Travel to Zanzibar with Andreas Viestad
When I heard that my good friend Emerson had cancer and was about to die, I hopped on a plane to see him one last time. Emerson was the man that had taught me almost everything I know about Zanzibar”
Andreas Viestad (Norwegian food columnist and TV chef)
Andreas Viestad is a Norwegian food columnist and TV chef, and an acclaimed travel food writer
Andreas Viestad writes
I first came to Zanzibar in 1992, and at that time the island had just come out of a nearly thirty-year period of decline. During the years of the Tanzanian experiment with African socialism Zanzibar had been more or less isolated.
For the first time in a thousand years the multicultural had not been teeming with visitors. Much of the city was falling apart.
On my first visit I stayed at Emerson’s House, and I briefly met Emerson Skeens, whom I later would collaborate with and who became a dear friend.
Work on the Hotel…
In 2007 my wife and I were the first to ever sleep in one of the rooms at Emerson Spice Hotel in Zanzibar. Our friend Emerson Skeens, ever the optimist, had invited me to come to work on the menu at the rooftop restaurant, and @toby_torbjorn_selander was taking photos for a story in @d2magasin.
Outside the room, the uniquely Zanzibari type of controlled chaos reigned. The work crew, mostly women, carried bags of cement, there were rickety scaffoldings and we had to climb a makeshift ladder up to the rooftop. But even then the place had its magic ambiance, and it is still one of my favorite places in the world.
The Staff had a Passion…
When I worked with Emerson Skeens in opening the restaurant @emersonzanzibar one of the things we knew was that we were going to try to harness the knowledge and inventiveness of the local kitchen staff.
Not all of them were professionally trained chefs, but they had a passion, a depth of knowledge and a palate that was unique.
Edina was there from the start, at first shy, and then she grew and grew to be a highly respected head chef. ⠀
Seafood… and goat!
Meat is a rare treat on Zanzibar. Most of what is sold is imported through Dubai.
From the very start at @emersonzanzibar we decided that we would focus on seafood, and that all the meat should be local.
Local meat often means goat, a thoroughly underrated meat.
Although almost totally absent from European and US restaurant menus it is in fact the most popular meat worldwide. This is Janja’s wonderful goat curry, with mild and aromatic Zanzibari spices and lentils.
Emerson’s legacy lives on…
In 2014, when I heard that my good friend Emerson had cancer and was about to die, I hopped on a plane to see him one last time. Emerson was the man that had taught me almost everything I know about Zanzibar, and we had worked together on developing the restaurant at Emerson Spice Hotel.
We were both tremendously proud of how well it had turned out, and how the stars of the restaurant were the local staff and the local ingredients.
However I also knew that Emerson was a sucker for all things luxurious, so I brought him a bottle of champagne and some caviar, that he gladly ate, chuckling at what his doctor might think of such a diet. ⠀
Emerson’s legacy lives on in two of the most wonderful hotels and restaurants I know of in Zanzibar’s Stone Town. @emersonzanzibar⠀
My friend ‘Emy’
Emerson Skeens, the man behind @emersonzanzibar died far too early from cancer. He taught me everything I know about Zanzibar, a lot about hospitality and working with people. And not least about having a perspective on life.
He had lived through the rough days of hard-partying New York life in the 1980’s that not all of his friends made it through. He had ups and downs, in his private life and business life.
Once he got sick and knew he was dying, he was disappointed at the prospect of being cut off from the life he loved. But he was also, in his giggling way, happy. His cancer had nothing to do with the fine wines he had drunk, nor with the not-so-fine booze, or the drugs, or the sex he had indulged in, he said. “I lived my life to the fullest,” he told me. ⠀
Not everyone can say that. He is dearly missed. But his legacy lives on at @emersonzanzibar
Most Romantic Hotel in the World
Is this the most romantic hotel in the world? Well, it must certainly be on the list. Emerson Spice in Zanzibar’s Stone Town was the crown work of my late friend Emerson Skeens, and I was privileged to work with him on opening the ambitious rooftop restaurant, still one of the island’s best, although now they are experiencing the Covid crises.
Take care @emersonzanzibar … Let’s go back soon, Toby!