A Durban woman has cooked her way to international stardom by tantalising palates with her unique take on traditional Zulu cuisine.
Chef Mmabatho Molefe from Nagina near Mariannhill has been honoured by international gastronomy experts by her inclusion on the 50 NEXT list.
The list honours people under 35 who are regarded as change makers in the food industry.
Molefe said 50 NEXT was an initiative of the people behind the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Bars who honoured her in their category for hospitality pioneers.
“It’s so surreal. It hasn't sunk in yet,” she told the “Independent on Saturday” from her restaurant, Emazulwini, at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
Last week she attended an awards ceremony in Bilbao, Spain, where she met the who’s who of the culinary world.
Earlier this year Emazulwini also won the African Restaurant of the Year title at the 4th annual Luxe Restaurant Awards.
Molefe started her restaurant to give people a taste of what “Zulu food could be if you re-imagined it”.
The chef, who opened shop in 2020, said offal took pride of place in various dishes on her menu. She also believes in eating sustainably and shows that all cuts of meat can be eaten, from head to tail.
“For me it had to be a Zulu menu because it’s true to me and it’s food that I can relate to and know how it should taste.”
Although her father is part Zulu and part Sesotho, she realised that she knew very little about her Sotho heritage and it was Zulu cuisine that she relates to.
Molefe started cooking before the age of 12 and she and her sister often used to watch the cooking show “Ready. Steady. Cook”.
She did consumer science in high school where she further developed her love for creating meals.
However, a career in the food industry was never on the cards and after school she studied politics and law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
During her fifth and final year, she realised that writing five anthropology essays for a single module was not her cup of tea and quit to go to culinary school.
“To me cooking represents family because when family gathers the most common thing is that we have food.”
Molefe described cooking as her default setting.
“It’s the only thing that I can do without anxiety,” she said.
Although she loves introducing palates to Zulu food with a twist, cooking Mexican is one of her favourite pastimes.
Even after moving to Cape Town she still gathers with family and friends in the Mother City for their weekly taco and tequila Tuesdays, and it has become such a hit that even her Instagram followers have asked to be invited.
Two years ago she secured funding from the National Treasury and the opportunity to open Emazulwini at Makers Landing, an area which promotes small businesses at the V&A Waterfront.
Molefe would like to expand to other venues, but for now she relishes the chance to cook exquisite meals every day.
The Independent on Saturday