Born and raised on South Africa’s East Coast and boasting a Sri Lankan and South Indian heritage, Neelamani Padayachee (Vanie) grew up surrounded by the flavours and inspiration of many different cuisines. Not only did this pique her interest in authentic recipes and cooking according to time-honoured traditions, but it also sparked her interest to travel to expose her to diverse cultures and kitchens where fresh, seasonal ingredients are revered.
In October 2020, Vanie stepped into her most exciting role yet, as the Head Chef at the reimagined Singita Sabora Tented Camp in the Serengeti (Tanzania), as it opened. A year later, she’s been promoted to Group Roaming Chef. Vanie will assist in all Singita lodges, supporting staff on leave cycles, or with any VIP guests. Her experience and guidance will be valuable to any team, and she’ll be able to mentor junior chefs.
Shaped by global experiences and a childhood passion
After completing her studies in hotel and catering management, she quickly rose through the ranks to take the lead in the kitchens of some of South Africa’s most celebrated restaurants – including Grand Provence Heritage Wine Estate for Alex van Heeren; Le Quartier Français working with Margot Janse and Marigold, and at the Leeu Collection in Franschhoek. What’s more, she also set up and helped to launch the renowned African Relish Cooking School in Prince Albert and worked on the MasterChef South Africa TV series.
Indian cuisine has been a major inspiration and passion in Vanie’s culinary journey – from her childhood to her stint at Marigold, which serves authentic North Indian cuisine. She’s even travelled to India where she learnt how to cook truly authentic dishes, which she then added to Marigold’s menu.
Return to homegrown flavours and ingredients
Vanie says, “My background is blending spices to create aromatic dishes, but my passion is teaching. So I’m looking forward to nurturing and mentoring various kitchen teams. It’s exciting to use homegrown ingredients, support our community suppliers in each region, and foraging for our healthy and sustainable menus. Singita’s core values inspire me to be a better person, to innovate and empower growth within our team. While I cook, I’m able to gaze at the savannah plains – which are filled with wildebeest or zebra – and my heart is full.”
Singita’s Executive Chef, Andrew Nicolson, adds: “Liam Tomlin and I are truly excited to have Vanie in this new role, as she is extremely talented and creative, and has worked under some of South Africa’s best chef. You can see this in the food she sends out of her kitchen – she strives for perfection. I believe it will elevate the food offering in all of our lodges.”