The novel coronavirus has turned our world upside down, but at least it has brought some new perspective, says food TV presenter Abidah Mohammed (52).
This is especially useful in the kitchen, she says. There has been an about turn in our attitude towards food and food preparation. One of the positive things she sees emerging from the global health crisis is that so many people are getting back into the kitchen and cooking for themselves and the people they love.
“Food has a special significance right now during the lockdown as it’s the one thing many of us have found comfort in,” she says.
Mohammed is the host of the 18-season, bilingual Cape Town community television series “Proe”. The show has been running for 12 years and is centred around capturing the essence of the Capetonian food culture.
“The show is really about me in the kitchen showing and sharing with my viewers the real meaning of home cooking,” she says. Mohammed is a well of wisdom and teaches celebrities in the Cape Town community how to make meals from scratch. She has even hosted the likes of former Western Cape premier Helen Zille.
Mohammed says it is refreshing to see lockdown chefs now preparing meals from scratch daily and discovering kitchen skills that they never knew they had. This newfound love for food preparation has completely changed their relationship with food, she believes. “There is more of a sense of appreciation in this time.”
Mohammed was born and raised in Elsies River in Cape Town. She remembers a time of peace and the sense of community she experienced growing up in the suburb.
Her advice for kitchen success is simple, “steel met die oog,” she laughs.
“Those days were lekke days. It’s only now that the youngsters are getting violent, things are getting a bit deurmekaar.”
Her love for food began as a young girl, when she would assist her aunts to prepare meals in her home kitchen. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” was the golden rule there, she quips.
“My aunt believed that you had to clean thoroughly before you even think of cooking a meal!”
She remembers the sense of wonder in her journey by train from the city to her Elsies River childhood home. These were some of the best moments of her life, she says.
“Arriving in Elsies River made me feel safe. Even if they say the Bishops station is a bietjie deurmekaar, I always felt safe even up to today. There might have been gangsterism, drugs and so on, but I still felt safe.”
Before the lockdown, food was a commodity that we no longer valued or respected, says Mohammed. “It was easy come, and easy go,” a deeply concerned Mohammed recalls.
With widespread job losses and financial devastation the lockdown has worsened the poverty crisis in the country, she adds. “It is heart-breaking that there are people who are going hungry during a time like this.”
Mohammed remembers a time when she suffered a similar fate. In Elsies River she would raise her five children, along with her husband. Together they would survive on a single income. As a stay-at-home mother she says she has taught her children to understand the value of food and money.
“I involved them in every financial decision since they were young. When my husband got paid fortnightly then I would put the money on the bed and show them how much we had to work with for the week. There wasn’t always a lot left, but at least our fridge was full.”
For some people, cooking for five active, growing children might sounds like the beginning stages of a never-ending nightmare. For Mohammed, the rumbling tummies of her now adult children was always a source of cooking inspiration.
“I was a stay at home mother, so there was time to learn, time to do new stuff in the kitchen in terms of cooking and trying different things out. You know how children are, they are all different,” she says.
Those different palates sparked what she calls the “great tomato bredie standoff” in her home. “Half of them will like tomato bredie in mince and half of them love tomato bredie in a meaty stew. There is a different taste for each one of them,” she chuckles.
Her advice for kitchen success is simple, “steel met die oog (steal with your eyes),” she laughs.
Our elderly people have cooking experience that give great insight in the kitchen. Try to be present in the kitchen when they start cooking, she says. “You never know what tricks they have up their sleeves.”