The Magic of Plants – A Taste of Our New Plant-Based Dishes

Strawberry, passion fruit and mango pavlova; fudgey chocolate puff; baklava

“Research your own experience, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.” – Bruce Lee

Alchemy is defined as a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination. The word, in this context, is used to describe all kinds of things from romantic love to perfumery, consciousness to nature’s seasons. Historically, it is a science that originated in Greco-Roman Egypt and was practiced throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, as alchemists attempted to purify, mature and perfect certain materials.

Our journey in sustainability has undergone its own transformation over the years, to become more all-embracing and impactful. In particular is our quest to embrace a cleaner, kinder world through food, looking to purify – to incorporate only natural and organic and as many ingredients from the land as possible. To mature and perfect – in finding better alternatives, experimenting with new sources and methods and creating even more delicious plant-based dishes.

Bush Chef, Antonia Stogdale with some of the Great Plains Conservation chefs in Kenya

The Alchemy of Cooking

Recently the chefs from our camps in Kenya, joined bush chef, author and culinary consultant, Antonia Stogdale at her cookery school on the slopes of Mt Kenya, for a retreat in gastronomic alchemy, practicing farm-to-table, zero waste and plant-based cooking.

“Cooking is an art,” says Antonia, “but you also have to consider the science and experimentation, the impact and community of food. The food that we create at Great Plains is really focused on sustainable, reliably-sourced produce that is an explosion of colours, flavours and textures that capture the alchemy of cooking.”

Antonia and the chefs played with alternatives for animal products in baking, substituting eggs with ingredients like flax or linseeds.

“This was amazing to the chefs and a real eye-opener. You simply grind flaxseeds with water and it forms your egg substitute, so we were able to bake delicious muffins and cakes and all sorts of goodies based on this. We used Aquafaba, which is chickpea brine, as an egg substitute in delicious meringues and Pavlovas.”

Farm to table! A scene from the chefs’ visit to Katie Cambell’s 100% organic permaculture farm in Kenya.

During the retreat, Antonia took our chefs to an organic, permaculture farm in the region. “The chefs were really amazed that you could create such incredible food with all the farm’s wonky carrots, imperfect looking tomatoes and funny looking beetroots – produce you wouldn’t find on supermarket shelves, but yet has the most incredible explosion of flavour when you cook with them.”

“We gathered beautiful organic vegetables. The chefs couldn’t believe that no chemical fertilisers or dawa was used anywhere on the shamba!” ~ Antonia Stogdale

“Great Plains has always been known for their very healthy and fresh menus so on this retreat we really focused on plant-based dishes.”

“It wasn’t a huge surprise to the chefs. They were incredibly open to veganising the menu as they recognise the nutritional value of all these legumes and plants that are accessible to us in Kenya. We worked a lot on the nutritional value and related it back to the Kenyan way of eating which was very interesting.”

“We are cooking in the bush so it’s rustic but elegant and celebrates the produce of the country. When we create meat dishes, we look for organic meat raised by farmers that we know well and believe in. It’s a very much farm-to-table outlook on food.”

With buckwheat flour and flaxseeds, the team created delicious tacos, served together with kimchi and smoky aubergine and charred tomato filling and a coconut lime dressing for a gluten-free vegan taco dish. Other exciting new dishes on the Great Plains plant-based menus in Kenya include: sweet potato and lentil puff pastry pouches with wild rice and quinoa tabbouleh and chimichurri dip; mango, passion and coconut Pavlova and baklava made with filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in maple syrup instead of honey and coconut oil is used instead of butter. Also on the menu is a passion fruit and date sticky toffee pudding; beetroot risotto with candied walnut and rocket salad; and shitake mushroom and zucchini tortellini with a homemade pesto.

Smoky aubergine and kimchi tacos ~ gluten-free and vegan

“The Kenyan diet already consists of incredible superfoods…”

“For instance, Sukuma wiki which is an East African dish made with collard greens – like a kale,” says Antonia. “There are a lot of beans and sweet potatoes as well. They have an incredible healthy local diet and an understanding that you don’t need to have meat at every single meal. Much like in India, meat is a luxury in Kenya. Not everyone can afford to have it every day, but a well-balanced diet doesn’t have to consist of meat in every meal as long as you have your superfoods and proteins.”

Buckwheat, banana and berry pancakes with maple syrup ~ the perfect vegan, gluten-free breakfast

This greater journey into plant-based cuisine at Great Plains was inevitable. Our menus have always featured vegetarian and vegan options, but we have just taken it to a new level in Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

“Going sustainable and becoming environmentally conscious starts within us. With the individual,” says Beverly Joubert, Great Plains Conservation co-founder.

