As we celebrate and reminisce about our #25YearsandBeyond, we take great pride in telling the world about the countless loyal, diligent, dedicated and truly inspirational #Humansof&Beyondthat are making a difference, not only to &Beyond, but also to our planet.
One such &Beyonder is Head Chef Sam Mnguni. If you have visited &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge, then you will no doubt have met and been entertained by Sam, one of our most beloved &Beyond legends. Ever the performer and truly a master of his domain, Sam has been with &Beyond since the very beginning, 25 years ago.
Family and cooking are two things that Sam has understood and appreciated since childhood. As a young boy, and one of 26 children, it was his job to help his mother with the mammoth task of feeding their 63 family members.
Sam credits his mother for being a great mentor and teaching him everything he knows. He admits to having Grade 0 schooling, but proudly states that his cooking is Grade 12 and his mother was his university (and his computer).
Succumbing to the lure of the big city as a teenager, Sam travelled to Johannesburg, where he worked as a cook at Uncle Willies Roaders. Disapproving of the city’s increasing political violence, Sam returned to the solace of his own community and started a successful spaza shop.
When a local landowner came looking to employ this renowned, Johannesburg-trained chef, Sam turned him down not once, but twice. The desperate landowner appealed to Sam’s father, who managed to convince his son to give it a try and Sam eventually took charge of the kitchens on the very same farm that would one day become the award-winning, globally-renowned &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve.
When the land eventually changed hands in the early 90’s, Sam remained as part of the historic team that opened &Beyond Phinda Mountain Lodge. A quarter of a century later, Sam is currently the head chef at &Beyond Phinda Forest Lodge, where he continues to motivate, teach and inspire many aspiring young chefs below him.
Sam, who recently turned 65, is a firm believer of the old adage “love has no age”. He has two wives and 16 children (aged 8 all the way up to 36), all of whom live in South Africa. Sam’s wife Gloria works alongside him in the Forest kitchen and two of his sons also work at Phinda, Mandla as a butler and Zonie as a chef. Proudly keeping it in the family!
Although Sam officially retired on his 65th birthday, and coincidentally his 25th long-service anniversary, his love of Phinda and passion for cooking won’t keep him away too long. Truly passionate about his trade and keen to continue sharing his knowledge, Sam will continue to work on contract, providing relief to &Beyond’s kitchens where necessary and assisting with ongoing training and mentorship.
Even if you haven’t met Sam personally, you may have heard about his legendary evening performances on boma night. His trademark move was to climb a tree and regale guests with his personal stories and delicious nightly menu from high up in the boughs. In more recent years, he staked his claim atop the bench next to the fire and with his usual drama and panache, the beloved Sam has kept our guests laughing at his endearing tales for 25 years.
Sam’s obvious pride in his family, a strong sense of community and natural flair for showmanship identify him as an &Beyonder through and through. So here’s to Sam, from adolescent family cook to creator of mouth-watering menus for the world’s most discerning travellers. He did his mother proud, that’s for sure.
Here is just an excerpt of Sam’s nightly storytelling, as he passionately announces the evening’s menu at a recent wedding at &BeyondPhinda. “I kiss you for free”, one of his signature quotes, Sam always makes the crowd smile.