21 cooks shaping SA food

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21 cooks shaping SA food

Ina. Cass. Reuben. Siba. South Africa’s culinary icons are as diverse as they are integral to showcasing our food culture. We asked ten of them to each name someone who they believe is a role model for the next generation.

1. The icon: Margot Janse | Chef-restaurateur, philanthropist

During her 21-year tenure at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek, Margot Janse made the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list eight times. But it’s the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities the job afforded, rather than the accolades, that have meant the most to her. Like the full-circle experience of paging through Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook for the first time in 1999; then doing a stage with him in California’s Napa Valley a year later; and ultimately, in 2005, sharing the chefs’ VIP section with him at the World’s 50 Best awards, before being called on stage to receive the award for Best Restaurant in Africa and the Middle East. She now divides her time between her Franschhoek children’s charity, Isabelo, and her new restaurant, SAAM, in the Netherlands. Margot named Mmabatho Molefe as one to watch.

Margot Janse

“I think Mmabatho is doing amazing stuff with her Zulu heritage and the food she’s producing. And she’s being recognised on the world stage, which is great. I took my team from SAAM to Emazulwini, and they were blown away. My standout dish was the chicken liver parfait with roasted cocoa nibs; simple, but complex.”

2. One to watch: Mmabatho Molefe | Chef-restaurateur

Since opening Emazulwini at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town at the end of 2020, Mmabatho has captivated diners with her re-contextualisation of traditional Zulu cuisine and indigenous ingredients in a fine-dining setting. And the world has taken note. Last year, she was named a hospitality pioneer on the 50 Next list, an initiative launched in 2021 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants to earmark the next generation of chefs. Emazulwini also won African Restaurant of the Year at the fourth annual Luxe Restaurant Awards in 2022. Not in Cape Town? Try out some of Mmabatho’s incredible recipes at home. (We highly recommend the isinkwa sommbila with onion and chive butter!)

Mmabatho Molefe

ALSO READ: The female chef making strides for modern Zulu cuisine

3. The icon: Luke Dale Roberts | Chef-restaurateur, author

Asked how he is, the reply from Luke is always the same: “Busy.” Indeed. Salon in Cape Town, his most recent venture, is his eighth restaurant to open in South Africa. After becoming executive chef at La Colombe in 2006, the British-born, Swiss-trained chef began a winning streak including reaching number 12 on the World’s 50 Best list (La Colombe, 2010), Eat Out Restaurant of the Year (The Test Kitchen, 2012–2018) and World’s 50 Best Restaurant in Africa (The Test Kitchen, 2018). Luke’s career has been characterised by his mentorship of chefs and staff, a vocation that culminated in him opening an in-service training restaurant, The Test Kitchen Fledgelings. Look out for his brand-new book, The Test Kitchen (Penguin Random House). Luke named Carla Schulze as one to watch.

Luke Dale Roberts

“Carla is the excutive chef at Salon and very likely one of the most talented chefs to have worked for me. She has a photographic memory for food and flavour.”

4. One to watch: Carla Schulze | Chef-Restaurateur

After graduating as the top student at the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine in 2016, Carla started her first job at The Test Kitchen. Since its closure at the end of 2020, she has been burning the candle at both ends: as chef-co-owner of How Bao Now, a concept bao bar that she opened during lockdown with fellow Test Kitchen alumnus Matt van den Berg, as well as working at a number of Luke’s restaurants, most recently as executive chef at Salon.

ALSO READ: The judges for the 2023 Eat Out Woolworths Restaurant Awards have just been revealed

5. The icon: Cass Abrahams | food historian, cape cookery expert, author

The daughter of a French mother and Xhosa-German father, Cass married into the Cape Malay community, where family recipes were closely guarded. But sheer determination, and an irresistible charm, saw her master Cape Malay cooking and become its representative, carving out a niche for herself in apartheid South Africa’s food industry. She has published three bestselling cookbooks, opened two restaurants, taught at top culinary schools, and cooked for luminaries including Nelson Mandela. Cass named Zola Nene as one to watch.

