JOURNEY: Chef Sizo Henna gives guests a taste of his culinary skills on Rustic Chakula.
Johannesburg - A new Mzansi lifestyle cooking show, Rustic Chakula, is sure to get the taste buds going when it hits the small screen on SABC3 on Tuesday.

It will be hosted by Sizo Henna who had a rather interesting introduction to the world of cooking on a watercress farm in England.

The bubbly personality recalls: “It started in 2003. I started working on this watercress farm in Southampton. I worked with guys from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was cheap labour. On the opposite side of the farm, there were all these different herbs.”

But he wanted more and hopped on a train to London.

While Sizo, who turns 34 this month, was in the city where he held down jobs as a waiter, he crossed paths with a guy called Sam Harper, who saw his potential.

"Harper, who is Caribbean, told me: ‘Sizo, you have got the energy and are passionate. We won’t be sending you to the Westminster culinary school but we are taking you to Wolfson College at Cambridge’.”

And so his journey studying began. “It wasn’t easy. The distance from work to college is about the same distance as going from Melville to Midrand. My classes were from 6 to 10pm. And if we were doing pastries, they would run until 11pm. I only got about three to four hours' sleep. There were times when I would sit on my bed and think, 'What are you doing here?'

"But there is truth to the well-worn cliché that hard work pays."

Sizo has been reaping rewards since returning to home soil in 2007.

“The guy who paid for my studies worked for the Compass Group. There is a branch in South Africa, so I was employed by them.

"Then I worked in corporate restaurants, running different units as an executive chef. In 2009, I was approached by a young stockbroker Andile Mazwai, who said to me: ‘Dude, I want you to be my private chef.’ That’s how my business started.”

While abroad, Sizo binged on a lot of cooking shows, hosted by the likes of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Lorraine Pascale.

He was invited to a few chef forums, where renowned chefs such as Michel Roux jr spoke about current trends.

All the knowledge he soaked up is married to his style of cooking, especially on his cooking show.

He says: “Chakula means food in Swahili. I wanted a show that appeals to pan-African audiences. The show starts with me at a farmers' market, where I pick up all the ingredients I need and maybe a beer.

"Then I get back to my small apartment, have my beer and start cooking. I might make one-pot wonder like a nice lamb shank and dumpling. My guest will arrive later and we'll have a nice chit-chat. I try to make classic meals but with a modern twist.”

Who will be stopping by? “The production team chooses them. But they are people I know and grew up around. Melanie Bala is one. Then there is Dr Malinga, who is one funny guy.”

As a chef with all this worldly experience, Sizo keeps his taste buds simple. “I cook whatever I fancy, but won’t say no to a crunchy peanut butter (maybe with chunky strawberry jam from the glass) sandwich and warm milk,” he reveals.

Rustic Chakula premieres on SABC3 on Tuesday at 8.30pm.

The Sunday Independent