She uses her innovative food brain to create dishes for the new kid on the culinary block, No Rules Cafeteria, an all-female pop-up restaurant in Jozi run by Mzongwana and co-founders, Sydney Keeney and Tayla Foong.
The No Rules Cafeteria pop-up breaks boundaries of traditional fine dining with rustic, out–of–the–box meals prepared by Mzongwana. “We’ve had a really good response. We have just been lucky in terms of getting opportunities to collaborate with really cool brands. We even hosted a micro–dining mixer that we did in partnership with Puma, and we work with the likes of beer brand Devil’s Peak,” Mzongwana says.
Before rising through the ranks of the Joburg food scene, this foodie remembers from the age of nine helping her grandmother Jessie Mzongwana, whom she fondly calls Ncinci, in her Port Elizabeth kitchen.
“My grandmother is my biggest influence. She really loved having guests over and hosting little parties. Her kitchen would just be full of food; she would constantly be cooking,” she reminisces.
With a love of food instilled by her Ncinci, Mzongwana submerged herself in her culinary journey in high school at Collegiate Girls High in Port Elizabeth.
“I did some in-service training during high school. We were doing a career expo week where we had to start learning about what careers we would like to focus on when we leave school. I had a few choices, and had to decide between fashion, food and photography. I just ended up in food.”
“I’ve been more inward about why I do the things that I do, why I cook what I cook and why I eat the way that I eat.”
Her cooking skills were first refined in 2006 at The Crest Restaurant at Port Elizabeth’s Beach Hotel, where she did her in-service training at age 17. Thereafter Mzongwana spent most of her teens and early 20s working in professional kitchens in PE beach front restaurants.
When Mzongwana turned 21 she leaped into food entrepreneurship and went on to open her very own fast food joint called the Aztec Kitchen, alongside her mother. Unfortunately, the venture was forced to close its doors due to bankruptcy after three years of business.
This, however, did not deter the zealous cook. In 2014 she dusted off her apron and started her journey into the world of pop-up dining in Jozi through a venture she called Off the Wall.
Not one to idle, the food writer later took a 3-year break to explore new creative frontiers as a recipe developer for African Beer Emporium in the Pretoria CBD and Poolside in Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct.
In 2019 Mzongwana set up the No Rules Cafeteria. She believes preparing and cooking food is magical. Cooking, she says, is therapeutic. She believes a good, hearty plate of food has a positive effect on our mental well-being.
“I’ve been more inward about why I do the things that I do, why I cook what I cook and why I eat the way that I eat. It has been more of a personal journey where I have been trying to eat in the interest of the betterment of my mental health,” she says.
“I love things to be beautiful, but it’s also important for taste to triumph over everything.”
Mzongwana uses food as an outlet to express her creativity. “Food has really been there for me and taught me how to pray. In times where it is difficult for me to speak, I express it all through the food,” she says.
“I have been making a lot of different and more mindful, conscious food decisions and it is reflected in the way that I cook,” she adds.
While food may be categorized as one of the most primal elements that create and sustains all life, Mzongwana says it also has potential to be an object of great beauty and fulfilment. Food aesthetics can greatly influence your mood, she says.
“I love things to be beautiful, but it’s also important for taste to triumph over everything, she says.
Mzongwana uses indigenous food in her recipes. This, she says, has helped her on her path towards the betterment of her mental well-being. “Eating for my mental health started out as sheer guesswork but became real once certain foods started to make me ill. Being sick would make me sad and I would just experience this repetitive cycle of sadness,” she elaborates.
She advises future chefs and home cooks to stay true to themselves. “Take your time in developing your style, it is better to rather make mistakes and stumble while you are unapologetically being you,” she affirms.