“I cook to keep our food culture alive,” says 66-year-old Dorah Sitole. The former editor of True Love magazine believes her food will perish if she does not cook and it should be recorded for the next generation.
As a food stylist, travel writer and author Sitole says she’s noticed a food revolution with many new and young chefs joining the culinary industry.
“It’s almost like all of a sudden people have woken up to food, and I’m talking about the black community, because for a long time it was just me alone in this industry,” Sitole says.
Sitole says traditional African cuisine is trending and she has made it her mission to keep these food traditions alive. Cooking came naturally to Sitole. Her mother, Rose, was a dressmaker and had no time to cook and she quickly took over preparing their family meals with pleasure, always experimenting with new recipes.
Her father worked full-time as a teacher. This meant that Sitole (who was two years old at the time) and her brother lived with their paternal grandparents on the East Rand. She moved back to Soweto to live with her parents when she was 13.
In 1972, Sitole matriculated from Orlando West High School and started working directly after school. “My first job was at Market Research Africa as a research officer. After seven years I joined the Canned Food Advisory Service as a junior home economist. I then joined Media24 and was the food editor for True Love magazine for 22 years and the editor for 3 years,” Sitole says.
While working at the Canned Food Advisory Service, Sitole was able to complete her formal qualifications. “I did all my training on the job as a cordon bleu chef, a public relations diploma from Damelin and a communications diploma from Prestige College.”
However, life wasn’t always easy on her. Suffering the loss of her eldest son, Sifiso, and husband, Archie, has taught Sitole that the human spirit is resilient. With her remarkable strength she says, “in spite of all the personal losses I’ve experienced I have soldiered on.”
Sitole’s husband died five years ago in a car accident, while her son passed away in 1990 at the age of 12 from an asthma attack. She has since bronzed a pair of Sifiso’s shoes and it has pride of place on her lounge table.
Sitole wears her beautiful age with grace. She has started her own business, Dorah Sitole Culinary Studio, and employs two young chefs. She primarily offers cooking classes as a four-week course to domestic workers.
“I feel like you have to take them on a journey so that they can be done in four weeks. At least they get some confidence and they’ve got a grip of basic dishes that they can cook for the family during the week or for entertaining.”
As a food stylist Sitole says, “I develop recipes, do the styling for the food shoots, do radio show interviews and occasionally master cooking classes with canned fruit and veggies brand KOO”.
Major highlights in her career is the publishing of her cookbooks Recipes with a touch of Africa, Cape to Cairo and the sequel Cooking From Cape To Cairo.
“The first Cape to Cairo book has 19 countries and the second one has 22 African countries. I actually travelled to all of these countries while doing the book. I’ve travelled extensively in Africa.”
She’s also bagged a number of awards. In 1990 she earned the Galliova Food writers and stylists’ award and in 2007 she got the inaugural President’s award from the SA Chefs Association for contributing to the hospitality industry. This year she was named South African Food Icon by FOODX.
Looking back at her life and what she has achieved, Sitole says that she is grateful to be blessed with a skill that she can use in her “matured years”. This is definitely not the end of Sitole’s cooking journey as she plans to do much more.
“I am in my encore years and I plan to work for as long as my body will allow me to. I’m working on my fourth cookbook to be published next year. I’m also in discussions for a TV show which I will be presenting!”