“There is a dullness left in the food world without Sonia Cabano,” says the well-loved food commentator Errieda du Toit as tributes continue to pour in for the fallen celebrity chef.
Cabano, described as a culinary goddess, was also been a big fan of Food For Mzansi, having publicly described it as her favourite online publication. According to media reports, she was found dead in her Cape Town home by her brother, Meyer de Waal, on Monday, 31 May 2021.
Besides being a food writer and chef, the 57-year-old Cabano was also a former professional model, TV presenter and public speaker. Also, she was the author of four cookbooks, Luscious vegetarian, Relish and Easy, simple and delicious and Kombuis.
With her death, tragedy has befallen the South African culinary industry, says Du Toit, a former winner of the World Gourmand Cookbook awards.
Cabano presented the popular cooking show Pampoen tot perlemoen, in the early 2000’s. It was broadcasted on both the SABC and kykNET.
“Sonia really touched so many lives. It is not just the food community who is reeling from the news, she started to get quite a wide following through the television programme, Pampoen to perlemoen,” remarked Du Toit.
“I had the pleasure to know her personally and I was always struck by her presence, tall and statuesque and that essence of what a model is. Then she started talking and it was her mind that engaged you.”
A friend of Mam’ Winnie
Friends, family and fans alike are still reeling from the news of her death. Journalist Herman Lategan took to Facebook to share the memories of his “very tumultuous relationship” with Cabano.
He writes, “This is not about me, but dear Sonia de Waal’s death has forced me to do some introspection… both of us hot-headed, shooting from the hip and with anger issues. The black dog always nipping at our heels. Two weeks ago, it was on my list to make contact again, I was thinking about her. It is too late now.”
Cabano, formerly De Waal, was born in the Free State town of Brandfort where she became friends with the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist, politician and former wife of Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela.
In an earlier interview with OFM, Cabano recalls that her friendship with Madikizela-Mandela changed her life and taught her political awareness.
Cabano’s father was Madikizela-Mandela’s advocate in Brandfort, the town to which she was banished by the apartheid government for almost a decade in 1977.
Reacting to news of Madikizela-Mandela’s death, Cabano told OFM, “She had a profound impact on my life… What I remember about her was this incredible energy that she radiated. I don’t think she had any reason to connect with me at all as a little Afrikaner girl in boarding school.
“She gave us all a political education that changed our lives irrevocably. We saw from the inside out what life was like for people under apartheid and, especially, for a woman. She was systematically abused, and it was horrific, and it happened to millions of people.”
From model to foodie
Cabano moved to Cape Town following her illustrious international modelling career.
“While she was a model in Europe, she became quite interested in food and then wanted to enrol into a culinary school,” recalls Du Toit.
“She couldn’t, but started working at top restaurants in Europe and that is the way she became really well-versed in food. She had an international exposure to food but then she came back and embraced truly South African food.”
Cabano was also well-loved by South African Twitter users, says Du Toit.
“On Twitter, both the caring Sonia, the politically aware Sonia, the opinionated Sonia, the strong-voiced Sonia definitely made a huge impact. She was very outspoken and often caused ripples. She said exactly what she thought and didn’t care at all about who responded how.
Twitter remembers Sonia Cabano
Following the news of her death, both international and local admirers took to Twitter to share their fond memories and tributes.