Chef Zondi. Picture: Supplied

Mosondase Sophia Maloka is living proof that you are never too old to realise your dream.

Born in 1976 on a farm in Bothaville in the Free State, the 43-year old - more affectionately known as Zondi - currently lives and works in Midrand where she is the chef at the Premier Hotel.  

But that is all about to change… Her love for cooking started when she was very young and she says some of her earliest memories are the smell of her aunt's cooking as she conjured up dishes using butter, garlic, cinnamon and other spices.

In 2001, at the age of 24, Zondi moved to Pretoria and began working for her cousin, Matothpe Thusi, looking after the children, cooking and cleaning.

Chef Zondi preparing starters for the patrons of Disney World's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Picture: Supplied

Armed with her monthly copy of Bona magazine and following its recipes, Zondi was inspired to create her own dishes and it was not long before she set up a small catering company operating out of her cousin's kitchen. 

“With her full approval and encouragement,” she hastens to add. 

And that's where Zondi thought her career in food would end. But 18 years later, and with the children in the household grown up and gone, Zondi's cousin urged her to study further.

Stacked watermelon salad with coriander tahini by Chef Zondi. Picture: Supplied

“I was always keen to study at Capsicum Culinary Studio as I was drawn to their big red pepper logo,” she says. She Googled the school, found their number and every month would call them and ask if they had a bursary programme or - at the very least - if they would consider hiring her to wash dishes.

What she didn’t know is that Thusi and her husband had secretly been putting money aside every month for her, so she was overwhelmed when her cousin finally revealed that there were sufficient funds to not only study cheffing, but to do so at the school of her dreams – Capsicum Culinary Studio.

Zondi enrolled for the Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking course and graduated in 2018. “My time at Capsicum was marvellous. It wasn't easy as I was still working for my cousin as well as being a full-time student, but I was so happy doing what I had always wanted to do.”  

Tuna tartar by Chef Zondi. Picture: Supplied

Zondi admits that even though she didn't own a laptop, her lecturers allowed her to complete her assignment with pen and paper. 

“Chef Peter van Aswegen was my class lecturer and he made sure I understood the maths side of the course as this subject was not my strongest suit, but is vital in the cooking and restaurant business. Chef Jovan Bester and Chef Ewan Johnston were my kitchen chefs and taught me so many new techniques and gave me the confidence I needed. I have all three to thank for getting me to where I am today.”

And that place is soon to be Orlando, Florida, as in the next few days Zondi will be winging her way to the US to take up a year-long position as trainee chef at Disney World's Animal Kingdom Lodge.