As a young girl, Khayakazi Kepe (35) started “cooking” during play time with her friends. Back then, she had no idea that she would one day build a name for herself in the culinary industry. Now the former MasterChef contestant is a food ambassador and has a weekly radio show.
“I have loved food and being in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. At the age of five I was playing amandlwani (playing house) outside with friends and we’d cook in little tins for pots. I didn’t know then I’d go into food as a career, but I knew I loved the feeling cooking gave me,” says Kepe.
From the beginning Kepe’s mother wanted to give her daughter and her five other children the best. However, her mother’s desires and sacrifices came at a price – Kepe had to move around quite a bit.
“I went to several schools. I did primary in five different schools in three different provinces. And I did high school in two schools in two provinces. My mom wanted the best for us and that meant sending us to go and live with different relatives in order for us to be able to attend the best schools she could afford.”
Born in Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape, Kepe also briefly lived with her paternal grandmother in Cape Town. When she returned home, she brought along all the cooking tips and tricks she had learnt from her gogo.
Eventually Kepe matriculated from Queenstown Private High School in 2003. Afterwards she took a year off to work and save money so that she can afford her own tertiary fees. She then did a diploma in public administration at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in the Western Cape.
“I attended part-time night classes while still working. And in 2008 I got a job at Vega School and my passion for marketing was ignited there. And so I started studying through them. As an employee I got to study for free. I did a certificate in media buying, certificate in public relations and a certificate in marketing management.”
Kepe got married to her husband, Lunga, in 2009. The pair, who now has two children, celebrate their 10 year anniversary this year.
In 2012 she decided to give her cooking skills a shot and entered the first season of MasterChef South Africa. Kepe came in as the top 6 finalist of the season. During one of the episodes Kepe says she experienced one of her most embarrassing moments in the kitchen.
‘I was horrified that I’d become known as the coriander girl’
“I took coriander, mistaking it for flat leaf parsley. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and my senses and taste buds were awry, so I didn’t even smell the difference. I was horrified that I’d become known as the coriander girl.”
Fast forward seven years and Kepe is a food ambassador for well-known supermarket group Spar.
“I work for Spar Eastern Cape. I am their food ambassador and assist their stores with training of the ladies who cook. I also do a weekly radio show on Umhlobo Wenene FM. It’s on Fridays at 10:45 am and it’s called ‘In the kitchen with Khaya’.”
The best childhood memory that Kepe recalls is the day she discovered pasta for the first time. She was eight years old and had gone on holiday to visit her grandmother in Cape Town.
“Being from a rural village in the Eastern Cape, maize meal, flour, rice and sorghum were staple foods. It was the most amazing and delicious thing I had ever had, and I still love my pasta to this day.”
She says the kitchen is where she goes when she needs to recalibrate and centre herself. Cooking brings a certain calmness and peace. But that peace is easily ruined when people don’t appreciate what she prepared.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is people who season their food without tasting. It just makes me want to scream. It’s like the least you could do is have one mouthful before possibly ruining someone’s great creation that they took so much effort to prepare.”
Kepe is very excited about the future. And although she cannot elaborate much, she says, “I’ve got great things in the pipeline with my partnership with SPAR Eastern Cape”. For now, Kepe served us a delicious baked chicken liver pâté.