“There are many sensations in this life, but having something amazing to eat is up there on the top list,” says Mi Casa frontman J’Something.
He tells Food For Mzansi that food is a gift which should be cherished, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic where we have forgotten to live in the moment.
“In my world, I would never say that food is for sustenance. I believe the opposite; I believe that food is such a gift. I believe that food is a moment and I cherish those moments as much as I can. I live them one bite at a time.”
The musician born Joao de Fonseca (32) moved to Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape from Portugal when he was just seven. With both parents actively involved in the food industry, De Fonseca says food was central to his childhood.
“I grew up in food. My mom and my dad both worked in the food and beverage industry their whole lives. As a matter of fact, we moved to South Africa because of the food industry.
“I am a passionate cook, I love food. I am not qualified to do anything that I do, but I do love cooking. I love sourcing products and I love eating.”
An award-winning musician and a passionate foodie, you have likely seen his beaming face on television reality shows like What’s for dinner? and, more recently, the sensational My Kitchen Rules South Africa on M-Net.
Noluthando Ngcakani: We have heard of living in the moment, but living in moments through food is probably not a thought that would cross a non-foodie’s mind. Tell me, Joao, how do we learn to live in our food moments?
Joao de Fonseca: Life is moving so fast and what really helps is that we build this system in our routine to have at least two to three meals a day. Those are beautiful moments for you to slow down, for you to savour; to acknowledge that you have food on your plate, and you have something that can benefit your body. Where you can just have the sensation.
There are many sensations in this life but having something amazing to eat is up there on the top list. This morning I made scrambled eggs, but they were not just scrambled eggs, they were a moment.
And how did your food journey begin?
I grew up in hotels and restaurants and around food. If anything, I do not know where the music comes from as far as my roots go. The food thing is clear. I grew up with my parents who always insisted on great quality products and delicious food.
Did you ever imagine you could create an equally thriving career in the South African culinary space?
I think that one of the things that is hard about growing up in small towns is that you do not know how far you can dream. You do not know how far you can reach. Music was always something I liked doing. I loved singing, I think I never truthfully thought of making a career from it. You do not think it is possible.
“If anything, I grew up wanting to be creative, wanting to be positive, wanting to make an impact on society.”
Music and what I have been able to do in the last ten years [with Mi Casa] is more than a dream come true.
Where have you drawn inspiration from in terms of your journey into food?
There are so many things with regards to food that I recall and can draw on that inspired me and shaped me without me knowing. My dad was a food and beverage manager, and he established many restaurants around the world with different hotel groups. It was just the pride that he took in what he did. He was good at it and he was super proud of how good he was at it. That has rubbed off on me growing up.
“I take a lot of pride in what I do.”
I think I am amazing at what I do, not in an arrogant way but more in a way where I take a lot of pride in it. I do not think I am better than anybody, I just think I am really good at what I do. That comes from my dad.
And then I think my mom taught me one of the most valuable lessons around food, and that is that you make food because you are serving people you love. No matter whether it is the guest in your restaurant or whether it is the guests that are sitting at your dinner table. When I cook for my family, it is me serving them, it is me giving them my time and my effort to feed them and hopefully to rock their taste buds.
What are some of your fondest culinary memories?
Every day for me is just magical. Just to bring it home, in this period of lockdown we have had some of the most magical moments as a family in our house around food.
Food has always been our escape; it has always been our adventure. From the homemade pizza nights to the random cosy stews with the dumpling in the winter to the scrambled egg I made this morning. I have so many memories around food that it is hard for me to pick one.
I have done some amazing things that I guess most people would brag about. I have cooked with Marci Pierre White, I have cooked with the MasterChef Australia guys, I have cooked alongside David Higgs, Greg Czarnecki, royalties of South African cuisine. I have managed to do some amazing things. Even all the restaurants I have had the privilege of visiting.
Do you have any advice to offer a fellow food creative?
With both my music and my food I did not have a dream of making it a business and making money from it. I had a passion for it, and I still do. Look at lockdown now, Mi Casa and I have not been able to tour, I have not been able to make a living, I have not been able to make music, but I am still singing every day. I am still making music nearly every day because I love it. I found other ways to make money, but I will never stop cooking and singing.
Cook because you love cooking. There is an ingredient that cannot be found in any store, in any pantry, or in any pan and that ingredient is the ingredient of love. If you cook with that ingredient, you will make the most delicious food you have ever made.