Chef Amanda Manyatshe (37) is on a mission to share Mzansi food flavours with the world through a food business she calls For The Foodie in Me. Hers is a business centred around her identity as an African and is an ode to her journey of self-discovery.
“What is at the heart of my culinary journey is finding out who I am. I find that with food I can connect with a lot of people, and I am actually an introvert. I do tend to be shy,” says the now Cape Town-based chef.
Her journey toward a culinary career took shape at the Silwood School of Cookery in Cape Town in 2013 when she was awarded a prestigious culinary bursary enabled by the Woolworths Taste Eat Out initiative.
The Eastern Cape-born culinary maestro has since made quite the waves in the industry even joining the South African People of Colour at the Table, a networking initiative that fosters opportunities for skills exchange and collaboration between people of color in the food and beverage industry on the continent.
“Finding space within the industry to accommodate my passion in a way that works is a wonderful motivation for getting up out of bed. I get to curate client-specific menus while exploring my creativity at the same time.”
Noluthando Ngcakani: Amanda you were in the process of studying toward becoming a psychologist. Did you ever imagine you would work in the food space?
Amanda Manyatshe: Never. For me it was a journey finding my passion. I was fortunate enough to win the Woolworths Taste Eat Out Bursary, so I got to study at Silwood, the oldest culinary school in South Africa and worked in some of the finest fine dining restaurants in the Western Cape while I completed my studies.
I met interesting people on my way to this point in my life which has helped in my food journey.
“Stay curious and be open to learning from others. there is enough room for all of us at the table. And Representation matters.”
I have hopped from industry to industry trying to figure out where I fit in; where pay day was not the only reason for me to get out of bed and sit in traffic to get to my nine-to-five. But the one common thread was that all the jobs had me interacting and connecting with people.
Where have you drawn inspiration from during your journey into the Mzansi culinary world?
I have drawn inspiration from various sources around me. Food has always been political and finding representation was sometimes hard, but oh so encouraging when I did.
I drew inspiration, and still do, from Dorah Sitole. Meeting and getting to know her and to be pushed by her is something I will always treasure.
My friends are a great source of inspiration. My foodie tribe spans across all continents and this nurtures my curiosity of different cultures, foods, and traditions. They have taught me and set ablaze a desire to find out more about sustainability and the origins of food.
And of course from my family. We love to cook and eat at home.
What are some of your fondest memories, specifically with relation to the kitchen? I am curious, but where did your love for food stem from?
Some of my earliest memories happen to be about food, from stealing baked queens’ cakes when my mom turned her back for a second to hunting for grasshoppers and termites in my aunt’s yard in Venda.
I remember her making delele (okra) for me with vhuswa (sour pap) and remember how I licked my fingers.
What have been some milestones that you have achieved in your food journey?
Being part of the team at the Test Kitchen when they were named 28th in the world for the San Pellegrino’s World’s Best 50 restaurants in 2015.
Officially starting my own business, For the Foodie in Me.
Recently I shared my food journey on CNN’s African Voices Changemakers and joined the South African People of Colour at the Table.
SAPOC won the Game Changer Award at the 2019 Eat Out Awards. Being part of a movement that is creating space for people of colour in the food industry is a constant highlight. It has been a safe space for us to talk, share and network; for allies to show us their support in an industry where we are not well represented.
What is the most valuable life lesson you have learnt thus far on your journey?
Stay curious and be open to learning from others. That there is enough room for all of us at the table. And representation matters.
What does your culinary future look like?
The farm life is calling my name. I am a rural girl at heart so [I need] a space that will nurture that aspect and incorporate farm to table and the forager in me.
Hopefully once borders open, I will get to explore Africa and taste the foods in their countries.
If I must stay in the urban areas, my retirement plan is to be that psychologist that feeds you nice food while we have our session. Put my psychology education and passion to work!
Lastly do you have any advice to offer your fellow Mzansi foodies?
If at first you fail, try, try and try again. We all need to start somewhere, and it just takes practice for you to get better and start to master dishes.
I still burn things to this day. Stay curious. In the same way we are all different, so is our experience of food and our skill in preparing it. A thick skin is also handy as the food world can have its tough days, but if you stay positive, look after your mental health and learn to take constructive criticism, you will grow.