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Food and Travel: ‘Skies’ the limit!


Dusty Miller

IF you didn’t know Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, is nicknamed “Skies” by the cognoscenti, you do now!
Why “Skies”?

I’m told: because when you are dropping into “the place of slaughter” by the long, winding (and rather boring) road from Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) the whole magnificent, often powder-blue sunlit, horizon of the plain of Matabeleland totally dwarfs into insignificance even Bulawayo’s odd skyscraper.

The skyline’s even more dramatic when a lightning-illuminated thunderstorm lashes the usually arid landscape.

I was invited “skywards” last weekend by Rainbow Tourism Group to witness (and, candidly, wholeheartedly enjoy) their prestigious annual inter-hotel cooking competition held at Bulawayo Rainbow Hotel.

(Several times I slipped, calling it Bulawayo Sun, its last operating name. Prior to that it was Southern Sun, Bulawayo; and when I first arrived there to work on the Chronic in the 1970s, many contemporaries still called it the Victoria Hotel. I’m sure the people of Harare will refer to Rainbow Towers and Conference Centre as the “Sheraton” in 30 years!)

Incidentally I noticed the filling station abutting the high-rise hotel is still called Victoria Garage. I also spotted it had no diesel on grabbing a taxi there Saturday afternoon; no fuel at all two hours later!

I asked a cab driver to take me to the Legion Club. He looked blank and asked where it was.  That earns a big tick for honesty, if not the requisite professional knowledge of his calling.

I couldn’t recall at which CBD intersection it was so said: “It’s opposite the Exchange Bar” (Which should have a blue plaque outside, as it was the favourite lunchtime watering hole of international best-selling author John Gordon Davies, when he was a public prosecutor in Bulawayo.)

I climbed into the back of the hackney, only to be asked “So where’s the Exchange Bar?”

My interests in life and personal priorities are probably graphically illustrated by the fact I forgot the Legion is next to the National Gallery!

Climbing, disgustedly, into the back of another taxi, whose driver knew his way around “Skies”, I was whisked there in three minutes.

Many folk claim the Exchange is this country’s oldest surviving pub, but I’ve always thought that to be the Mazoe (formerly Mazowe) Hotel, which flourished, serving soon-to-be-butchered gold miners — it was then named the King’s Arms –– before the Mashona Uprising (Chimurenga) of 1896/7.

A few dops with chums in the Legion followed the best part of the day watching and sampling some splendid cooking in this annual event, which began on the Friday.

This year’s competition seemed much more slickly and smoothly organised than 2010’s: held at Kadoma Hotel & Conference Centre on a blisteringly hot day.

Bulawayo was damp and, at times, chilly last weekend, but we received warm welcomes wherever we went and hotel general manager “Singa” Moyo allocated me a magnificently appointed newly refurbished suite on the third floor of the city centre hostelry.

Teams of two young chefs were entered from several of RTG’s growing portfolio of properties. There were two sides from flagship unit Rainbow Towers and Conference Centre and one, jointly, from Harare’s Ambassador Hotel and Rainbow Hospitality Business School, which is housed there. Both are under the management of new Rainbow recruit Gary Webb-Stock, who previously ran the hotel school in Lesotho.

There was a team from hosts Bulawayo Rainbow, Touch the Wild, Rainbow’s safari lodge wing and one from A’Zambezi at Victoria Falls, soon to re-open after a major refurb.

Last year’s hosts, Kadoma, entered Pardon Mudenge and Lewis Dopota and, from one of Rainbow’s Zambian Copperbelt operations: Edinburgh Hotel, Kitwe, came Maureen Mulenga (23) and 25-year-old Steven Sikombwa who (wouldn’t you know?) walked the competition.

Their winning entry was a starter of bream roulade: poached bream fillet, presented on a vegetable stick, topped with a light lime mayonnaise sauce.
Main course was beef and chicken Rainbow special, comprising chicken-infused beef fillet, served with “magic” rice, “dolloped” with a red wine balsamic vinegar reduction sauce and dried vegetables. (Grand cooking and presentation, guys, but much more work needed on menu writing!)

Their feast ended with a fantastic chocolate mousse in a tulip basket garnished with fresh mint.

Their prizes were US dollar vouchers from Colcom; and vouchers from Caterware Connection; National Food hampers; Crystal Candy hampers, two nights for two couples at A’Zambezi River Lodge in an executive suite; four Tourism Services Zimbabwe vouchers for Walk with Lions activities at Victoria Falls and US$300 cash each.

Runner-up was the Kadoma team.  They served tilapia roulade with a cocktail sauce, chicken cordon bleu with salsa sauce and strawberry crème crepe.
Their prizes included food hampers, two nights each, with partners, at A’Zambezi and two fortnight long working holidays attached to the kitchens at Rainbow’s new hotel in Mozambique.

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