Dorah Sitole's last interview with YOU: on loving trifle and her dream of cooking for Oprah

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As she prepares to turn 70, Dorah Sitole has released a new cookbook, charting her four-decade career. PICTURE: ROELENE PRINSLOO
As she prepares to turn 70, Dorah Sitole has released a new cookbook, charting her four-decade career. PICTURE: ROELENE PRINSLOO

The year started on a sombre note for fans of Dorah Sitole as news broke that the accomplished food editor, author and chef had died of Covid-related complications at the age of 67.

In an interview she did with YOU just last month, formidable Dorah shared how she was looking forward to turning 70, her favourite recipes from her latest cookbook, her ultimate comfort meal as well as the foreign cuisine she never gets tired of eating. Sadly she'll also never be able to realise her dream of cooking for Oprah Winfrey. 

Here's the last interview we had with the South African icon, published at the end of last year.

For many of us who grew up reading your food recipes, your new book (Dorah Sitole, 40 Years of Iconic Food) feels like a seat at the dining room table in your home. Particularly because this book is written in such a way as to celebrate your steps, from early childhood to dining around the world. Why did you choose to write it in a memoir style?

Thank you! I wanted it to feel like "A seat at my table" incidentally I had toyed with that as a title, but it was already taken! I get asked a lot by individuals or get invited to give motivational talks on my food journey; how I got to where I am and what made me stay. I also felt the need to put together a cookbook that showcases my food repertoire which is more extensive than my previous cookbook, Cooking from Cape to Cairo. It made sense to write a memoir intertwined with my food journey and linking it to each decade of my life and the food that I consumed during that time. 

You write that “every individual brings their history and themselves to the kitchen”. What influence did your parents, to whom you’ve dedicated this book, have on your food journey?

My mother’s approach to food and her simple ways of preparing it have influenced me a great deal. I cook simple but very tasty meals. I never have ambitions of dabbling in "nouvelle cuisine" or experimental cuisines like “molecular gastronomy”, however, I respect and I am in awe of the chefs that venture into the scientific side of food and bring us those mindblowing flavours! But as for me, my cooking will always remain wholesome, simple and delicious, just like my mother’s.  

What meal from your childhood can you not bear the thought of eating ever again?

None! All foods from my childhood form very special memories for me. I don’t eat isikhokho (the crust from the bottom of pap) for obvious reasons, but I don’t find it’s taste unbearable!

Which other chefs do you admire?

That is a difficult one, my list is too long, I also love other foodies who are not necessarily trained as chefs; food editors, food stylists and food bloggers. My list would fill pages because I admire them for different reasons!!

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

Idombolo (steamed bread) and my red wine oxtail stew!

We know you're an Oprah Winfrey fan. Imagine you get a call from the talk queen's PA at nine in the morning, telling you that O will drop in for tea at noon. What would you prepare?

I love OPRAH! And the possibility of that happening is making me smile! She is a foodie and an amazing cook! I would definitely bake her my mielie bread and serve it with the salmon mousse, and ask her how it compares to her Corn Bread, also one of the first cakes I got to bake, the Orange loaf. I would also add the ginger cookies, these will get us chatting about my childhood memories. We used to refer to them as "ginger cakes" but they were really just large sized biscuits! 

At this time of the year, we see a lot of anti-trifle propaganda on social media as the Battle of the Christmas Dish posts begin! You’ve featured your own signature trifle recipe. Why are you for trifle?

What happens on social media must just stay there – it’s never a reflection of real life! Nothing wrong with a well-made trifle, just make enough for the family to enjoy and finish in one sitting. The problem is making a large amount in a large dish and then it gets messy, just choose a decent sized bowl. Trifle resonates with most people because of the custard and jelly combination, which is so much part of our township cuisine.What foods have helped you cope during lockdown?

My eating patterns did not change much during lockdown. My daughter, Ayanda, came to stay with me, so the meals increased to cooking for two. I did not get drawn into the cooking and baking frenzy of Banana loaves, vetkoek, etc.

If you had just 15 minutes to prepare a meal, what would it be?

Pap, steak, tomato gravy and spinach. They all cook within 15 minutes simultaneously.

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