Get the recipe for Cass Abrahams Cape Malay lamb curry

Cass Abrahams

“I met Zola when she was a student at The Institute of Culinary Arts. I remember her as a shy person who came up to me after my lecture and asked me about South African food history. I told her to stick to her roots, because by cooking what she knew and adding the knowledge from her formal training, she’d make it fantastic. I thought, ‘this girl is going to go far’. And she just keeps rising!”

6. One to watch: Zola Nene | chef, author, TV presenter

While she should be famous based on her and sister Zamo’s TikTok dance moves alone, Zola became a national celebrity when she landed the job of resident chef on SABC3’s Expresso. All three of her cookbooks, Simply Delicious, Simply Zola, and her most recent, Simply Seven Colours (Penguin Random House) are Gourmand World Cookbook Award winners.

Get the recipe for Zola’s lamb curry and bobotie kebabs.

Zola Nene

7. The icon: Lannice Snyman | author, publisher, food critic and judge

Lannice left a huge legacy when she passed away in 2010. Notable highlights include authoring 15 cookbooks, of which over 500 000 copies were sold; serving as cookery editor at the Sunday Times for ten years; founding the Eat Out Restaurant Guide and editing it for 18 years; being appointed the Southern African regional chairman of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and establishing Lannice Snyman Publishers with her daughters Courtenay and Tamsin. Tamsin has her own career in food publishing, cooking and consulting, and serves as Academy Chair for the region East and Southern Africa for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Lannice’s daughter, Tasmin Snyman, named Vusi Ndlovu as one to watch.

Lannice Snyman

“How incredible to find such a young chef so deeply rooted in, and committed to, Africa and South Africa and its heritage in all ways food related. Vusi is showcasing our continent’s traditional ingredients and making them shine with his playful and respectful interpretation of them.”

8. One to watch: Vusi Ndlovu | chef-restaurateur

From manning the egg station at The Sheraton Pretoria’s training programme in 2010, to winning the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 Africa and Middle East semi-final and opening Edge in 2021, Vusi’s trajectory is impressive. A founding member of the African Culinary Library, an online repository of African culinary goods and services, the through-line in Vusi’s cooking has been his boundary-pushing use of indigenous ingredients, underpinned by technical expertise. He’s just opened Boma on Bree and is set to open MLILO, an African live-fire restaurant, at the new Time Out Market Cape Town.

Check out some of Vusi’s recipes here. 

9. The icon: Dorah Sitole | chef, food writer, editor, author

Shortly before her passing in 2021, Dorah published 40 Years of Iconic Food (NB Publishers), a cookbook that serves as both memoir and archive of the recipes she developed during her career. After starting out as a cooking demonstrator at the Canned Food Advisory Service in 1980, she rose to prominence as food editor of True Love, a position she held for 25 years. She was instrumental in changing the discourse around South African cuisine, putting dishes like mashonzha and idombolo squarely in the spotlight. Dorah was always known to be generous with her time, especially when it came to fostering the talents of a new generation of Black food writers and chefs. Dorah’s daughter, Phumi Sitole, named Tebogo and Lebogang Ndala as ones to watch.

Get Dorah’s recipes for umqombothi, chocolate cake and mopane stew

“It’s really tricky singling out one person, as my mother nurtured and supported so many young food talents. Most recently, the twins, Tebo and Lebo Ndala, come to mind as chefs my mother believed had a very promising future.”

10. One to watch: Tebogo and Lebogang Ndala | chefs, authors, sports nutritionists

After qualifying at the Hurst Campus, the sisters landed their dream job of assisting Dorah. “She taught us everything we needed to know about African food and cooking, food styling, writing and editing. We became confident in the kitchen and bolder in our craft, thanks to her.” The sisters, who recently qualified as sports nutritionists, keep busy catering for private clients, hosting pop-ups, and doing digital marketing for several food brands. They also authored the Gourmand Award-winning cookbook, Food Stories (NB Publishers).

