Gary has served in a variety of executive and global roles, both startup and Fortune 500, in such companies as Getty Images, Microsoft, Compaq, Digital Equipment Corp, and Sizzling Platter.Gary currently serves as Vice President of Information Technology for Sur La Table.He balances his career by spending time with his wife and three kids, taking every chance to see the world and try something new, most recently, climbing Kilimanjaro.
What would you expect? You’ve flown around the world (quite literally) to stand on top of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain (on your first expeditionary adventure, no less) and are served fried chicken in the mess tent—at 16,000 feet!
That’s what my wife and I encountered when we joined another couple, longtime friends, for a seven-day excursion to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. Not just the mountain, but the food blew us away, which is why I’m writing this post: to celebrate the man on the mountain, Chef Sadala.
We’ve done plenty of alpine climbs in which you pack your own gear, including your tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food, etc. The food is usually a package of dehydrated something; add hot water and you’ve at least, hopefully, got something to curb your hunger. But this was an expedition climb and the journey would take us from Lemosho Gate at 6,890 feet above sea level to the Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet, through 42 miles round-trip and five climate zones. Two guides, a chef, fourteen porters, and a string of camps along the trail—at best, we thought we’d be served cold boxed lunches. At least that’s what was advertised on many of the online guide services. But Miyar Adventures was different. They had a secret ingredient: Chef Sadala.
He didn’t speak much English, but always greeted us with a wide, toothy smile and a heartfelt, “Jambo, jambo!” (Hello, hello), whenever we saw him. We were eager to learn as much Swahili as we could over the course of our trip and answered his hello, always wishing we could communicate more, ask him more, and learn more about this culture we were adjusting to. From the first meal he prepared for us, and throughout the week we grew ever more intrigued with the man that made us such elaborate meals in such a challenging environment. We had multi-course menus three to four times a day, and were never served the same thing twice. Later, we would learn out that our chef, Sadala Athuman Nyari, was trained as a chef before he studied mountain cooking and joined his best friend—and our lead guide—Aaron Mwaigwisya of Miyar.
Each day started with a wake-up call as we were handed a steaming cup of sweet ginger tea through the zipper door of our tent. After splashing our faces and hands with hot water prepped in bowls just outside, we would be ushered to our mess tent for breakfast. Four folding chairs, a table (complete with a table cloth!), real dishes (not paper) and a thermos of filtered water for coffee or tea would be waiting. Chef Sadala would start us off with a traditional hot African porridge made of ground maize followed by vegetable omelets, crepes with Simba fruit preserves, sausages, toast and the freshest fruits. It was a great wake up, especially when nursing muscles still sore from the previous day’s hike.
Then we were off. Backpacks on and heading further up the mountain. Meanwhile, our porters would pack up the mess tent, our sleeping tents, and all the rest of camp, balance it on their heads or backs and head up the mountain—passing us along the way. Our pace was constantly throttled by our guides as they would encourage us, “Pole, pole” (slowly, slowly), to aid acclimatization as we made our ascent.
By the time we reached the next camp our mess tent would already be set up and Chef Sadala would have another hot meal ready to amaze. It was usually a late lunch, but well worth the wait, as we’d start with a piping-hot cucumber bisque (changing daily) and a fresh garden salad. Next was the main entrée which ranged from a noodle stir-fry with egg and vegetables all the way to, yup, you guessed it, fried chicken! Amazing! How do you make fried chicken over a camp stove and mixing bowl?
Pasta, rice, stews, chicken, fish, potatoes, hearty sauces, popcorn, nuts—we even had french fries and ketchup with one of our meals! Accoutrements usually included fresh slices of avocado, mango, watermelon and more. It was as tasty as it was fresh and beautifully presented. We never left the mess tent hungry.
Dinner was similar to lunch, but in smaller portions, and was always followed by a sweet treat to enjoy while playing cards before going to bed and starting the whole thing all over again. As the elevation increased our appetites decreased, but this was no reflection on Chef Sadala’s cooking. Loss of appetite is a natural effect of altitude, but the tastiness of Chef Sadala’s food really helped us maintain our physical strength and mental stamina over the course of the climb.
Upon returning, someone asked me whether the food was really that good or if anything would have tasted good because we were so wiped out. While we were definitely adjusting to altitude and the varying weather, the food was definitely an element of superior service that made Miyar Adventures unique. It’s clear that when people pour their hearts into the food they make, where it’s prepared and consumed is part of the whole experience. Cooking for someone is a gift from the heart. Considering the location, elevation, and environment—and the fact that Chef Sadala cooks for week-long trips, two to four times a month, the meals he prepared were deserving of five stars. His heart is huge. Well done, my new friend, Chef Sadala. Thank you for sharing your passion.
There were many more people that we got to know and loved on our adventure. Sandeep Nain, the owner of Miyar Adventures was so responsive and helpful as he worked to make the whole experience top-shelf. We followed up the climb with a multi-day Safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, but that’s another post entirely.
Our lead guide, Aaron and his assistant guide James Herman were so friendly and encouraging. They went the extra mile and made the trip truly memorable. Charles, our waiter and summit porter, served us our meals, and we looked forward to his bright white, engaging smile and prompt service. And of course we must thank our porters, who worked so hard day in and day out. There were two in particular, who, after carrying their normal load to the next camp, would return to assist my wife and one of our friends by carrying their packs into the evening camp.
Thanks to all for the unforgettable memories.
Editor’s Note: Do you have an unforgettable dining experience to share? Tell us about it in the comments.