It takes only three key ingredients to create the perfect South African meal, believes chef Vuyolwethu Nyoni. One part passion, two spoons full of honesty and a cup of love, is a recipe his grandmother shared with him and one he continues to share with Johannesburg diners.
Mzansi food may have been influenced by cuisines from across the globe, but for Nyoni his greatest influence has been his grandmother, Pauline Mkhwanazi.
“My granny was the inspiration behind my journey because she taught me how to cook at an early age. And when I started introducing modern dishes to her, she always loved them, so that’s where it all began,” Nyoni says.
Nyoni was born in Johannesburg and describes himself as a “city boy” through and through. His approach to cooking is rooted in finding the simplest ingredients and balancing flavours to create the perfect dish. “No passion means a pointless existence; you must be honest with your cooking.”
Food is an art form, from its preparation to the moment you take the first bite, he believes. “Food is the same as any type of art – if you are truthful in the process, it will show in your dishes.”
Love for cooking started young
During his free time, Nyoni says he would often read through cookbooks that his grandmother kept. While he had never imagined he would become a qualified chef, his food interests were apparent from a young age.
Eventually, food curiosity led him to pursue his qualifications in the culinary arts at the HTA School of Culinary Art in Randburg. “When I started presenting innovative foods to my grandmother, she always appreciated them. I loved how that made me feel, that’s why I love it so much” he says.
Nyoni works as a freelance chef and offers his services as a personal cook, menu developer and caterer for special events in Johannesburg.
While he is not one to be tied down in the professional kitchen, he also freelances as a chef in restaurants should they need the extra set of hands.
Nyoni is also a lover of cheese and healthy food, and dreams of owning his very own chain of healthy fast food joints.
Food For Mzansi spoke to the young chef on the rise.
What is your style of cooking?
I always learn through trial and error. I combine a range of cuisine approaches and styles by picking up a few hints here and there from cookbooks and watching cooking shows on YouTube.
“Since most fast meals are made with cheap, harmful ingredients, I want to offer healthier yet enjoyable alternatives.”
I am a commis chef. I would not say I have a specific cooking style as I still want to explore more before concluding on what style is suitable for me, but I will be exploring delicious alternative fast food.
What are some of your favorite kitchen memories?
My favorite memories are of me, fighting with lecturers just to get the dish right. You know what they say: what does not kill you makes you stronger. The arguments have groomed me well.
What is your signature meal you love to make in your kitchen?
I am a lover of cheese and the mixture of sweet things with cheese in it makes it easy for me to enjoy my dessert. It is also perfect for my health and skin as cheese is rich in vitamin A, D, B12 and B2. However grilled cheese sandwiches are my favorite. I love it because it is easy to make. I just need cheddar, bread and butter for it; plus melted cheese tastes good.
What are the challenges of the South African chef today?
It is not easy to find a job. Most open positions are filled by older, more experienced cooks.
So, the easiest approach to cope with this, is to attempt to put yourself in the kitchen and perform your work as best as you can and efficiently as possible. And then you may be able to get a job in the industry.
The world is your oyster, what kind of future do you hope to achieve in the culinary industry?
It may sound strange, but my ambition is not only to explore healthy food alternatives but to also master the art of the perfect macaroni and cheese dish. The history of mac and cheese – with cheese being my favorite – is interesting. Chef James Hemings was the first American to get formal French culinary training. He is the creator of mac and cheese, although his owner, Thomas Jefferson, took credit. I’d want to pay tribute to chef Hemings by customising and refining the macaroni and cheese meal.
What advice can you offer aspiring chefs and home cooks?
Take care of your body, especially when you in this industry or else you will retire early. Be patient in everything you do because you do not always get something right the first try. It takes time.
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