Head Chef Ulrich Philander Infuses Personal Experience with Local Culinary Cultures, Ingredients, Spices, and a Sense of Discovery
Lunches that linger as long as sea views from the veranda. Picnics on a sandbar, breakfasts on the island’s own Arabian dhow. Pizzas prepped in an outdoor oven, and cocktails are served al fresco at the bar. Romantic dinners warmed by roaring bonfires, and diverse dishes of local ingredients customized to the tastes and diets of guests. All and more are on the menu of Head Chef Ulrich Philander at Thanda Island, a luxury private island set 24 nautical miles off the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania.
Born and raised in the small town of Paarl in the Western Cape of South Africa, Chef Philander was inspired to the kitchen by his father, a professional chef. He has traveled and worked across Africa since studying at The Culinary Academy (The Hurst Campus) in his hometown, including turns at restaurants in Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, South Africa; as a sous tournant at a private island resort in Seychelles; and as a sous chef at a resort in Zanzibar and the cooking club in Dar es Salaam.
Q. What are your favorite local dishes to prepare at Thanda Island? A. I really enjoy making Pan-Fried Changu, a local white snapper, with mchicha, a local spinach, cooked with coconut milk, fried cassava root, and finished with coconut curry sauce.
Q. Sounds great! How about something simple? A. Oh, that would be cooked, marinated, and stir-fried Octopus served with a lightly pickled vegetable salad. It’s a great combination of flavors.
Q.What dishes are most requested by guests? A. Well, the Thanda-style local lobster, we call it ‘Thanda Lobster,’ is super popular. The tail meat is taken out of the shell and laid on top while keeping the integrity of the back shell intact. It’s a beautiful presentation. The tail meat is marinated with some chili garlic and lime. Another much-requested dish is local crab and apple salad. Again, so simple and flavorful.
Q.Do you like to fish? A. Goodness, yes. There is nothing more rewarding for a chef than reeling in a good catch and cooking it together with guests. I once went fishing with Dan Brown and caught a giant 40kg kingfish. We used it for the most-delicious kingfish carpaccio ever. There was also kingfish ceviche, sashimi, grilled, pan-fried, and curry.
Q. What motivates you the most in the kitchen at Thanda Island? A. The opportunity to make guests’ stays at the table. We constantly try to dazzle them by giving them something unexpected, but what we know they’ll enjoy. Like the island, we want dining to be about constant discovery, so guests are always looking forward to what’s next.