Black Garlic Zambia: A celebration of Zambian food

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Black Garlic Zambia: A celebration of Zambian food

From Zambia to the world, Clara Kapelembe Bwali is on a mission to get Zambian cuisine onto the international stage. Khanya Mzongwana chats to her to uncover her origin story and talk local food, family and some of her greatest inspirations.

Of all the hats Clara Kapelembe Bwali wears in the food industry, she’d probably most proudly don that of an artist. “I’d love to believe that I’m a culinary artist because my job has so many titles.” To describe her practice in greater detail, Clara is a Zambian food content creator, recipe author, food photographer, cook and food influencer. She cooks food that captivates and engages her online audience, and she has developed recipes for printed publications including Bona magazine, and popular online magazines such as Black Foodie.

Clara tempts her followers with diverse, dynamic plates, from freshly baked jam-filled doughnuts to comforting bowls of chibwabwa and nshima. “One of my all-time favourite Zambian dishes is chikanda, also known as African polony, which is the tuber of a wild orchid, served with pounded groundnuts and chilli, as well as lumanda prepared with pounded groundnuts, tomatoes and onion.” These two foods often accompany each other on a plate in Clara’s household. She walks the tightrope of tradition and innovation, honouring her roots with family-tested generational recipes, while keeping things fresh and interesting by cooking modern food with a sense of place. Clara’s decision to be an all-encompassing culinary creative keeps her very busy. “A typical day at work starts with me writing down what I want to cook. Once that’s done, I make a list and purchase the ingredients. After that, I cook, plate and style the food before moving into my studio for the photo shoot. After a successful shoot, I edit and plan my social media content schedule.” Once Clara creates a post, she pays close attention to her post insights, especially if her post is a branded post for a client. She works closely with many local and international food brands, most recently with Crosse & Blackwell, Rhodes Food Group and Binto.

Clara started small, sharing her recipes online and selling hot plates of food to friends and family in 2016 under the name Clara’s Kitchen. In 2020, she decided to pursue food content creation as a career. She combined her pro-Black sensibilities with her favourite ingredient to create her new moniker. Having studied computer and information sciences at Monash South Africa, Clara’s destiny to cook wasn’t always so apparent, especially with food media being an under-explored concept in Zambia with a small, close-knit pool of food content creators practising. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the food space. My background in cooking is purely home-based training from my mother.”

As a young girl, Clara found it difficult to imagine cooking as anything more than a painful chore. “I like to call them my ‘training years’,” she laughs. “Whenever my mom taught me how to cook, it felt like punishment. Cut to a few years later, and I’m using everything she taught me in my line of work. My mother’s recipes are the baseline for most of my food creations. I also draw inspiration from my favourite chefs and food content creators. My favourite place to get inspiration is a restaurant; once I have a meal I like, I make sure I go home and replicate its flavours.”

Having chosen the path of food, Clara embraces the joy and satisfaction she derives from her work, while openly acknowledging the challenges. “It’s not all roses and candy. Being your own boss means you take on many roles and, before you know it, you’re burnt out and frustrated. It requires a lot of discipline and self-motivation, because if I don’t do it, no one will do it for me. Despite these challenges, it’s very rewarding to see the business grow from strength to strength.”

Clara cites one of the more fun attributes of her work – styling of the plates. “My favourite thing about my job is making food look pretty. The resulting image is translated and consumed by my audience, but the common theme is delicious and comforting food.”

Clara’s mother and husband are her greatest support system. “My siblings, too. Without them, none of this would be possible. They allow me to travel and help take care of the children whenever I’m away for work.”

Clara takes her responsibility to showcase Zambian ingredients and dishes seriously. “Zambia is fairly new in the food content creation space, and it’s my job to showcase the country to the world. Food is a universal language, and I’m happy to say Zambia is slowly but surely getting the food recognition it deserves.”

The list of food content creators that Clara admires is long; she mentions her African contemporaries first. “I’ll start with Zambia, a food content creator couple, The Wood Kitchen. Chef Binta, who’s doing amazing things with African food; Diary of a Kitchen Lover from Nigeria; Cooking with Jaz from Kenya; Siba Mtongana; The Lazy Makoti; Cooking with Zanele; Dinner at Matloha from South Africa; and Kenneth Middleton from Botswana, to mention but a few.”

There’s no shortcut to succeeding at anything worth doing, and it was with this understanding that Clara realised she needed to commit to starting her food journey. “There’s never a right time to start but NOW. Start with what you have. You probably already have a smartphone, food at home, and kitchenware. Start a page and post your meals. Before you know it, you will have loyal subscribers and be able to monetise it. It doesn’t happen overnight, so stay consistent and never give up.”

Follow Clara on Instagram @blackgarliczambia for more modern Zambian food inspiration.

Photographs: Clara Kapelembe Bwali

Khanya Mzongwana Article by: Khanya Mzongwana

If you're anything like our deputy food editor Khanya Mzongwana, you're obsessed with uniqueness and food with feeling. Cook her family-tested favourites, midweek winners and her mouth-wateringly fresh takes on plant-based eating.

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