Gauteng-based Chef Zingisa Memela reveals that her mission to dine in Mzansi’s small eateries was inspired by the dining experiences of her childhood. While she was growing up in Spruitview in Gauteng, food and especially a visit to a local restaurant had been central to the celebration of family milestones.
Appreciating the value of the South African restaurant industry, Memela took to TikTok to share her dining experience to encourage her followers to visit.
“I’d always remember how good I would feel at a restaurant. I wanted to be on the back end of that and provide people with a feeling of having good food to celebrate all their good moments. And I’ve just always had a passion for food.”
Food is my first love
Memela says that her childhood was nothing short of “interesting”. She was raised by Methodist reverends, Zodwa and Sidney Kutu, who were often relocated from province to province. When her primary caregivers moved house, roughly every two years, she followed.
“This always meant there was a new language to learn, new food, new people and new experiences.”
A distinct memory she still cherishes is enjoying food as an experience. “My parents are very big believers in eating out and they tried their very best to always take us to restaurants and different places, introducing us to all kinds of foods.”
When asked if she ever thought she would become a chef, she says, “I always knew. You can ask my parents, I started cooking from a very young age and I always said I wanted to be a chef.”
However, Memela soon set her eyes on a degree in international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand. But the call to the kitchen grew more intense.
“With parents of our generation, they believe in degrees and certain careers. I think they think you’ll eventually grow out of it,” she says.
“I did go to varsity, but ultimately while I was there, I just kept reiterating that this is not where I want to be.”
Last year she enrolled to the Capsicum Culinary Studio in Rosebank and she recently graduated.
Bona, believe in yourself
While pursuing her chef’s qualification, Memela also started her own private chef business, The Head Table, offering contemporary dining experiences to patrons.
Opening her own business at the age of 24 has been a highlight for her. “I started my business before I completed my qualification because I believed that I had the passion.
“I had the drive and I had the skills set to be able to provide my clients with quality service.”
Her TikTok page, however, is her ultimate achievement. “It is something I take pride in. I didn’t really expect the kind of reception that it got.”
She advises young chefs always to stay true to themselves. “On social media you feel compelled to hop onto the trending train, but what I realised is that I needed to discover my own voice. Your authenticity becomes your superpower.”
Chef’s Life: Four questions to Chef Zingi
How would you describe yourself to a total stranger?
I am a young black chef, I am charismatic, I’m entertaining and I just want people to enjoy eating out as much as I do.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I wake up, I pray and meditate and then I start to plan what posts I want to do for the week.
I like to plan and research recipes. I test out recipes a lot at home beforehand, so most days involve me deciding on, maybe, a particular theme and then finding recipes or coming up with recipes. I also plan where I’m going to eat out that week and plan the sort of vision board that I have for the video that I want to post, and then work on that.
OK, and then what do you cook yourself when you need some TLC?
Home-made pasta from scratch, made with a creamy sauce.
I believe in cream and pasta more than anything. There’s nothing better to see than a good bowl of creamy pasta.
Who would you consider a South African culinary icon?
Siba Mtongwana, because she was the first person who looked like me and did what I dreamed of doing.
Oftentimes the South Africa culinary landscape is male and it’s white-dominated. But for the first time I was able to see on TV someone who looked like me, who spoke like me, who had a story similar to mine. But she was doing things that I could only imagine; that I only thought were reserved for white males.
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