Living on a student budget does not necessarily mean survival on only 2 minute noodles, says aspiring chef and home cook, Basetsana Duiker (19).
Yes, one of the hardest parts about having to fend for yourself at university is without a doubt the dreaded task of cooking for yourself, the North West-born foodpreneur agrees.
“But that does not mean you should be lazy, or meals should be boring, get creative with Maggie,” she says with sass.
Duiker is a first-year student at the Centurion Academy in Witbank, where she is currently pursuing her studies in hospitality management.
In a bid to spread her message, Duiker has taken to Instagram where she shares student-budget meals and her personal insights on replicating home cooked meals for first time students like herself. She does this through a page she calls In the Kitchen with Basi.
Duiker was born in the town of Orkney, about 16 km from Klerksdorp in the North West. Her love affair with the kitchen began young. From the tender age of twelve she knew it would be her solace.
“If I just had my music on and I cooked, that was very therapeutic for me. I fell in love with it because it helped me express my emotions. When I was sad, I would make rich, dense, heavy, creamy foods. If I was happy, you’d find me in the kitchen making something light, airy and joyful,” she recalls.
“I would show my emotions through cooking. Cooking helped me showcase my emotions.”
Today she has managed to monetise her cooking adventures and has even started a catering business which turns six months old this month.
“In the next five years I hope I can fully spread my wings in the catering section of the culinary industry. I see a registered company that will one day bring me money because I am doing what I love the most.”
The cook under 20 has bagged gigs ranging from birthday parties to high profile events where even entrepreneur Shaun Mkhize and socialite Faith Nketsi were present.
Kid chef with a dream years in the making
Duiker admits that she was never one of those cooks or chefs who would study each step that their mother or grandmother made in the kitchen. Her love for food stemmed from pure curiosity.
“I am self-taught, but I have always managed to find my way around the kitchen,” she says.
“Noodles are just the student go-to meal. I am always trying to come up with new ways to think about how I can elevate a simple noodle dish.
“Try new things – herbs, seasoning, veggies all in a wok and you are good to go. I always try to come up with ways I can make boring noodles a display of elegance on a dime,” she says.
‘Live beyond those limitations and doubts. Do not allow yourself to be boxed in.’
Her inspiration is drawn from culinary television shows. She reveals that as a young girl she would watch in awe as chefs miraculously created meals from nothing in short periods of time.
“I am addicted to culinary shows! It’s like a constant reminder to always think outside of the box. Don’t just limit yourself to small things, think out of the box. You can make great amazing things if you let creativity take control.”
Duiker was in her pre-teens when she began her own kitchen experimentation and has had her fair share of culinary faux pas.
She lets Food for Mzansi in on a little secret shame where she was left to care for her younger brother. Her parents attended a funeral and left the curious duo money to order in some food.
Instead of ordering food as per parental instruction, Duiker opted instead to make her way to the kitchen.
“I remember the first time I made soft porridge, oh my goodness it was a disaster,” she bursts into laughter.
Years later and making pap would now be breeze.
Her kitchen adventures in the professional space have had their ups and downs.
Like many 18-years-olds who have concluded the matric year, she was at an impasse and had no idea what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
Her father probed and probed until she landed at the Centurion Academy where she is currently in her first year of study in hospitality management.
The challenges of connecting with study material in practical professional kitchen sessions had nearly caused her to drop out.
“Being taught at school limits my ability to do certain things. Structured programmes are built up with generic Eurocentric values,” she says.
While she may only be in her first year of study, Duiker wishes culinary institutions allowed more freedom of creative expression in various styles of cuisines.
“Personally, I think school is stifling to the point where I wanted to throw in the towel. My dad talked me out of that decision and made me realise you need qualifications to be taken seriously in an industry.”
There were moments were she even felt like she had made a mistake. But her passion and relentless spirit rang louder than the defeatist voice in her head.
‘I took a deep breath and pulled it through. That was a big moment for me, and I thought to myself, hey I can do this.’
If she is not hitting the books, she is running her own catering business which officially came into fruition in the grip of the national lockdown.
“I had posted a platter that I had made for my family and the following day my friend called and he was like ‘no friend, I saw you posted this other platter, my girlfriend’s birthday is coming up I want you to make food for us’. That’s when it hit me, this could actually be a business,” she explains.
The business caters events varying from birthdays, couples’ picnics, girls’ nights in and many more. “Profits are slow, but I am focused on building my brand. I am trying to build clientele, trying to figure out where in the hospitality industry I fit,” she clarified.
Her moment of breakthrough came in the form of high profile catering gig. While she elates at the major opportunity, she also reveals that there were many lessons to learn from this occasion.
“I trusted the recommendation. Even when I arrived at the event venue it was posh. I was overwhelmed, but I pulled through and cooked for celebrities with only a year experience in the industry,” she says.
However, the client allegedly took advantage of the fact that “I was this young girl, assumed that I was naïve and didn’t know what I was doing. When it was time to settle my payment then he was nowhere to be found.
“The drama. Eventually I just let it lie because I got to do this high-profile event because after that people trusted me with their birthdays.”
She advises other aspiring chefs, to never limit themselves. “Live beyond those limitations and doubts. Do not allow yourself to be boxed in, that mental box is an ugly place to live in!”