What could an underground astronaut with an interest in bones and a man who went from commis to executive chef in the blink of an eye have in common?
The quick answer: an obsession with food.
Meet the foodies – paleoanthropologist Dr Keneiloe Molopyane (affectionately known as Dr Bones), the principal investigator at the Gladysvale Cave fossil excavation site and the first black woman to head a dig in the Cradle of Humankind) and Sam Ramokoka, executive chef at both the Cradle Boutique Hotel and the exclusive new eco hideaway, Riverhorse Lodge, both situated within the privately owned 9 000-hectare Greater Cradle Nature Reserve (GCNR) just outside Johannesburg and which is home to two world-famous, active paleoanthropological sites, Gladysvale and Malapa.
They both admit to spending a lot of time thinking about food: how to source it, how to grow it, how to cook it, how to pair it (with beer/wine/whiskey/gin) and how to eat it.
It seemed fitting to throw this odd pairing together to create something that would embrace her love of fossils and his superior knowledge of food: a starter course she could serve to for Christmas lunch.
How it all began:
Given where they both work – in the hallowed grounds where human life began, an area that is home to hominid fossils that date back 3-million years – both Chef Sam and Dr Bones are committed to sustainability.
It is why they believe in the importance of growing food – which removes the need to ship in staples thereby reducing the carbon footprint, and also allowing control around the use of organic principles.
Dr Bones, distinctive in her pink hair and oversized glasses and known for her macabre interest in bones, was named by National Geographic as one of its 15 Emerging Explorers for 2021. She scrapes fossils out of rocks as easily as Chef Sam shucks oysters.
The quietly spoken paleoanthropologist says she started cooking (seriously) in 2018 as a form of therapy, “to calm my brain down and have it focus on something other than my PhD thesis and out of shape body.”
Dr Bones laughingly added: “That’s funny because cooking can actually be stressful. However, in the right environment and with a goal in mind it can be very peaceful.”
To her general practitioner mother Dr Rebecca Stoffel’s delight, Dr Bones and her father, ophthalmologist Dr Paul Molopyane, started a vegetable garden in the backyard of the family’s Benoni home, one that still produces most of the family’s vegetable needs. Dr Bones has two brothers, O’Bakeng, a sports scientist who serves as the Springbok Women’s Sevens S&C coach (S&C = strength and conditioning) and Phenyo, a gamer.
“It’s organic eating for real in our household. I’m committed to the concept – I even had a garden growing chillies, peppers and tomatoes on the balcony of my Sandton flat.”
For the first time in 2018, Dr Bones took charge of the cooking of the family Christmas meal – a lunch that (because of her rookie timing error) turned into dinner.
And so began a new tradition in the Molopyane household.
“Dada cooks a large breakfast for us, I keep the family supplied with snacks all day and then I serve dinner – which, last year, was a prawn cocktail appetiser, followed by roast lamb and gammon with all the trimmings for dinner.
“We’re all bored with my starter which is why I asked Chef Sam to come up with an alternative, something that I can surprise my family with this year.”
Chef Sam, who’s come a long way since he quit studying mechanical engineering at Vaal University of Technology, choosing a career in food instead, obliged. He knows something about cooking for fussy family; he and his wife Motshepo, who also works in the food industry, have three children, daughter Kathlego, 15, son Neo, 11, and baby girl, Wandile, three.
He also learnt to prepare food under the watchful eye of his mother, a cook at a scripture union campsite.
Dr Bones said: “It seemed fitting for Chef Sam to teach me how to make a marrow bone starter. After all, my nickname is Bones and I call my family kitchen Bones’ Eatery.”
Ramokoka loves his job, and he loves where he works. His drive through the nature reserve on his way to the kitchen at Riverhorse Lodge takes him past plains animals that include loping giraffe, warthog, a herd of sable, a dazzle of grazing zebra…
It’s the same view Dr Bones sees on her way to her Gladysvale dig.
The starter they dreamed up included Sam’s ingenuity and Kenni’s fine palate.
Grilled Bone Marrow
Roasting marrow bones couldn’t be easier. Have 2 beef marrow bones, split lengthwise, for each person. Get your oven nice and hot and roast the marrow for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve the marrow with slices of fresh or toasted sourdough bread (to mop up the delicious juices) and a parsley salad, to cut through the richness, on the side.
- 1 ½ cup parsley/1 bunch, roughly chopped
- ½ cup red onion thinly sliced
- 1 TBL capers
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp lemon fresh squeezed (or to taste)
- ⅛ tsp. ground black pepper
- In a small bowl mix well together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper
- In a salad bowl toss together parsley with the slices onions and roughly chopped capers.
- Add the olive oil mixture and toss until completely coated.
- Serve immediately with shavings of parmesan if wanted.