Meet the foodie pioneering food styling in Zambia

Clara Kapelembe-Bwali (29) built a thriving food styling and photography hub in Zambia

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When food influencers like Mogau Seshoene and Siba Mthongwana are household names in kitchens throughout the globe, you would be crazy not to be influenced to cement yourself in the global food space too, says Zambian-born Clara Kapelembe-Bwali (29).

She says Mzansi is her second home and is where she was inspired by the work of the international food influencers. Today, she has ventured on a mission to become the first female food stylist and food photographer in Zambia.

Clara Kapelembe Bwali (29) is on a mission to become Zambia’s first female food stylist and food photographer. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

The world is your oyster, she believes. In 2020, she founded Black Garlic, a food styling and photography hub in Kalulushi.

Recipe: Seasonal mushroom and chicken pasta

“For the longest of times it was not really a thing [in my country] to take your own pictures. That is where the journey started.

“One thing that I find extremely joyful is the fact that now the narrative of getting pictures online has changed – it feels like I have made a difference, like I have pioneered something different for my country,” she says.

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South African food is on the map, she adds with praise.

“It is not all about Gordon Ramsey, If I talk about magwinya people will know what they are and that they are from South Africa.

“My inspiration has been drawn from foodies all over the world who are taking over the culinary space. The way they represent their countries delicacies was always an inspiration.”

Today, her own list of clients includes Unilever, Rajah and luxury alcohol brand owner Pernod Ricard.

‘I never in my wildest dreams thought I would make a living out of food.’

“You need to put in the work, especially if you want to be taken seriously. Be consistent in your content production. My biggest highlight has obviously been being able to work with all these amazing brands, brands that I have admired for the longest time,” she says.

‘My mother taught me everything’

Bwali never imagined she would be so passionate in her business with food. “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would make a living out of food,” she says.

Her childhood home in the copper belt town of Chingola was often filled with visitors enjoying the cooking of her mother, Josephine Kapelembe.

Food stylist and food photographer Clara Kapelembe Bwali may not be a qualified chef, but she is making waves in the Zambian culinary space. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

“I come from a very big family so every now and then we would have visitors. The joy that would come from the guests when they take that first bite was infectious. My inspiration really has been from my mother,” she says.

She may not be a qualified chef, but the avid foodie began her cooking journey in 2016 after she graduated with a degree in computer science from Monash University, Johannesburg.

After graduation, she took on the role of wife to husband Kangwa and shared meals she prepared for him on social media.

“Cooking was a hobby, I am a business analyst by profession. With my previous job in South Africa I worked as a policy administrator in Roodeport. After that I was a doctor’s assistant in Parkhurst. I never really worked in food, ever.”

In 2018 Bwali, her husband and her two sons moved, taking her business venture to Zambia.

“When we came back home, I decided to make a business out of it, I started doing catering and I started selling cakes. I can pretty much say Black Garlic started in 2020. That was when I rebranded and started doing food branding and styling,” Bwali says.

‘Nothing comes overnight. You really need to push; you cannot be mediocre and inconsistent and post one day and then six months later.’

African food on the global stage

Aside from watching people enjoy her food, Bwali says the main inspiration behind Black Garlic is combining her passion for food with her passion for photography. Her food is art, only made with fresh ingredients instead of an easel and paint.

“It used to hurt me seeing people use one stock photo to advertise their food brand. For me that was really a motivating factor because I found it annoying that one picture would belong to five other. I thought ‘Zambia can do this, let me try and create content that my people can be proud of’.”

Borders may separate us, but African cuisine connects, she believes. The only difference between South African and Zambian cuisine is a wider variety of vegetables and fish.

“We love fish like kapenta, (Tanganyika sardine). I know you guys are quite big on meat. For us it is fish and pap. I have never been to culinary school, I learned from my mother.”

To make it in the culinary world though you need to put in the work if you want to be taken seriously, the foodie says.

“Nothing comes overnight. You really need to push; you cannot be mediocre and inconsistent and post one day and then six months later,” she says.

“You need to be firm enough and put yourself out there, these big brands will not just come to you.”

Recipe: Seasonal mushroom and chicken pasta

 

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