“You can do it for your own health, whether it’s going 85% or 100% plant-based in your diet and lifestyle, but it’s also good for the planet. Doing our part to protect wildernesses so that they don’t have to go under agriculture or the cattle industry, starts with each of us and our personal choices.”

Last year, Dereck and Beverly attended the Jackson Wild film festival in Wyoming and were impressed to find that the entire festival was vegetarian, followed by the National Geographic Explorers Symposium where all the big cocktail events were vegan. “It is so inspiring to see! More and more people are moving to plant-based diets in a kind of visible movement to clean up our footprint on the planet,” says Beverly. “We’ve seen it with the associations we’re a part of too, like Relais & Châteaux and National Geographic Unique Lodges, opting for and promoting gastronomy that embraces more plants and less meat, and only sustainable fish sources.”

“In the last six months, Dereck and I have gone from being 85% plant-based to 100% plant-based and it has inspired us to inject this philosophy into our camps and lodges,” says Beverly, “with not merely vegetarian options, but whole delicious and nutritional vegan menus, from the soup to the dessert.”

“Our fabulous Head Chef at Mara Plains Camp, Benjamin, an exceptional young man straight away took on the challenge to go more vegan and researched right away what this meant in the kitchen,” says Beverly. “He was really taken by it, telling us all the intricacies of the ingredients we’d have to change to suit plant-based diets, such as honey. We also wanted to make sure vegan didn’t mean lots of starch. Ben quickly took to researching the starch and carbohydrate content of beans and lentils to create gluten-free, low-carb options.”

“From the first vegan creations, every meal he gave us was so cleverly thought out and beautifully designed and tasty, that we left the table not feeling heavy, knowing that even the dessert was healthy.”

Beyond the alchemy, of great importance is the source of the ingredients.

In the Great Plains Kenya camps, gardens of fresh vegetables and herbs, sealed off from animals, provide much of our produce, while other food is all locally sourced in the country.

“We don’t believe in flying fish around the world and it’s a commitment we started with and have stuck to right from the beginning,” says Beverly. “In Botswana, we didn’t believe in bringing the ocean to a landlocked country.”

At our camps in Botswana further down south, we’ve been experimenting in other ways too: giving staff two plant-based meals a week. While it wasn’t an opportunity many of the team jumped at initially, they have embraced it more and more since learning more about how tasty plant-based dishes can be. They’ve experienced the transformation of their own tastes and mindsets.

A vegan mango sticky toffee pudding

What Our Chefs Have to Say

Benjamin Maritim, Head Chef at Mara Plains Camp says, “We have introduced more vegan menus for environmental, ethical and health reasons for those who want to stay healthy and enjoy a nutrient-rich diet that helps to protect against many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetics and cancer. We can get all the nutrients we need from plants – from proteins to fiber and minerals.

“We aim to be true to our local produce, sourcing all our fresh ingredients from the local communities and the farms and coastal regions of Kenya. Being self-sustainable is our goal. Mara Plains Camp has its own kitchen garden with a wide variety of vegetables and edible flowers, and what we don’t currently grow here is sourced from the local community farmers. This is one way of promoting the community and farmers and products that are local, fresh and healthy. I love ingredients like local posho, sukuma, arrowroots, cassava, coconut, banana, pumpkins and local greens.”

Above: At the recent cooking retreat with Antonia, some of our Kenyan chefs explored a local permaculture garden, harvested their own vegetables and other produce and then cooked up a storm with the fresh ingredients. After their hard work and learning, they gathered around the lunch table to enjoy a few delicious 100% organic plant-based dishes.

Mara Nyika’s Chef John, says, “Being the newest camp in the Mara, we’ve received positive feedback about our food both from vegetarians, vegans, and those who are lactose or gluten-free. All our produce comes straight from organic farms to the table and is sourced locally as a way of uplifting the local Maasai communities. We also have our own garden where we grow herbs and vegetables organically, with no chemicals.”

Great Plains has been on a journey in sustainability from the very beginning…

A search for truth and evolution in conservation, through systems such as solar power, in-house water bottling plants, biogas energy, and food alchemy. As we delve deeper into offering guests tastes that suit their preferences and palates, from gluten, lactose and sugar-free to plant-based, we realise more and more the magic in food – and its ability to transform us and our relationship with the earth.

Food is greater than the little four-little word suggests. The most vital things in life are but small words with significant impacts: air, water, fire, soil, love. Food is nutrition and wellbeing – with its effect on our health as humans and the health of the planet. Food is pleasure. Food is community, bringing people together several times a day. Food is culture, history, geography and travel, a reason to explore the world.

Dining under the stars at Mara Plains Camp, Kenya

Explore your own plant-based journey with Great Plains Conservation and find out more about our camps here >