“I love that I get to share my passion for food with people every single day.” - Zola Nene

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Please tell us about your love for cooking, how and when did it begin? 

I’ve always loved cooking. In primary school I was taking out cookbooks from the library to experiment in the kitchen. I grew up in a family where food was always the centrepiece of important events, my mom is a great cook and so was my maternal grandmother. I think I got my love for cooking from them. I have vivid memories of helping Gogo grind mealies and sorting beans on the farm.

When and why did you decide to pursue it as a career? 

When I realised two years into my law studies that law wasn’t the right career path for me, my dad asked me what I enjoyed doing and my answer was “I enjoy cooking”. He encouraged me to explore this love for food and offered me the opportunity to go to the UK, find a kitchen to work in and see if it really is something I could see myself doing. I spent two years in the UK getting work experience before coming home to study culinary arts for three years. I’m so glad that my dad encouraged me to pursue my love for food, I love being a chef and food stylist – there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing!

What are some of the challenges you faced while mastering your craft and how did you overcome them?

The chef industry is still very dominated my men, so naturally, as a woman, you need to work twice as hard to prove yourself and show your worth. Like anything, if people see your dedication and hard work, they can’t deny you respect. It’s a career that is fueled by passion so you definitely need to love it in order to last. The long hours are also quite a challenge, but you’ve got to grin and bear it as it comes with the territory.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love that I get to share my passion for food with people every single day – that through my food and recipes I get to be part of people’s special occasions and creating of memories. I love sharing food knowledge with people and taking the intimidation out of cooking.

What are some of your biggest achievements?

  • Writing my very first cookbook, Simply Delicious, then winning a World Gourmand Cookbook Award for it is definitely one of my biggest achievements.·     
  • Being named one of the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans in 2017 was also a big achievement.
  • Being invited into Muvhango - that was completely surreal. I got to be in two episodes of an actual soapie!

December is a time of hosting and meeting your partners parents. Which dish would you advise someone make to impress the in-laws?

I’m a single girl myself, so it’s not something that I’ll be going through this festive season. But, for those planning a meal for the in-laws, my advice would be not to make something for the first time ever. You need to put your best foot forward, so cook something you’re well-practised in, something you know will come out great. It’s already such a stressful situation so don’t set yourself up for disaster. And if you’re not a regular cook, then pick a dish (anything from my cookbook would be my a top choice) and start practising so that come the big ‘meet-the-parents dinner’, you’re a pro!

You are currently the judge of The Great SA Bake Off. How is that going?

I am beyond thrilled to be part of the SA Bake Off Family. It’s been such an amazing ride so far and I’m loving every minute. I’ve always been a fan of the show, so to be part of it is such a blessing. The contestants, presenters and my fellow judge are all such awesome people and we had the best time on set... I definitely hope to do lots more SA Bake Off in the future!

What do you enjoy most about being the judge?

The best part about being a judge is being able to pass on knowledge to the amateur bakers. Every judgement we make is to help them improve their skills so that they don’t make the same errors in future. It’s also such a wonderful experience to see the delight in the bakers’ eyes when you compliment something they have done, it’s so wonderful to see how passionate they are.

What’s next for you? 

I’d love to have my own cooking show, I still have so much to share with regards to food so it would be wonderful to have that platform to do so. I also want to travel more and discover food in different countries, let’s hope 2018 both these goals come to fruition.

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