Born in Durban, based in Cape Town and currently filming The Great South African Bake Off
in Jozi: Zola Nene has the three cities covered.
The bubbly chef and award-winning author of Simply Delicious is still digesting this wonderful curve ball in her career trajectory - she replaces Shirley Guy on the critically acclaimed reality show.
Nene has been the resident chef on SABC3’s Expresso Morning Show for seven years now.
She had an interesting journey into the culinary world.
She says: “When I was six, my family moved to George. My dad was working at the new petroleum plant in Mossel Bay. After high school, I studied law at Stellenbosch University. In my second year, I realised it wasn’t my cup of tea.”
After a heart-to-heart with her dad, he suggested she go work overseas for two years to see if she really liked cooking.
She ended up bagging a job at the Brasserie in Cheshire.
Nene recalls: “I starting peeling potatoes and carrots. The chef saw my keenness to learn and moved me up ranks to a hot section chef.”
She was later promoted to head pastry chef.
When she got back to SA, she enrolled for a three-year course at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch and specialised in Food Media.
She later got a job with Top Billing magazine and ended up being asked to join the Expresso Morning Show.
“I thought I was going to be behind the scenes but they wanted me in front of the camera,” she says.”And that brings me to now”
Nene has taken a sabbatical from the show to do The Great South African Bake Off, which returns to the small screen in October.
Where and when was this culinary seed planted?
“I would watch my mum, who is a really, really great cook and my (maternal) grandmother, cook for family functions,” she says.
Her fondest food memories are still of her mum’s meals, especially madumbis and curry.
“My mum was taught to make a lamb curry by our neighbour in Durban. I loved it.
“I also love things like samp and beans. Give me a bowl of that and I will be smiling the whole day.
“I love madumbis, which is a very Durban thing. I eat them plain, boiled with a bit of salt. I’ve introduced them to my friends. They go: ‘Oh, it tastes slimy.’ I then say: ‘That’s the joy of the madumbi.’”
What will she be bringing to the judges’ table?
“I’ve always felt strongly about teaching people about food and making it more accessible. I will be watching the bakers and helping them grow. I’m not mean or overly nice to anyone. But I am fair.”
When she isn’t working, Nene is still following the food, be it visiting food markets, trying out new restaurants or looking at what is trending.
Meanwhile, Kee-Leen Irvine, MD of Rapid Blue, has this to say: “We were sorry that Shirley was not able to be a part of season three of The Great South African Bake Off but are delighted that Zola has joined Tjaart (Walraven) as part of the judging team. Zola brings her considerable knowledge of baking, along with her warm and vibrant personality, and we know that audiences will enjoy the energy that she brings to the tent!”