Many of life’s greatest achievements are made when you step outside of your comfort zone, believes Zimbabwean-born chef Tapiwa Munyawiri (32).
He may have been cooking since the age of five, but Munyawiri only started taking risks in the professional kitchen five years ago.
“I was never a risk taker, from time to time I would overthink and calculate every move. I have learned to take chances; you will never know what is behind a particular door if you do not take a chance rather than just sitting and waiting for things to happen.
“Some of these risks have paid off,” Munyawiri says. Today he is the proud owner of 274 Eats, a catering business he runs from his Tableview, Cape Town home.
“It’s a one-man band show, I started in November and I am currently running everything from home, cooking has always been something I loved.”
Born and bred in Harare, Zimbabwe, Munyawiri began cooking at the age of five in his late mother, Abigail’s home kitchen.
He recalls she would demonstrate how to prepare a meal only once and throw him into the deep end, making him prepare meals of sadza (pap) and a beefy vegetable stew all by himself.
“When we were given chores, part of the house duties was to cook. Believe it or not, it was between myself who was five and my sister who was a year younger than me.
‘The passion of cooking has always been there, but I was scared…’
“My mom would just teach us some basics and most of the time she would leave us with instructions. At age five I would cook and when she comes back, I would have been done preparing the meal and people would eat.
“We would eat it with sadza (pap). I would be chopping veggies, your tomatoes, greens, and then I would make a relish and add it to beef cubes,” he says.
Following his parents’ passing, Munyawiri moved to South Africa in 2008 when he pursued his studies in hospitality management at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT.)
His family in Mzansi were adamant that he pursue studies within the food space.
“I didn’t personally choose the culinary arts. I only managed to write my surname when I was in grade six, so I was not the best student. They identified this and chose something for me that is close to my heart.”
His cooking interest peaked when he was faced with a choice between the professional kitchen and hotel management.
“The passion of cooking has always been there, but I was scared. I was scared because I was surrounded by talented chefs.
“I did not want to risk putting myself out there and embarrassing myself, my working and cooking on a professional level is something that officially started five years ago,” he says.
A proud moment came not too long after he committed himself to the kitchen. Munyawiri entered the coveted Unilever Food Solutions kitchen competition in Umhlanga, Kwazulu-Natal-Natal and won in the category of Chef of the Year in 2015.
The Unilever Food Solutions’ kitchen sees chefs from all over the country compete for this title.
“I entered as an unemployed chef, and won out of so many chefs that entered,” he says. “Honestly, I never won anything ever in my life, but then that was like the biggest benchmark that showed that I am capable.
“It opened doors and I also managed to travel around to see what was on offer in the professional kitchen. I moved from working the hotel desk to managing a whole kitchen.”
‘I have learned to take chances; you will never know what is behind a particular door if you do not take a chance rather than just sitting and waiting for things to happen.’
For five years he worked as a chef developing recipes for the Unilever Food Solutions. When his contract came to an end, Munyawiri moved to Cape Town in 2020 and landed a job as a restaurant manager at Yu, a high-end restaurant at The Onyx hotel in Cape Town.
In the kitchen you learn by trial and error, he says. You can never go wrong with a quick meal if you are trying to impress guests at your table.
“I am about quick, healthy, easy meals. I feel like people are spending unnecessary time in the kitchen killing food that has been killed already,” he says.
“I am about fast food, I am inspired daily, I can make a stir fry for you on any given day, they are fast, they are quick, and they are healthy.”
His advice to young chefs and home cooks is simple, “Keep showing up. This is one of the coldest and harshest industries, but it is the most fulfilling. Be persistent in your cooking dreams,” he says.