Food has the inherent ability to dissolve global borders, believes Johannesburg-based foodie and student Lihle Mahambehlala (21). She has just about transformed the kitchen of her familial home in Eldorado Park, Soweto into the headquarters of the United Nations.
Here she travels beyond borders through food and cooks global delicacies from all corners of the Earth, which she shares on her Instagram page Cravings Diary ZA.
She says that food is about connectivity and creates unity amongst global citizens. “A great dish is a journey that takes you places that you have never been. It is common ground, an opportunity to experience another culture.”
Professionally, the home cook is a student of law and is currently in the process of completing her studies at the Varsity College in Sandton. But her true passions lie in the kitchen.
“I always knew I had to study law, my dad is a lawyer and that is where that pressure comes from, it has always felt like something that I have had to do,” she says.
The young foodie draws her culinary inspiration from her natural sense of worldly curiosity. “If I want to go to Asia, I am going to make Xiaolongbao (Shanghai soup dumplings). If I want to go to Nigeria, I am going bring Nigeria right to me and I am going to make jollof rice.”
From the young age of 11, she knew that she wanted to travel the world, but her circumstances did not allow her. Mahambehlala admits that she does not come from a very spontaneous family, nor do her parents enjoy cooking. Growing up, food was merely for sustenance.
“My relationship with food only grew recently in my teens. My food experiences were for survival.”
While watching cooking shows like MasterChef Australia, she says that she was amazed at how contestants on the show would take judges to different parts of the world through the variety of cuisines that they would prepare.
This gave her a sense of hope and sparked a thought: “What if I could travel the world through food?”.
‘Food is my expression of love, the kitchen at home has become my space.’
“I love food. Food is my life. I decided there and then this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my days,” she laughs.
“I am always curious to learn the science behind food. I would love to go to school and learn all about gastronomy. All these techniques that they use in five-star Michelin restaurants, that is a vision for me,” she says.
In 2017 she matriculated from the Queens High School in Johannesburg and enrolled at the Varsity College campus in Sandton. Mahambehlala jokingly says that she was not like her friends who ate noodles and slept all day.
She takes the time to prepare restaurant worthy meals. “Food needs to be interesting, and I think people get frustrated just eating the same meal all the time. That’s why I try and the response to my page has even resulted in catering requests.”
The global pandemic has given her the opportunity to explore her passions, she says. Mahambehlala believes that the national lockdown has impacted citizens differently.
If she is not studying, she is volunteering at a local soup kitchen in Johannesburg. The Makers Valley Soup kitchen distributes food parcels in and around townships in the metropole.
“I was frustrated just sitting there while my studies were delayed. I had to get moving. It was all about gaining the experience from some of the chefs and caterers who volunteered along with me.”
‘Don’t do things because it is your duty and then regret not following your dreams.’
The young cook has dreams of establishing her own catering company.
“As much as the lockdown is bad for a lot of people it has helped me grow a lot. I am clearer on what I really want to do in the future,” she says.
She advises cooks with a dream to actively seek out opportunities in the industry while she still can.
“Life is short! The coronavirus has really put the lens on my life for me to do introspection. This is what I want! I feel like a lot of us are conflicted in deciding between your passion and what is expected of you. Don’t do things because it is your duty and then regret not following your dreams.”