Tebogo and Lebogang Ndala

11. The icon: Ina Paarman | author, businesswoman

When Ina opened a small adult cookery school in her home’s garage, she soon realised her students wanted big flavour pay-off for relatively little work – the lightbulb moment that inspired the empire she started with her son Graham. A seasoned sea salt, made according to her grandmother’s recipe, was the first to bear the Ina Paarman logo. As befits a former home economics teacher, every product is tested until Ina is satisfied (her bestselling chocolate cake mix famously took 120 tries to perfect). Her latest cookbook, My Favourite Recipes (Coppersmith), is on sale now. Ina named Ilse Van Der Merwe as one to watch.

Get Ina’s recipe for venison pie

Ina Paarman

“I love the caring and healthy way in which Ilse writes her blog and cookbook.”

12. One to watch: Ilse Van Der Merwe | author, content producer, tv presenter

When Ilse made the transition from music booking agent to food blogger in 2011, she never dreamed it would become a full-time career. Twelve years on, her blog The Food Fox is still going strong, she has presented and produced the content for two seasons of the music-themed cooking show Klankbord on DStv’s Via, and published three cookbooks. Her latest, Easy Al Fresco (Penguin Random House), has just been published.

See some of Ilse’s recipes – including her stellar butternut fritters here

Ilse van der Merwe profile pic

13. The icon: Jan Hendrik Van Der Westhuizen | chef-restaurateur, tv presenter

In 2016, Jan Hendrik received a life-changing phone call from the Michelin Guide. “They confirmed that I was the first South African to be awarded a Michelin star. It was like winning the Olympic Games for my country.” And, as befits any Olympian, he has never stopped pushing himself. In 2017, he shot his first TV series. He launched JAN – The Journal in 2018, opened Restaurant Klein-JAN at Tswalu Kalahari in 2021, and at the end of 2022 he ran the JAN Franschhoek pop-up. “JAN Franshhoek is back on 1 September, and we’ll soon reveal a new collab with local and international chefs.” Jan named Antro Davel as one to watch.

Get Jan Hendrik’s recipes for the ultimate Peppermint Crisp tart cake and milk tart brulee

Jan Hendrik Van Der Westhuizen

“Antro is more than a chef and reminds me a lot of the type of creative I am. She’s typical of the slash generation, has a soft, gentle way of working.”

14. One to watch: Antro Davel | group executive chef

The JAN group executive chef has a lot going on. “Some days are filled with admin; others can start with a quick shoot at the studio, then racing to the airport to spend time at Tswalu, rushing back in time for dinner service at JAN Franschhoek, then getting into bed to finish the last emails of the day.” It’s not surprising that her CV reads like a little black book of award-winning chefs. She’s worked under Margot Janse, Bertus Basson and Chantal Dartnal. So, what’s it like working alongside a Michelin-starred chef? “Jan Hendrik has no limit when it comes to creativity. I love that I can be myself with him and that he celebrates my weirdness.”

Antro Davel

15. The icon: Siba Mtongana | celebrity chef, restaurateur, author

After being full-time food editor of Drum, Siba made her foray into freelance food writing with a series of articles for TASTE. “I remember that first shoot for TASTE, I was heavily pregnant with my first-born son, Lonwabo, and we couldn’t decide whether I should wear an apron or not!” In 2013 Siba was scouted by Food Network UK to star in her own show, Siba’s Table, which aired in 150 countries and won five international awards. Her most recent coups? Clinching Most Exclusive Fine Dining Restaurant in Cape Town for Siba – The Restaurant at the LuxeLife Restaurant and Bar Awards 2023, and becoming the first chef in SA to be a Harvard Business School case study for her entrepreneurial success story. Catch her now on The Great South African Bake Off on BBC Lifestyle. Siba named Tumi Mogoai as one to watch.

