Traditional food ‘has a story to tell’

Chef Zana believes heritage dishes bring people together

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Chef Farzana Alvarado believes that every traditional dish has a rich history with a story to tell “about its origin, how it’s prepared and how it brings people together”.

Culture, she says, continuously influences her cooking and she hasn’t limited her talents to the kitchen. Alvarado has gradually crafted her career as a chef, food blogger, culinary consultant, caterer and published poet.

RECIPE: Chef Zana’s Durban Style Prawn Curry

Alvarado recalls spending hours cooking family meals with her mother and sister. Their time together was always extra special when they baked treats for religious celebrations such as Eid al-Fitr, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast” celebrated by Muslim people worldwide to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of fasting. “I’d often stay awake late into the night decorating chocolate onto biscuits using a toothpick, just so I could get intricate, fine patterns,” she adds.

Alvarado fell more in love with food when she tasted different dishes while travelling through 69 cities in Europe.

Born and raised in Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, Alvarado has always been drawn to the kitchen. She says she started cooking a lot at home, exploring flavours, textures and cooking styles, while growing great respect for the culinary arts.

Her talents in the kitchen, however, were honed over time. Her late grandfather, Ebrahim Roshee, played a major role in her culinary career. “Papa was a self-taught cook. He catered for massive functions and mastered the fine art of cooking traditional dishes such as biryani and kalya (a thick, spicy gravy prepared with either mutton or chicken) in large cauldrons over woodfire,” she says.

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Overwhelmed with nostalgia, she reminisces about her grandad’s food. “As a child, the delicious aromas always piqued my curiosity on how he perfectly blended spices to create magical memorable dishes.”

As a teenager, Alvarado cooked as a hobby, often helping to cater at private family events. When she matriculated from Reservoir Hills Secondary school in Durban she enrolled to study law at the University of Natal. This career venture was, however, short lived. “I’m a creative person, who loves to work with my hands, and law would not fulfil these aspirations,” she adds.

“I then studied public relations and marketing, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Technology in Communication Science. I had a wonderful corporate career, that allowed me to work with global brands. I am the former marketing supervisor for Walt Disney International and was based in Chiswick, London.”

“As a child the delicious aromas always PIQUED my curiosity on how he perfectly blended spices to create magical memorable dishes.” – Farzana Alvarado

While in Europe, her adoration for food grew as she travelled throughout the continent. She realised that every dish has a story to tell and that “each traditional dish has a history, where it originated, how it was or is prepared, and how it brought or brings people together”.

In 2014, Alvarado changed careers and completed a culinary course at HTA School of Culinary Arts. “I graduated top of my class and received two medals and two floating trophies. I also completed my chef’s internship at the Hilton Hotel in Sandton and won the 2017 HTA Culinary Mastermind award.”

Her culinary career ambitions did not stop there. She went on to establish her own brand on social media called Chef Zana, sharing recipes with her audience. To date her career highlights includes catering for thousands of fans at the Sandton Fanfest during Fifa Soccer World Cup in Mzansi in 2010. She’s also co-founded the Fiesta Latina festival, which, she says, is the only Latino culture and food festival in South Africa.

She is conscious about healthy eating and wants to inspire other parents to think about what they serve their children.

Alvarado’s love for media led her to work as a part-time news anchor and breakfast show host at Radio Al-Ansaar, a community radio station dedicated to the Muslim communities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal. In 2010 she joined Metro FM’s news team as a news anchor for a few months.

Chef Alvarado is a proud wife and mother of two children. She loves to travel and backpacked through 69 cities. In 2001 she also published a poetry book called Shadows.

The book was inspired after Alvarado survived a car accident, waking up in hospital facing horrific injuries. While she had to undergo intensive medical care she started writing poetry as a way to deal with her situation. “My journey has not been an easy one, but it is testament to the human spirit and I hope it inspires others that giving up is not an option.”

This chef is all about healthy eating and wants to inspire other mothers to feed their children healthy food. As for her career she looks forward to doing what she loves best: cooking, baking and potentially opening a restaurant. She hopes to leave a good legacy for her children one day. “What I want to leave them with is simply how to be really good people, who are kind to others and our planet.”

RECIPE: Chef Zana’s Durban Style Prawn Curry

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