Meet Our Characters: Bertie and Nikita

Natural Selection
May 13, 2019

Where are you each from originally?

Nikita: “I grew up for most of my years in North West South Africa in a small town called Hartbeespoort Dam but I am originally from Springs Gauteng.”

Bertie: “I was born and raised in the free State South Africa, also in a small town called Kroonstad.”

What inspired you to become chefs?

Nikita: “I only knew at the end of my matric year that I wanted to be a chef. When I finished matric I went to s small chef school and started my career. I studied for 3 years, and after 2 of them I came to realize that pastry was my passion and to this day I love patisserie.”

Bertie: “I grew up wanting to be a chef so I’m one of the lucky ones who’s able to say it’s a dream come true.”

What brought you to the safari industry?

Nikita: “I have worked at a five-star lodge in Madikwe Game Reserve South Africa ‘Molori Safari Lodge’, and I would say it had a big impact on my career. Both of us have worked at big hotels where it was a rush from morning to evening, so I would say it was time for a change of scenery.”

Bertie: “I have worked around different food industries such as restaurants, hotels, wedding venues, lodges, etc. I would say out of all the places I’ve worked before the bush life would be first on my list!”

How is cooking in camp different from cooking in a restaurant?

Nikita: “I would say the planning of your days because in the city you can plan day-to-day and it’s within easy reach of everything you need, but in the bush, you need to plan weekly to monthly as nothing is nearby.”

Bertie: “There isn’t much difference. The only thing I would say stands out is the way you adapt to creating masterpieces by using what you have in camp.”

How would each of you describe your cooking styles?

Nikita: “My style would be more in the fine-dining aspect of cooking. I pay close attention to detail and everything must be uniform.”

Bertie: “I would say my focus is more on flavour and taste with a rustic plating style but in a neat way.”

How would you describe the food you serve at Sable Alley?

“At this point in time we would say we are serving more comforting food such as build your own shawarma or sandwiches for lunch, and in the evening we do plated dinners with a fine-dining touch. At this stage, we are keeping it basic in order to train the team with basic cooking methods and build on their knowledge and skills so that in the future we can go to more advanced techniques and food styles.”

What’s the one ingredient you couldn’t manage without?

Nikita: “From a pastry perspective, I would say any form of sugar.”

Bertie: “I would say salt, as without salt any food is tasteless.”

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Nikita: “At this point, I would say the biggest challenge will be to enforce stability and constantly bring in new improvements without disrupting the team.”

Bertie: “The most challenging part of my work is to change bad habits in the kitchen.”

What do you love most about living and working in the bush?

“Both of us enjoy receiving positive feedback from guests. Guest satisfaction is what we strive for. The guests always come first.”