Callie-Anne Gavazzi was born and raised in Zimbabwe and has carried her love of her country and African food with her to many corners of the world. Her Zimbabwean heritage and culture plays a big part in her life and her cooking style. Now based in Ballito, Callie-Anne runs a safari food company where she is a private chef on safaris throughout Southern Africa. She also runs an online cooking program and a bespoke catering company in South Africa. In addition to all that, she is now also a published cookbook author. Callie-Anne sat down with us to answer a few questions about cooking in the wild and pursuing her passionate love affair with African food.
You talk about your father’s influence on your love for food. Tell us a little more about how he has impacted your career.
My dad has absolutely been a huge influence on my food journey. Not only with food, but also in my career thus far. His love for Africa and passion for what he does has inspired me to get to where I am today. As a little girl, my memories with my father revolve around food: eating oysters off the rocks in Mozambique, cooking peri peri prawns from Beira and, of course, putting nyama on the braai in the bush. It was a part of my childhood that has always stuck with me.
How does your Zimbabwean childhood and culture affect your cooking style?
Oh gosh, I would say most of it is because of my life and love for Zimbabwe. I have always been passionate about bringing Africa to the world. My upbringing in Zim has played a huge part in my career. Sharing our beautiful country with the world through my love for food is the best way I know how. Many of the recipes in my new coffee table book are a tribute to my Zimbabwe.
How did you get started in the catering business?
I wouldn’t call it a catering business as such (my term is food Safari business), but working in the bush at my father’s safari lodge really inspired me to do something I felt was needed in Africa. My company, Callie-Anne On Safari, is an innovative idea that puts food in remote African areas back on the map. I have a team of strong women travelling the continent, influencing one African kitchen at a time.
Have you had professional training or are you a self-taught chef?
I have had no professional training. I am completely self-taught. I have worked in various kitchens overseas and locally in order to expand my knowledge. I love learning and growing my skills all the time by physically working; it’s the best way to grow.
Can you tell us about how you plan for a big safari trip and what type of preparations must be made ahead of time?
Planning for a food safari is quite a process, but it is also an enjoyable one. I have to source all the food and check what’s available locally to me. I design a new menu for each location I visit, based on what ingredients are available at the time. Getting an idea of the kitchen I will work in is key. I may or may not have gas or even electricity. Wood stoves are the normal in the paces I visit, or even just a hole in the ground. Being a trained chef cannot really prepare you for a job like this. You must be flexible and open to what you have to deal with. It’s all about the feel and the passion. Just “make a plan” as the Zimbos say! That’s what makes this job so darn exciting!
Do you do all of your cooking on safari with wood fires? Tell us about the challenges of cooking in the bush?
Wood stoves and fire are pretty much the standard. It’s load of fun and can be super challenging at times. Fresh veg is a huge challenge, and forces you to get creative and think outside the box. I have had situations where there is no stove at all, just a fire to work with. The fridges have stopped working and I have butternut and tinned food to work with. It’s kind of crisis management at times, but as my father’s daughter, I believe that a little crisis management does nothing but make you more determined.
Where is your favourite safari spot?
This is a hard one, as I have soooooo many. But I am LOVING the safari vibes in Zambia. They are up-and-coming and have so much to offer. It is a beautiful place to explore and I really enjoying my trips out there at the moment.
I know the catering business can be incredibly challenging at times. Have you ever had a catering disaster? How did you handle it?
PLENTY!!! To choose one is so hard. Burnt meringues out of a wood stove are a common occurrence. Not to mention the occasions when my panna cotta never set in time, or freezes up on me when it’s time for service. It can all be pretty dramatic, but it most definitely keeps me on my toes and challenges me to be a better chef.
Can you tell us about what it was like to be a contestant on Masterchef South Africa?
It was incredible really. The show helped pave the way for me to reach my goals and food dreams. I think not winning was the best thing that could have happened to me. The hunger to achieve my goals was alive and on fire after my experience on Masterchef. It was truly a life-changing experience.
What is your favourite type of food to cook?
Hands down: African-inspired food.
I see you have just been to the safari shows in the USA. How did it go there?
The shows were a great success, with almost sold-out food safaris for this year. I left feeling stronger and more confident than ever. Sharing my passion and love for food in Africa is always so easy and natural to do.
Congrats on your beautiful book! How are the sales going?
Thank you, I am so excited about this book obviously as it is my first one, but it is also a very personal accomplishment for me. I only launched sales at the shows in the US and we sold out of all the stock we had. It’s doing so well. I am yet to launch in Africa, so watch this space.
Can you tell us about any new or upcoming projects you are working on?
I have my book launches coming up, and planning to have one in Zim…so this will be super exciting! Also, I have loads of collaborations in the pipeline, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.
When can we look forward to seeing you back in Zimbabwe?
This year for sure. I have some exciting events planned!
And check out a recipe for her Pap’s Peri-Peri Chicken to try your hand at some Callie-Anne cuisine.