Nonjabulo Nzuza’s biggest culinary achievement to date is opening and successfully running her own coffee shop, Sweet & Savoury Café. In her cosy café in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, she bakes delectable cakes and cooks mouth-watering meals, but her speciality is her famous carrot cake.
The 34-year-old foodie didn’t plan on spending her days in a bakery and instead enrolled to study electrical engineering at Thekwini College in Durban after she matriculated from Esther Payne Smith Secondary School in Pietermaritzburg in 2003.
In 2005, one year into the course, Nzuza decided to drop out. “The course became tougher and I realised that it was not what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. She later joined a life skills class at the organisation World Changers Academy (WCA) discovering her love of working with people.
Volunteering at WCA always kept her busy in the kitchen, while the youngsters who participated in the organisation’s programmes focused on life and leadership skills activities. “I would help to prepare food for the children who visited the Shongweni Dam and Nature Reserve campsite. It was not something I thought would become a passion later in life.”
Soon Nzuza was volunteering at a number of youth development organisations, including Youth for Christ South Africa. Before she knew it, she was enrolled with the University of South Africa (Unisa) to complete a diploma in youth development in 2008, but this time finances got in the way.
“I didn’t finish the course in youth development because of funds. When I tried to complete it later, I discovered the course had been discontinued at Unisa,” she says.
“I’m known for my carrot cake and the tagline for the café is ‘home of the famous carrot cake mmm’.” – Nonjabulo Nzuza
In the same year, Nzuzu met her husband, Sboniso. At the time, they were both working as youth workers for Youth for Christ South Africa. It was love at first sight. She giggles about how he was attracted to her beautiful smile. “The hubby was charmed by the smile and the eyes.”
The two decided to tie the knot two years later in 2010. Nzuza fell pregnant with their first child the following year. The couple weren’t keen about having a nanny take care of their son, so they decided that Nzuza will become a stay-at-home mom for at least two years.
During the time when she spent raising her son Onke, she discovered her passion for food. “I would watch tv, read food magazines and try out recipes. After two years, when my husband asked me what I wanted to do about my career, I confidently told him I wanted to be a chef. That’s when I joined a culinary arts school to complete a one-year course.”
She studied at the School of Fashion Design, which offers a catering and hotel management course. As part of her studies, Nzuza was placed at Rockafella’s Theatre of Food in Pietermaritzburg in 2014 to gain practical experience. She worked in the dessert and salad section.
“I think I did pretty well, because I received a call back from the institution. They sent me to Spur to learn more about cooking breakfast, because from there I joined a new restaurant at the airport, Airborne Café.”
Nzuza worked at the restaurant situated at Pietermaritzburg airport for two years. Her cooking aspirations didn’t end there, because in 2016 she became the proud owner of her very own coffee shop, Sweet & Savoury Café. The café is a small and intimate place, and they serve cake and freshly cooked food throughout the week.
“I’m known for my carrot cake and the tagline for the café is ‘home of the famous carrot cake mmm’. I have one full-time junior chef. Through a new business venture, Injabulo Foodworks, I cater for all events and recently started with cooking sessions.”
The bubbly Nzuza adds that her cooking classes are life skills driven and about learning, unlearning and relearning. She is extremely passionate about both cooking and the development of people and she incorporates the two aspects in her cooking sessions.
Today, Nzuza is a proud member of the South African Chefs Association and she’s registered to complete a diploma in food preparation at the International Hotel School. She also plans to launch her first cookbook in the near future. “I want to travel and share my cooking skills with other foodies,” she adds.
Growing up she learnt about the spirit of sharing whatever you had amongst your siblings or cousins. She wants to keep this spirit of “Ubuntu” – compassion and humanity – alive by opening a cooking studio for foodies who cannot afford to pay to attend culinary arts schools.