppy. We had to use some clever camera angles to make it look right.

What’s it like filming all over southern Africa with your family in tow?
The fact that the kids could travel with us was so wonderful. Still, on some days it was a bit of a circus. My mom is a living, breathing saint. Whenever I had to get up early to film, I would ask her to drive ahead with the kids and settle in at the next destination. Once she drove 7 hours to Saint Lucia with the children. The kids talk about our adventures while filming all the time and ask when we’re doing it again.

Do you have a secret family recipe you’ll never share on your shows?
I don’t believe in keeping recipes a secret. Food is made to be shared!

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