It’s Heritage Month, and we follow the Nom Nom Geo Chef, Desmond Tshikota, as he talks us through the magnificent Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail, cooking at strategic points along the way.
Exploring the geotrail on the Genesis Route between Barberton and the Josefsdal/Bulembu Border Post into the Kingdom of eSwatini has been a top bucket list contender for Desmond. His love of geology is only surpassed by his love of cooking.
“Being a geologist has always been a career for me, a beautiful one that I enjoy, but being in the kitchen is what I love, and seeing people smile as soon as they take that first bite makes me happy,” he grins.
The scenic wilderness that will become Desmond’s playground for the day is still pitch dark and covered in mist as he lights the fire at the Lebombo viewsite (25,3km into the geotrail). His “kitchen” is often found in nature as he finds his inspiration for cooking in his surroundings while basking in the first rays of daylight while planning a unique menu.
Breathing in the crisp mountain air the Geo Chef starts sharpening his knifes in preparation for cooking a variety of root vegetables to celebrate Heritage Month. He extends his hand to the ancient valley with all of its splendour and vast geological importance. “Just wait till the sun rises then you will see exposed rocks of ancient formations formed more than three billion years ago.”
Behind him lies the Barberton Greenstone Belt with its banded iron formation that extends towards eSwatini. “What a beautiful place to be at, and to celebrate culture and diversity of beliefs. I can’t think of a better spot that perfectly explains ancient life and the beauty of
Desmond slowly sips his tea and waits for the sun to rise, sitting on a massive carbonate rock known to geologists as dolomitic limestone, or as locals like to call it “elephant skin”, as it resembles that rough, weathered hide of elephants.
“The geotrail has beautiful iconic landscapes, astonishing wildlife and colourful history. It is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts as the history of our planet is explained by the rocks.“ Desmond is interrupted by tourists who arrive at the viewpoint to capture the sunrise, but now can’t take their eyes off the beautifully deco-rated table with shweshwe cloth and black clay plates made by renowned potter Antjie Newton.
He is not shy to share his knowledge of the geotrail with them. “Here you will find the best-preserved oldest rocks on the planet, formed more than three billion years ago. There are iron formations covering the earth, rock formations that tell stories of what happened in the past, and the white tidal sandstone that explains the ancient existence of beaches in the area. It gives us hints of our first existence.”
And then comes the moment that everyone has been waiting for, the sun slowly raises its head and extends a greeting in a stunning blend of orange and yellow. Now Desmond is truly in his element and can’t stop laughing.
“The beautiful sunrise experience is one of a kind; I doubt it can be compared to any other. The place is so peaceful and quiet, it is just you and nature. Cooking on an open fire always reminds me of how things used to be in the times of our forefathers, when technology was not around to simplify everything.”
Desmond takes us through the main meal of the day: Pilchard Shakshuka. “The main ingredient is pilchards, inspired by the fact that we are celebrating our heritage and going back to our roots. In days gone by, this was a luxurious meal and having it on the table was cause for celebration.”
This was the case for Desmond and his siblings, Marcia and Pfano, who grew up in the small township of Tshikota in Louis Trichardt. After school he went to study geology at Tshwane University of Technology and future leadership development at Wits Business School.
His parents, Sherly and Orbert, did everything in their capacity to help him grow and become an independent young man who pursued all of his dreams.
One such a dream was cooking, and establishing the catering company – Nom Nom Geo Chef. “Nom nom” are the sounds you make when you savour delicious food. Desmond’s dream came into fruition when he combined being a geologist with part-time cheffing, finally doing what he loved – entertaining locals and tourists and cooking for them while also showing off our beautiful Lowveld and it’s fascinating history.
ALSO READ: Heritage month Recipes by the Geo Chef
The next point that Desmond visits on the geotrail is Baryte station, and he chooses a sedimentary rock table to set up his dish of root vegetables. Here there are layers of thinly and highly folded sedimentary rock formations. These layers are made up of cherts and iron oxides forming the famous and most important host for the world’s largest gold and iron ore deposits, called the “banded iron formation”.
He leans over and bites into one of the roasted potatoes. “My love of food is very deep, it just makes me happy. I get so excited when I discover and crack a recipe. I zone out when I’m in the kitchen, you would even think I am in my own world.”
The sun is high in the sky as he takes in the surrounds of his last stop, reminiscent of a discarded ocean. “The white sandstone tells a tale of ancient beaches, tides and some of the earliest life forms. What I love about this spot is that you see small ripple marks, evidence of the existence of tidal currents which moved back and forth as the tides turned. On this station, the white tidal sandstone inspired me to prepare a meal dominated by white, as a resemblance of my surroundings. I prepared a boiled egg on crispy toast with speciality fried spinach.”
The day comes to an end and the Geo Chef reflects back on what it meant to him to go back to his roots. “You feel at peace here, on this trail. You feel amazing, you feel at home. It has the most captivating scenery in Africa and tells the earth’s story, especially the genesis/beginning of life.
“It has the greatest sense of isolation I have ever experienced,” muses Desmond, as he gazes back at the massive white rock formations of what was once an ocean of water.
Follow Desmond on Instagram or call him on 082-888-5135 for corporate catering, private catering, pop-up events, cooking lessons or an exclusive private cooking class in spots like the geotrail.
Photographer: SIMONE VAN ZYL