Siba Mtongana

Check out Siba’s recipes here. 

“Tumi understands both the grind of a professional kitchen and how to build her brand as a personality. She is highly talented and has great fortitude to achieve her goals and aspirations. She is also an incredible human being and such a pleasure to work with.”

16. One to watch: Tumi Mogoai | chef, TV presenter

A Capsicum Culinary Studio graduate, chef Tumi, or “Chew Me” as she’s affectionately known, rose to prominence in 2019 when she won SABC 2 cooking competition The Taste Master SA, and with it, the coveted position of in-house chef on Afternoon Express. She is also the executive chef of her own Afro-fusion pop-up restaurant, ChewMe Food. No wonder she was named Rising Star at the Luxe Restaurant Awards in 2021.

Tumi Mogoai

17. The icon: Annette Kesler | food writer, founder of Showcook

A doyenne of South African food writing, Annette was the food editor of Fairlady for 30 years, and wrote several best-selling cookbooks under the magazine’s banner. In 1999, Annette and business partner Chania Morritt-Smith founded Showcook, which has launched initiatives including the Inter Hotel Challenge, a.k.a. the Oscars of the hotel world, and the Reaching for Young Stars Awards, which recognises promising culinary talent. Annette named Nicci Robertson as one to watch.

Annette Kesler

“I would like to put Nicci forward for the brilliant work she continues to do in the arena of promoting a healthy lifestyle.”

18. One to watch: Nicci Robertson | nutritionist, author

Nicci left a career in advertising to pursue a calling as a nutritionist, after battling with diet-related health issues for years. Re-Invent Health, her nutrition and functional health coaching practice, aims to offer holistic solutions for eating for optimal physical and mental wellbeing, and her eponymous podcast unpacks issues from bio-hacking your brain to the science of olive oil. Her first cookbook, Thrive (Penguin Random House), was published this year and focuses on “healthy recipes that break the rules” – think lamb-and-feta burgers, and Moroccan chicken casserole.

Nicci Robertson

19. The icon: Reuben Riffel | chef-restaurateur

Reuben opened his eponymous restaurant in his home town of Franschhoek in 2004. Since then, his achievements have included three more restaurants, six awards, three cookbooks, a slew of TV show appearances and a craft brewery. And he shows no sign of slowing down. In the works are Franschhoek Beer Co.’s new concept restaurant, a Reuben’s fire-cooking pop-up, and the expansion of his fast-casual eatery, Let’s Frite. Rueben named Nokx Majozi as one to watch.

Get Reuben’s recipe for Cape Malay mussels. 

“I’m following Nokx’s work at The Pie House at Holborn Dining Room with a lot of interest. She’s really committed to learning her craft, being diligent, having staying power and absorbing all she can from the chefs surrounding her. I feel she has the vibe, the attitude and a significant amount of hunger to continue and grow in the industry.”

20. One to watch: Nokx Majozi | senior chef

After Nokx completed her culinary studies in Durban, she headed to the US and the UK, and ended up at The Rosewood in London in 2014.

Nokx Majozi

ALSO READ: Meet the badass female chef making waves (and pies) abroad 

21. The honorary icon: Prue Leith

So she’s technically an expat, but no list of SA food icons would be complete without The Great British Bake-off judge. Her many achievements include opening the Prue Leith Culinary Institute in Pretoria (35 years after relocating to the UK) and winning a Michelin star for Leith’s. Her latest book, Bliss on Toast (Jonathan Ball), is on sale now. When TASTE asked who she admires most on the SA food scene, she had no hesitation in naming Luke Dale Roberts. “I’ve been a fan since his days at La Colombe. But going to The Test Kitchen when it first opened was a delight. The food was fresh and simple, yet modern, healthy, stylish, and cool! Every mouthful had bags of flavour. And I was delighted to see that half the chefs in his kitchen were Culinary Institute graduates.”

ALSO READ: Talking toast with Prue Leith

TASTE Article by: TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.

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