We are amid the second wave of the global covid-19 pandemic, which has made it tough to latch on to the skirt of the festive season buzz.
Not all has been lost in the chaos, though. If we had to do some serious introspection, this deadly virus has taught us many things about ourselves and others, some of the chefs and home cooks we’ve featured on Mzansi Flavour agree.
While life may have taken a 360-degree turn, we have learned to overcome, adapt and express gratitude for our tiny blessings, these optimistic Mzansi Flavour alums say.
Five of our chefs and home cooks chimed in to share their insights, losses, lessons and, of course, cooking tips and tricks to come to grips with this covid Christmas.
Life itself is worth living – Leshoto Thooe
“When things go bad while preparing your Christmas spread, make the most of it.”
2020 has not been the easiest of years. We have had to be quick on our toes, adjust under this new normal and learn to embrace it.
What Leshoto Thooe (34) could never have imagined, though was losing the love of her life in the devastation of the virus.
Grief coupled with the threat of covid-19 has been unchartered waters for Thooe, she reveals. “I actually have been thinking this is going to be the first Christmas without my husband, and its actually the first of many.”
“The first of anything is always difficult. I wasn’t looking forward to the season at first, but my son was so excited, I had to indulge him.”
His joy has been so infectious that the duo have now transformed their home into a Christmas haven with decorations and festive meals displayed on her Instagram page, At Home With Lesh. Making memories with her son has reminded her about the value of time.
“Time is so precious. I was with my husband for 18 years; I can’t remember a life without him. In my grief I have realised time is too precious to waste it.
“I am going to make this Christmas one to remember, for myself and my son. Not being happy wouldn’t exactly honour my husband’s legacy.”
Family is everything – Unaty Daniel
“You already know what to do, let your instincts guide you.”
Nothing beats Koko’s cooking, says chef and owner of Fabulous Foods bakery, Unaty Daniel.
After all, the moments shared with our families under lockdown kept us sane, she believes.
Daniel spent most of her time during the higher levels of the national lockdown where she was surrounded by her siblings and extended family at her grandmother’s house in Lesotho.
“There would always be delicious meals every single day that we spend together, courtesy of our grandmother.”
Her most cherished Christmas memories were also imprinted on her by her grandmother who would often make trifle with homemade fruit preserves. This year Daniel is most grateful that she has had the chance to perfect and learn her grandmother’s recipe.
In 2020, all the festivities will be done in the Eastern Cape.
“2020 has been quite a testing year, breaking so many norms and forming new ones.
“It has taught me a lot about myself and now I have fallen in love with who I am all over again, just in a higher magnitude.
“Self-actualisation has carried me through this year despite all its trials and tribulations. I believe that if this year had caught me at any different stage in my life, I would not have reaped the benefits it has had to offer to their full extent. I am more grateful about what I have and equally clearer about where I am going with this “life thing”.
Celebrate the good and the bad times – Lesego Moetse
“Celebrate every tiny victory, even if you have made a custard with no lumps.”
The Yummy Chef has big plans to celebrate with his family this year. 2020 was tricky and it was tough. “We didn’t know what our fate would be, if we would lose a loved one. The year has afforded us the second opportunity in life to really cherish, spend time and appreciate our loved ones!”
Moetse cherishes Christmas memories shared with his late mother, who raised him along with his sister in Vosloorus. “She has instilled lifetime values, morals and ethics which I live by to this day! She has also played a very big role in my chef career and supported me through out! She could have chosen for me to be a doctor like any other conventional parents’ wishes,” he laughs.
The gift of life on its own needs to be appreciated every day, he says! “Gratitude resonates with this. It goes a long way in appreciating the life, achievements and what others do good upon each and every one of us!”
2020 taught us resilience – Paul Hlaisi
“When you stumble, dust yourself off and go again.”
“2020 honestly still feels like a very long lessen that we are still being taught in the curriculum of life,” says DJ turned chef Paul Hlaisi.
Growing up, Hlaisi remembers Christmas in his former Limpopo home filled with laughter and the sounds of Brenda Fassi’s Vulindlela in the background. “The music brings people together. I was the DJ at the time, and I didn’t know it yet; I was in charge of rewinding the cassette tape every time the song ended,” he recalls.
As he grew older, he developed a system. “Eventually I would take on the responsibility of the annual headlining DJ at the family event. As time went by, I learned to dub cassettes and always made sure to add at least their favourite festive jams that year.”
2020 has taught him the importance of growth. “This year opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities.
“When it began, I wasn’t as motivated as I am now. The lockdown happened and it opened a lot of room for innovation with business. It opened an opportunity for businesses to grow beyond their limitations.”
It took resilience – Dianne Bibby
“Delegate if you must, it spares you time.”
“It’s the end of the year and I am surprised we even made it at all,” cookbook author and blogger Dianne Bibby says.
For Bibby, feast cooking is a ceremonious act that brings family together.
This year she hopes to do things a little differently though. For many years she has been preparing Christmas Eve dinners for no less than 25 people by herself.
“I really love cooking from scratch, and I like the whole process of making things with my own two hands. There is a lot of tradition with especially things like feasting foods for Christmas. There’s a touch of gratification in those traditional things that I love,” she says.
“My plan is to make things that I can ahead of time, the lamb and turkey are things I can make on the day,” she says.
Another plan of action she is committing to is delegating tasks.
“No matter how much you love cooking, it’s still hard work, you know. Some people just make it look easy, but it’s still work.
“I used to do all the food for everybody myself, but as you get older and wiser you realise you have to start delegating.
“The plan is to decide on a menu where everybody can be given a task to do. If you are not good with meats, obviously you don’t do meats.
“Changing it up is lovely because now everyone feels like they’re a part of the evening, showing off something that they made and are contributing to the process.”