The Madiba Appreciation Club: A Chef’s Story is a lovely little memoire by Brett Ladds, former executive chef of the South African government and manager of the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria from 1994 – 1999.
Ladds was the son of a mine manager. He had an unconventional upbringing in that he moved around a lot. As an small English-speaking boy he was unfortunately a target for many bullies. And although his father outwardly appeared to be a good man, fighting hard to improve the living conditions of mine workers, at home he was a tyrant, verbally and physically abusing his youngest son. But the boy who was told he would never amount to anything and who didn’t deserve the honour of boarding in Rissik House, would grow up to become a respected and much loved chef.
In The Madiba Appreciation Club Ladds shares tales of meeting and serving Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Hillary Clinton, Quincy Jones, King Mswati III, President Laurent Kabile of the DRC, and Fidel Castro to name a few. Most importantly it offers the reader a fascinating insight into Nelson Mandela and the birth of a new South Africa, one which was struggling to unite a divided people.
Readers may find themselves hoping for a little more scandal. All the dignitaries according to Ladds were practically paragons of virtue. Perhaps it’s easy to forget that despite being in the public eye, these men and women are in fact ordinary people. The only visitor to the guesthouse whom Ladds took an instant disliking to was Naomi Campbell, but then she seems to have that effect.
A particular highlight worth mentioning was the arrival of Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. No expense was spared to ensure his comfort, and Ladds and his team were certainly all the richer on his departure. It would also appear that the Russians reputation and propensity for drinking Vodka is true. But whose Vodka is more potent, the Russians or the Afrikaners Doringdraad mampoer? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.
The Madiba Appreciation Club is easy to read and peppered with humorous moments, certainly worth adding to your bookshelf.
Review by Candice de Beer