Safari boss turns Melanzane Guru after travel industry crashes

02 July 2020 - 09:57 By Hilary Biller
Gary Lotter, the Melanzane Guru.
Gary Lotter, the Melanzane Guru.
Image: Supplied/Melanzane Guru

When Gary Lotter’s safari travel company ground to a halt due to Covid-19 and the country entered lockdown, like many of us he started spending more time in the kitchen. Little did he know he’d actually be cooking up the idea for a new small business — a business inspired by a single mouth-watering Italian dish: melanzane Parmigiana.

“I’ve always been the chef in our house and enjoy cooking,” says Lotter, who started his career as a safari guide before going on to head up several well-known African travel brands and eventually founding one of his own.

He first started making melanzane after hunting for a delicious dish that would tick both the gluten-free and Banting-friendly boxes.

Through rigorous experimentation, he set about perfecting his own rendition of the Italian classic: layering succulent slices of grilled aubergine with a luscious, slow-cooked tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, before topping the dish with mozzarella and baking it in the oven.

It was when Lotter’s melanzane became a firm family favourite that he thought it could perhaps become something more — especially since it’s the type of dish that freezes and reheats well.

With a big nudge from his wife, Lotter started Melanzane Guru, which offers free deliveries of his frozen meals, which are handmade in small batches, to select areas in Cape Town. He currently sells a traditional vegetarian melanzane (R99 for 500g) and a meaty version featuring beef mince (R115 for 600g). He's working on a third option that'll be made with zucchini, as well as on family-sized portions.

Melanzane Guru's Melanzane 'Meat Vleish', which is a meaty twist on the classic Italian vegetarian dish.
Melanzane Guru's Melanzane 'Meat Vleish', which is a meaty twist on the classic Italian vegetarian dish.
Image: Supplied/Melanzane Guru

Though these dishes seem simple enough, they’re fairly labour intensive to make. Lotter also points out that “hours and hours” of unseen work went into establishing a digital presence for Melanzane Guru, which was essential to get it up and running.

Lotter’s delectable ready-made meals have proved to be very popular and, planning ahead, he can see the potential in growing the business by securing a small production kitchen and employing locals to make the dishes. Then there’s the possibility of taking a stand at a popular Hout Bay market and of supplying owner-run supermarkets.

“It’s early days, but I’m covering my costs,” says Lotter. The main cost is his time and, as he puts it, “while the travel industry is dead, why not use that time to start a new business?”

Visit melanzane.guru to order. For every meal purchased from Melanzane Guru, R2.50 is donated to Comfort Through Food, an initiative which sees their products being distributed to households in need.