WASHINGTON – At the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka, (Zambia), they have a lovely buffet breakfast set up. It is in an open veranda overlooking a large swimming pool. The spread is impressive. There is almost every type of food you can think of: from sausages, bacon, potatoes, beans and scrambled eggs to Indian style chickpeas and assorted curries. From those you can move to Asian style noodles, chicken stir fry, sautéed Nile perch (delicious local fish), baked tomatoes, (British heritage), cereal, fresh pineapple, papaya, mixed nuts and juices. And of course, bread, pastries and muffins.
Leaning semi-vegetarian, I got some chickpeas, the Nile perch and baked tomatoes. But then, uncovering one of the big round containers, I smelled lovely sautéed mushrooms. Very appetizing. I helped myself rather generously and walked back to my table, right next to the swimming pool.
It was a glorious African morning. The sky was blue, the air was fresh and balmy. There was a light breeze. As I sampled my breakfast, I directed my attention to the mushrooms. Really delicious. They were nicely sautéed: a bit crispy, yet still moist inside. And quite savory.
As I left the dining area after finishing my breakfast, I saw a woman all dressed in white, behind the counter, who was working at a stove. I assumed that she was the chef. I went to her and I asked her if the was the one who prepared the mushrooms.
With a soft smile she said that, yes, she was the chef. I said to her: “You are a great cook. Your mushrooms are very good”. “So, you liked them?, she asked. “Loved them”, I replied. “And what is your name, if I may ask?, I inquired. “My name is Joy”. “Well, hello Joy, my name is Paolo. And you are a great chef”, I said to her, and then I left.
The next morning I was again looking at the same lovely breakfast spread. But I did not see any mushrooms. And Joy was not there at her station behind the counter. There was another chef instead.
I still filled my plate and got back to my table. As I was looking at the beautiful trees in the large garden area adjacent to the pool, I felt a touch on my shoulder. I turned around and, to my surprise, Joy was there with the same soft smile. And she had a plate of sautéed mushrooms. “As you liked my mushrooms, she said with a very gentle voice, I made this plate for you. Today they were not on the menu; but I got some for you”. That was so nice, and frankly so unexpected.
I thanked Joy for her kindness. And I ate my mushrooms prepared in the same lovely way. Joy and I chatted a bit afterwards.
She told me about going to school in her village. And how she came to Lusaka in order to go to a better school. And about how later on she discovered cooking and how she got a job at this prestigious hotel.
You are the best
She asked me about America, about my work in Africa. Thereafter, I saw Joy every morning at breakfast and it became a pleasant routine. She always had a big plate of mushrooms for me when they were not part of that day’s menu. It was so nice to eat them. I could not get tired of them. “You love mushrooms. Can you get them in Washington?, she asked me once. “Yes, I can”, I replied, “But nobody can cook them as nicely as you. Joy, you are the best”.