Culinary experiences are often intertwined with feelings of nostalgia and Lorna Maseko will attest to this. In fact, it is the blueprint of her first cookbook, "Celebrate with Lorna Maseko".
She takes us through her journey into the spotlight, which started at age nine at Orange Grove Primary, where she was a ballet dancer.
The strides she made with her fellow ballerinas put them on the radar of SABC 3’s "Top Billing".
Maseko said: “When I started, my parents and I knew absolutely nothing about ballet.
“But I had a really great ballet teacher and kind of consumed this art form that we knew nothing about, but I was kind of good at.
“Whether we were doing 'Swan Lake', 'Don Quixote' or 'Nutcracker', 'Top Billing' would come to film our shows.
“I got used to being in television, in a different way. Little did I know, several years later, I would be a 'Top Billing' presenter.”
At 22, she hung up her pointe shoes and pirouetted her way into the entertainment spotlight.
“I remember Michelle from the 'Top Billing' office at the time, called. I did the Presenter Search on 3, got into the top 10 and never won.
“I was traumatised and never watched the show again. I’m so dramatic; such a Cancerian. She called in 2010 and I remember we were preparing to do the opening and closing ceremony for the World Cup.”
Maseko sings the praises of Basetsana Khumalo and Patience Stevens.
“It was absolutely amazing for them to have groomed me.
“I always say you have to take that and run with it. You have to plan, hustle and keep going.”
Her achievements since then include being a judge on 'So You Think You Can Dance', being on '10 Over 10', 'Being Bonang' seasons 1 and 2 and as a contestant on 'I Love South Africa' and 'MasterChef South Africa'.
“Even though I was so competitive throughout the entire competition, I remember being eliminated and thinking this is exactly what I wanted to do.
“I love cooking, I love hosting and I think the thing that drew me to the cooking element is that. So everything happened organically.”
Maseko went on to do "The Hostess with Lorna Maseko" on SABC 3 for two seasons.
To firmly establish herself as the quintessential home cook, Maseko knew she had to put in the work and come up with the right recipes.
“Yes, they are generally plain and simple. But they have a touch of finesse that makes them slightly different. Part of trying to be really great, I had to eat differently.
“I remember always having rice cakes with a tin of tuna, a dollop of mayonnaise, salt and pepper and a tomato. I really enjoyed that. No one cooked it for me, but it was really good.
“I love rustic food. And I make a mean oxtail. I love whole fish like barramundi or kingklip. I love cooking hearty food.”
When she was approached with a book offer, Maseko wasn’t in the greatest space and wondered if she would even sell books.
“I think I had an Oprah aha moment.”
So she decided to amalgamate her travel memories with her food experiences.
“I remember speaking to Dennis Prescott, who is a celebrity chef in Canada. He said, just make it personal. Everyone can give you recipes. And I thought I do have a unique story. So I decided to start at the beginning.
“I’ve been travelling since I was 16. I remember going as a group to the Prix de Lausanne, a ballet competition in Switzerland.
“We were so sad when we were eliminated that we decided to go to McDonald’s to buy two burgers each with milkshakes, extra cheese and extra mayonnaise. I still have that to this day.
“Later on, I went to Singapore and Michelin star restaurants in Hong Kong. And I met chef Carlos Gaytan, the first Mexican chef to be awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant Mexique in Chicago, on 'MasterChef South Africa'. He is now in Mexico.
“He taught me how to make an intricate ceviche dish. Looking back, it’s about how travel has shaped who I am. I remember also sharing a platform with Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi in London.”
On African cuisine trending globally, she said: “It isn’t where it should be because if you think about certain things, you can find them everywhere. If you had to say tripe is South African, it isn’t really. It is in West Africa. It is in India. It is all about the style in which you cook it. Morogo is South African. Pap, the grain, started in Mexico I believe. The way we cook it is different. Oxtail isn’t African.
“I’m a big lamb stew person. I love morogo, pap, egusi and jollof rice. Just the other day, I tried mopane worms. I would have probably made it different.
“I’ve discovered food isn’t exactly about liking something. When you were younger, your parents probably gave you broccoli, which you hated. Now there are so many ways to cook it and it tastes nice. I always think it is about the way the food was introduced to you first.
“I never used to like tripe because I didn’t like the smell. Then I cooked it the way I enjoy it. Now I have tripe in my book.”
Given her well-travelled palate, what flavours does she enjoy?
“Generally, I’m a lot more inclined towards Asian flavours. I love soy, teriyaki, ponzu I always use ginger and chilli.
“Whenever I travel, I always do one Michelin star place and one that the locals recommend. I remember being in Barcelona for a cruise event and I had a few hours to spare. A friend recommended this amazing tapas spot. I was on Google trying to find this place. So I walked, discovered it and had the most amazing tapas in my life.
“I’m big on street food. That’s why I enjoy Taste of London and Taste of Dubai. I’m also a nibbler. When you come to my house, you will have a spread.”
In Celebrate with Lorna Maseko, she takes readers and foodies on a tantalising journey, revisiting sections of her life offering different memories with food. There are some quick meals. There are roasts, stuffing, chicken balls with peanut butter sauce and recipes that people loved on "The Hostess".
Celebrate with Lorna Maseko is available at most bookstores. It retails for R360.