The Homestead is becoming known as the most exciting and most luxurious game lodge in South Africa. It is blessed with both inner and outer beauty, from its exquisitely designed interiors to the unassuming rugged charm of its outer structure, which blends so perfectly into its environment. And now, our amazing culinary offerings from Chef Kamarl and his team are expanding to include gourmet sweets and treats.
And some of those gourmet treats involve premium chocolate from Costa Rica. What luxury South African safari holiday would be complete without those sweetest of experiences? The chocolate you will taste at The Homestead will probably be the finest you have ever tasted, because it is taught by master chocolate maker Ron Milewski. His recipes and techniques are not accessible to everyone. We tracked Ron down in his own private paradise in Costa Rica to ask him to tutor Head Chef Kamarl and his team of chefs as to how to make the chocolate that is among the best artisan chocolate in Costa Rica.
Ron Milewski is American and about 17 years ago, he woke up one morning in Chicago where he lived, and wondered what he was doing there. He was in his late fifties, his two daughters had moved to the warmer climes of California and he decided to go to Costa Rica for a working holiday. He loved it. So much so that he decided to settle there. Ron has worn many hats in his life but how did he get into chocolate?
He says it happened by accident. In his own words “Chocolate decided that she would have her way with me.” He added seriously “Costa Rica has some of the best cacao in the world.”
At 70% cacao, chocolate has marvellous health benefits, which are now becoming well known. Quality dark chocolate is rich in fibre, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and a few other minerals. It’s one of the best sources of antioxidants you can find, and scientific studies show that dark chocolate can improve your health and lower the risk of heart disease.
Ron maintains that “Now the general public wants fine chocolate. They are slowly getting ready for ‘origin’ — i.e., what am I eating and where does it come from?” He said “I was lucky. I was already growing rare tropical fruits, and fine coffee. I was based in a part of Costa Rica where some great chocolate makers live. I was mentored, but also taught myself. I made chocolate and sold it in the farmer’s market. The Europeans said ‘this is stunning chocolate, and you must have gone to school to learn how to make it. One French guy kept saying this stuff to me about how I must have had formal training. I said well, 12 months ago my favourite chocolates were Reese’s peanut butter cups, and then he knew I had no formal training!”
Ron does not sweat the small stuff. He says “I say look around. I am in paradise making chocolate. I make chocolate every day. I could not actually taste the quality of my own chocolate for over a year, I had to develop my own palate.”
It took a couple of years for him to perfect that, while his customers raved about the superb quality of his chocolate, he then did not have to try to grow his business. His chocolate was so good, word spread, and people came to find him.
Ron said “I have been self-employed for 45 years, all my working life. I realised that I did not want to grow the company. I live in paradise, make enough money and that is enough. It is a debt-free life.
I have no interest in running a large business now. My business is expanding even though I am not trying. People keep finding me, like Wayne and Kamarl and the team — and those people are high quality customers with whom I would have dinner.”
Dark chocolate is healthy, and my dark chocolate is sweet because the beans are so good. I can do whatever I want, I have 25 to 30 flavours. We also do unroasted chocolate. My gourmet white chocolate is over 50% cacao. If you crush a cacao bean, you get 50% cacao and 50% cocoa butter. This makes real white chocolate. Commercial white chocolate does not have this stuff.”
Ron adds “I jokingly talk about my alumni. Somebody will come, and I get emails from them asking for advice after that. I do a chocolate-making masterclass; a workshop. I can save people from 2 to 6 months of mistakes. People come over and work with us for a week; then do what we do. I have various resources that can help them avoid making mistakes. My alumni are in and out of the country every couple of months. Our training model is for people to spend a week with us and do everything. It is nice to go through the entire process several times a week, as there are nuances which you cannot really express in print.
We are building a young team, which may well end up running the business so I can stay in the kitchen and make chocolate. We are developing drinking chocolates now, which are extremely popular.”
Ron’s chocolate making enterprise is small, select, and off-the-scale when it comes to premium quality chocolate.
We strive to give our guests a truly high-end, luxury South African safari holiday of a lifetime; one that will give them some of the sweetest memories of their lives; memories that will be all the sweeter when they recall the taste of the exquisite gourmet chocolates at The Homestead.