Quick-fire Q&A with award-winning chef, Zola Nene

Celebrity chef Zola Nene’s love for food started at a very young age. She grew up with a mother and grandmother who were both great cooks; however, her professional food career started much later during her time in United Kingdom, where she worked in a professional kitchen for two years.

Zola returned to South Africa and enrolled at the Institute Of Culinary Arts (ICA) for a three-year culinary studies course. She specialised in food media in her third year.

After completing her course at ICA, Zola worked in the catering industry in Johannesburg. Shortly thereafter, the producers of Expresso Morning Show contacted her with an offer to be the food stylist for the show. The executive producer then asked Zola to be on the show and so began her TV-chef career.

Since then Zola participated on many different shows as a judge, as well as on her own TV cooking show. She has written two award-winning cookbooks and have recently had the opportunity to film a show with Gordon Ramsay.

I asked Zola some quick-fire questions to get to know her better.

What does a typical day in the life of Zola Nene look like?

A typical day for me involves lots of cooking, recipe creating, shooting and styling. I am constantly creating recipes for clients, which keeps me very busy.

Where do you draw inspiration for your dishes?

I cook a lot of food that is nostalgic, food that I grew up eating and that my mom and gran taught me to cook, except I add my own little spin on it. I’m also inspired by seasonality and love to take advantage of what’s in season and in abundance. Travel is also another huge inspiration for me. I love learning techniques and flavour profiles from different chefs and travel experiences.

If there’s one ingredient everyone should have in their pantry, what would you say that is?

Maize meal – I love mealie pap … and it’s so versatile … you can have it sweet, savoury, you can bake with it and even drink it. It’s definitely one of my pantry staples.

Your favourite dish(es)?

I’m glad you said plural dishES, because choosing just one would be impossible. I love too many different dishes for me to just pick a favourite; my favourite at the time just depends on my mood. I guess my cookbooks are a compilation of my forever-favourite recipes.

If you could have any 5 people over for dinner, who would they be and what would you serve?

Both my late grandmothers (they never lived to see me become a chef), Oprah Winfrey (I’m sure she’d keep the dinner conversation very enlightening and interesting), Miss Universe (because I love her attitude and message) and Dorah Sithole (because she’s one of my food heroes). I would make my curried lamb shanks served with creamy samp and glazed carrots.

Photos Lisa Skinner.

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