Pumla Brook-Thomae harnesses her inspiration from her family’s food traditions

The sky is the limit for self-taught Afternoon Express guest chef Pumla Brook-Thomae

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A farm girl at heart, self-taught cook Pumla Brook-Thomae says she has always been intrigued by the art of cooking – starting her journey into the culinary world at the tender age of three.

In 2018 Brook-Thomae (46) took the reigns as guest cook on the SABC 3 talk show Afternoon Express. She reveals that she was drawn to the kitchen by the enchanting aromas from her mother Lulama Dlala’s creative dishes. These dishes, she says, were the catalyst of her career as a cook.

“My fondest memories are spending time with my mom in the kitchen as a child. I come from a big family with a lot of siblings, however in the kitchen is where my mom and I bonded and my love for food developed.”

Growing up on a farm in Rooihoogte near Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, Brook-Thomae recalls that she and many of the home cooks in her family are all “cut from the same cloth”. Her late grandmother – whom she fondly calls Sis Maggie – was a magician in the kitchen and created make-shift meals from what little they had in her cupboards.

Brook-Thomae is a regular guest chef on SABC 3 talk Show – Afternoon Express

“She would literally make something from nothing. Her creamy, oniony pap was amazing! She made these sautéed onions in cooking oil and sautéed them until they were sweet and soft, but not browned. She added maize meal seasoned with salt and pepper.”

Brook-Thomae has since had a stellar career in the culinary industry. She went on to self-publish her first cookbook, titled Pumlas Food – Family Style in 2016 and wrote a sequel Family Food – Simplified in 2019. Her inspiration she says is eating the magical meals prepared by her grandmother with her six siblings.

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“Self-publishing my first cookbook Pumlas Food – Family Style and selling every copy myself was really a major highlight in my career. My first cookbook went on to birth my second cookbook Family food Simplified. I had many job offers but I said no to all of them because I really wanted to make a name for myself.”

Her first published book grabbed the attention of DSTV channel Bay TV producers. Sponsored by Spekko, Brook-Thomae presented a cooking show on the channel called Family Table. From stuffing fresh squid to quick and easy fried rice, Brook-Thomae took viewers on a variety of culinary journeys into the homes of ordinary South Africans and well-renowned chefs featured on Family Table.

When her journey with Bay TV drew to a close, the cookbook author entered Mzansi Magic’s KFC Taste Kitchen competition, earning a position in the top six.

Brook-Thomae has authored two cookbooks – Family Food Simplified and Pumlas Food Family Style

The KFC Taste Kitchen reality show takes home​ cooks on a journey of innovation and explosive taste with the end goal of winning a million-Rand prize​. Brook-Thomae says although she did not win the massive cash prize, the type of cuisine that she presented to the judges like her “fluffy idombholo ne chakalaka” will be an accomplishment she will always be proud of.

Her journey on KFC Taste Kitchen earned Brook-Thomae a regular guest chef slot on Afternoon Express. This experience, she says, has been a humbling.

Despite her success Brook-Thomae says she still enjoys a “simple” life.

Having no professional training she advises aspiring cooks and chefs to “be willing to go out of your way and educate yourself outside of what was taught at school. Be willing to work hard. Cooking is not a glamorous job, it is hard work.”

“Always think out of the box to be able to stand out in the culinary crowd.” She also believes that a culinary qualification should not stand in the way of following your dreams.

“You must never limit yourself and always strive to be different and unique, no matter what, instead of trying to conform. It is okay if that makes some people uncomfortable as long as it gives you peace, joy and fulfilment.”

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