Cape Town-born Davante Donjeany credits the powerful women in his life not only for his love of the kitchen. Like a time-tried recipe they also passed down the ability to thrive in tough circumstances, he believes.
Donjeany (21) says his mother, Jackie, and late grandmother, Maude, equipped him with the resilience and wits to survive, growing up in the tough neighbourhood of Mitchell’s Plain.
“I was raised by women. These are the same women that always taught me lessons that I needed to learn and that I value today. They gave it to me in the bluntest of forms, but then always gave me the decision to make,” he says.
These women have been the inspiration behind his creative expressions through food and dance.
From a young age, Donjeany says, he always knew that he would take the creative path. He has been dancing and cooking since the age of eight. Merging these art forms have earned him the nickname “the Dancing Chef” on the Cape Town culinary scene.
The young chef has managed to glide his way onto a featured slot as a guest chef on Abidah Dixon’s Cape Town TV show, Proe.
When asked if he would ever make the decision to fully commit to either dance or food as his creative expressions, he confidently responds, “neither, I could never choose, they go hand in hand for me.”
Donjeany has danced professionally with several dance companies in the city for 9 years and has even “popped and locked” his way on the stage of the Baxter Theatre.
“I see art happening all the time, everywhere, especially in this city. I believe that art is something that all of us humans do,” he explains.
Growing up, meals prepared by his late grandmother were delicious despite the limited ingredients available in the family pantry. Luckily his Ouma was often creative with the meals she would whip up.
‘You are constantly faced with the risk of your life just being taken away because of gun crossfires.’
He remembers moments where he would watch her cook in amazement. He would not necessarily help; he would just watch and replicate every move.
“Her food was always lekker, I learned from her, but it wasn’t until years later that I became seriously interested in cooking and made a connection between my grandmother’s creative way of cooking and the even simpler ingredients she would use,” he explains.
Cooking and dancing were his escape growing up in a crime-ridden suburb. “I always took dancing very seriously, but cooking was always in the mix. I knew I wanted to go into both fields of creativity.”
His mom was a moral compass who would constantly remind him to never allow himself to become a victim of stereotypes associated with the Mitchell’s Plain community. “She always says, ‘You are a coloured man. The expectation for you is very little, but prove them wrong.’
“Growing up here you’re faced with so many things, like drugs and gangsterism. You are constantly faced with the risk of your life just being taken away because of gun crossfires,” he stresses.
Donjeany has managed to keep his head above water despite it all. “I use your negative perceptions of me and channel it into a positive vision for me,” he says.
“I have seen some of my friends turn out for the worse, I have seen them make bad decisions. I have seen the importance of my mother’s words to do better and be better. Her words have echoed with me all the time to do better and prove people wrong,” he affirms.
Gliding and sliding in the kitchen
Donjeany has been on the professional kitchen circuit since he was 16 years old. In 2014 he began his journey as an apprentice chef at the Vineyard Hotel in the Cape Town suburb of Newlands.
After matriculating from the Voortrekker High School in Kenilworth in 2016, a year later he would enrol in the International Hotel School where he studied towards a diploma in food preparation and cooking. He would later spend six-months as a commis chef at the Peninsula Hotel in Sea Point.
Working in restaurants the young gun is always busting a move whenever he feels the pressure of the professional kitchen.
“When everyone is running around the kitchen spinning like mad chickens, you’ll find me doing the moonwalk while I’m busy with an order in the restaurant,” he quips.
Balancing life as a professional dancer and chef is equally challenging. “Yoh, in between shows or after I would physically have to run to catch a bus so I could make it to work,” he laughs.
He has however opted to take a brief break from the professional kitchen and is currently in his final year of study in Hospitality Management at the College of Cape Town.
Donjeany advises young chefs looking to break into the industry to be resilient at heart.
“You must have a really stable backbone in this industry, it’s not the easiest career. It’s not about the money, it’s not about the time, it’s about the passion and it is about the drive.”