Foodie-turned-chef Siyanda caters for all tastes

It's a case of rather late to the party than never for an up-and-coming chef who has made it big in the Cape Town culinary scene

Siyanda SJ Jayiya is the founder of Sj Events Managers and offers his services as a private chef and catering events in Cape Town. Jayiya describes his food as a fusion of African and Western cuisines. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

He may not have attended a fancy culinary school but this did not stop Cape Town foodie Siyanda Jayiya from living his food dreams. Jayiya had a slow start but now he is a consulting chef at The Milk Restaurant and Bar and La L Cucina lifestyle boutiques offering a modern take on African cuisine in Khayelitsha, and he owns a catering company.

Siyanda Jayiya is the founder of SJ Events in Cape Town. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“Meeting people from different walks of life excites me, and it teaches us something,” he says.

Jayiya also flexes his culinary muscles as the founder of SJ Events and shares his love for food hosting private dinners and providing catering for weddings, funerals, parties, and gala dinners. This is a family business he runs alongside his mother, Nobubele, sister, Andisiwe, and brother, Ubenathi.

Written in the stars

Jayiya grew up in a large family home with his cousins on his maternal side while his parents were away at work. His grandmother, Nolungile, and the late grandfather, Patsuni, were essential in moulding him into the person he is today.

He tells Food For Mzansi that his rural upbringing in the village of Upper Indwana in Ecala, Eastern Cape, prepared him mentally and intellectually for the future.

“Because I was the youngest of four boys, I would be told to stay at home and cook while everyone else went to the fields, and that is where my passion for cooking was born.”

He says that he used to prepare local favourites such as umngqusho (samp and beans), umxhaxha (corn and pumpkin), umvubo (dry pap and amasi), isophi (corn and beans), and several other local village foods.

Jayiya believes that his experience as a home cook and being a foodie has prepared him for his current position. Consequently, he began to like cooking.

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Attainment of one’s ambitions

He received his basic education at Cala Community School before enrolling in Nyanga Senior High School, an Engcobo boarding school, where he received his matriculation certificate in 2012.

According to Jayiya, after graduating from high school, real-world obstacles become more challenging. He says that he always meant to pursue a career in cooking and events, but after finishing high school, he was uncertain on how to go about it.

He relocated to the Free State and attended Motheo TVET College to study tourism, but he did not like it. In 2014, he enrolled to study hospitality management at the Central University of Technology.

“Unfortunately, I had financial issues at the university due to the absence of a scholarship, so I dropped out at the end of 2015.

“Since I did not have enough money to go to school, I looked for work and became a bartender for three years.”

He feels that being in the hospitality industry allowed him to realise that it was his goal; he found himself in the sector and organising events has always been in the back of his mind.

“During my three years of non-study, I discovered that the hospitality and catering industry was my passion. In 2018, I made the move to Cape Town.

“It was hard for me to choose between working and going to school since I was used to working and making money.”

Still, SJ was officially registered in 2017, and his finances improved. “From 2018 to 2020, I went to North Link College to study hospitality and catering services.”

Conquering obstacles

Siyanda Jayiya shares his love food through his catering business, SJ Events. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

According to Jayiya, it is extremely hard to start a business. He cites a lack of capital as the biggest impediment, especially for those in the hospitality sector.

“Money is necessary for branding, marketing, and acquiring culinary materials, and donors take an entire lifetime to provide a simple response,” he says.

“I would pursue funding agencies such as NYDA and others, but the process would take forever. In other situations, candidates who waited for a response were notified that they did not qualify.”

Jayiya adds that there are also substantial challenges involved with brand ownership, especially if you are a full-time employee who also owns a brand. 

“So, if you are a full-time worker who also owns a brand, the atmosphere of your workplace might change, and you may find that you give your employer a challenge, but in some ways, it brings a positive attitude.”

After all the challenges he had to overcome, he is grateful that he was able to work as a restaurant consultant at urban restaurants in the township.

Jayiya co-leads SJ events Monday through Saturday with his other siblings, and on Sundays he hosts or prepares private dinners and other exclusive lunch dates on his own. He is also enrolled in a baking course at the Cape Town at Julie’s Cake Studio.

His perseverence to pursue his dreams has already paid off, but for this foodie, the path to greater things still lies ahead.

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