If anything is illustrated by Top Gear ex-presenter – Jeremy Clarkson, getting unbecomingly angry over not getting his steak at the end of a long day, it is that our relationship with food is tempestuous. And we are in every culture, food obsessed.
From starving to binging and paying huge amounts of money for the delectability of morsels, food it seems has rarely been just for sustenance. Religious leaders have encouraged fasting, even relegating excessive enjoyment of it towards sin.
A food experience however is barren without ambience and company. So here we are, on our travels experiencing food in Andres Bifani’s book Safari Cuisine. He takes you on a trip around Kenya touring the vicinity with food as an essential ingredient. From Samburu and Lewa in the north, through the Aberdares and Mara to the coast, you traverse the country with local hunters, trackers, fisherfolk and you encounter the European, Arabic, Indian and other cultures that have influenced cuisine here – through a diary of memories – shared in pictures. The peculiarities of each place are reflected in the carefully selected recipes gathered with patience and the diligence of a scientist.
One of the things that excites me most in my own travels in Kenya, is the quality of food in our boutique camps. Salads and herbs, meat, fish, eggs and cheese are all available in the middle of nowhere. Their preparation is constantly, world class. The choice of fine wine has risen and we offer consistently good tea and coffee.
Only the sounds of traffic and construction remind us of the city, as we sit in a verandah covered in trailing tropical plants at Location Africa’s studio, talking over espressos about the connection between film making, safari camps and cooking. After collecting forty years of safari anecdotes, Andres tells me professionals working out in the wilderness look forward to a “hot shower, warm food, decent wine and a comfortable bed”.
It is on this verandah, Kiran Jethwa from Nairobi’s Seven restaurant and Andres spent many hours cooking, tasting and adjusting the recipes found in Safari Cuisine. Kiran Jethwa has gone on to become a celebrity appearing as the “Fearless Chef” who showcases the extreme lengths people around the world go to obtain specialty foods.
Safari Cuisine makes a lot of sense when you think of writers like Bowerman and Melson who claim that metaphors such as “wolfing food”, “chickening out” and hogging the road” persist because animals have played such a dominant role in the environment of human evolution that humans are hardwired to animals in thought and emotion.
A photographer of Chilean and Italian origin, Andres Bifani was born in Santiago but raised in Kenya. He studied film in Paris and returned to Nairobi to become a Safari guide in between commercial photographic assignments. His first book, Akina mama wa Kenya shot in the eighties is an endearing portrayal of women.
Postcard from the Mara Triangle
The elephant’s eye, a buffalo’s horns, crocodiles ripping into zebra stripes, mother eland nuzzling her young one, the hair on a baby cheetah lifted in a breeze, the vibrant wings of an eurasian roller. Concentrated instincts, primal gore, beauty in paradise, amazing natural drama.
Andres Bifani’s passion for the African wilds of Kenya, his artistic eye and love for socialising around a bush meal has produced the pictorial stories from life in the Mara Triangle. Which is formed by the Oloololo Ridge in the north west, the Kenya-Tanzania border to the south west and the Mara River from north to south. It is a protected region that has remained unchanged for centuries.
In the days when digital photos could not be whatsapped to friends and families and you had to wait for the processing labs to print your photos when you got home, we sent postcards from locations whenever and wherever we could get them. You needed a postage stamp and a mail box, and then sometimes the postcards would arrive after you were back home. But they were lovely hand written memoirs that you could hand down.
And that is what a book like Andres Bifani’s photo collection does. It gathers memories for you into a souvenir. But it’s also erudite, full of information about the environment and an inspiration for adventure. It pulls at our heart strings, wanting us to protect the last, richly populated animal kingdom on Earth.
Andres tells me that the Mara triangle has its own administration and he is comfortable with it. He has been providing safaris in the triangle with his wife Lorraine and assistant Jonah for many years during the migration, going out on the game drives himself.
Having started by providing mobile camps for films, Andres’s company is now sought after for his expertise. For the Lewa Marathon, which tests the endurance of international runners in a wilderness area of difficult terrain, they set up camp for some 700 people. And for the 20th anniversary of the Rhino Ark, all the food was cooked on site in the bush.
“Camping is not cheap, at the luxury level” he tells me “it can take two months to set up and de-camp just for a weekend’s event”. Which is why longer stays are more cost effective, because the considerable cost of getting out there with all the equipment and supplies has to be covered first.
Andres is going to Berlin soon to sell Kenya as a film location. We discuss South Africa with its efficient infrastructure, availability of studio expertise and seasons the fashion industry can make use of. And Kenya’s film commission which is very efficient but our immigration departments that can be frustrating for foreign crews. He speaks with a geniality that belies the hard work he must put in to make sure the crews that come out here to shoot survivor type programs in the north of Kenya do not want for anything.
Postcard from the Mara Triangle, documents the wildebeest migration in detail, as all victories and tragedies are catalysed by the wildebeest moving north from the Serengeti where they give birth in February to be in the Mara by May. In June, the rivers have blocked their migration and on the plains, the lowing of the gnu fills the air until in a blur of hair and horn, a wildebeest takes a leap of faith and the mass crossing of the Mara river begins.
It seems that everything has been building up to this point – the gnu crowd into the river where gruesome battles for life are feeding the crocodiles in the river and outside the waiting lions are stalked by hyenas, jackals and vultures.