Zola Nene is one of those people you definitely want at your dream dinner party. Not just because she has an infectious love of cooking, but because of her wonderfully warm personality. Speaking to her and reading her book is a reminder that, at its heart, food is about love, family and connection. When you read through each of her recipes, it's like getting a taste of her history, which reminds you of your own. I was lucky enough to interview Zola and get a bit of behind-the-scenes info on her new cookbook, Simply Delicious.
1. Your book starts off with some wonderful nostalgic recipes that every South African will relate to. What is your go-to recipe when cooking for someone who needs a bit of comfort?
My mom's lamb curry is definitely my go-to for comfort, so that would definitely be the recipe that I'd choose to give someone else comfort too. It's warm and spicy so I think that in itself makes it comforting to eat - it's like a hug from within.
2. In your opinion, which nostalgic dishes bring all South Africans together, regardless of heritage?
I think pap is one dish that all South African cultures can relate to, in all its different forms. Whether you prefer it as a breakfast porridge or as a Braai side or even as the preferred starch to go with stew, it's one of those dishes that feels quintessentially South African.
3. One of the special touches in your book is that every recipe tells a story. Why do you think food and memories are so closely interlinked?
Food is one of those things that can take you back to a specific feeling with just one bite, I love that you can eat something today and remember exactly how it made you feel when you first ate it when you were 5 years old - and that's the reason why I LOVE food and feeding people so much, it's a way to become part of and create moments and memories for people with a simple gesture like cooking and sharing a meal.
4. What is the biggest lesson you learnt while working as a chef overseas?
I learnt that I am a tough cookie and can hold my own in high pressure situations. Working in a male-dominated kitchen and surviving a busy dinner service taught me that I am pretty resilient. I never once shed a tear in the kitchen during my time in the UK (and trust me, there were times that took me to the brink), I took everything on the chin and held my own which is probably why I gained the respect and was able to move up the ranks pretty quickly.
5. Your book contains a 'never fail chocolate fondant.' Now, judges on shows like Masterchef always cringe when contestants say they are making a chocolate fondant, as one wrong move ends in disaster. What makes your recipe fail proof?
I've made my fair share of fondants over the years so I know how disappointing it can be when it goes wrong. It took about a month of trial and error before I found the perfect formula, so, if you follow every step exactly as in my recipe, you'll have perfect fondants every time!
6. What recipe in the book have you had a most feedback on?
The beef stew and dumplings has probably been the most talked about recipe so far.
7. What did you make to celebrate the day your book came out?
I didn't cook anything myself actually, I went out with my family for dinner that night - I shared a chateaubriand with my sister. I remember the moment so clearly, the look on my dad's face when he first paged through a copy of the book was priceless.
8. Where is your dream foodie destination to travel to, in order to learn something new?
I desperately want to visit Italy...I want to learn how to make pasta from an authentic Italian nonna in her home - I get excited just imagining the moment!
Get Zola's book and make some new memories of your own. You can find it in Exclusives, Woolies and many other bookstores.