Food & Drinks

Q&A with Celebrity Chef Zola Nene

We learn more about one of SA's most beloved chefs.

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Zola Nene | House and Leisure

Chef and food stylist Zola Nene first graced our televison screens in a cooking segment on SABC 3's Expresso Show back in 2010. Her dynamic personality and delicious recipes caught the country's attention, propelling her into a career where she now gets to share her love of food with all of us. Since then she has penned two cookbooks, judged popular cooking TV shows and now has her very own show called CELEB FEASTS with ZOLA, which is sponsered by Lancewood. 

Recently she spoke on a panel and emceed the inaugural FOOD XX Awards. We caught up with her to learn more about her journey and her tastes.

Did you always want to be a chef? If not, what did you want to be when you were growing up?

Initially, after matric, I wanted to be a lawyer. I quickly realised that it wasn’t for me. In my second year of studying, I realised I really didn't want to do it – it didn't stir any fire in me. My dad asked me, ' What do you like to do?' I replied 'cooking' and he said that I should explore that. And that’s when I pursued my cheffing career. I went to the UK and spent two years working in a kitchen there. When I came back, I enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, qualified and my career began. 

When you got into food, did you also want to be a televison personality? 

I am a chef first. TV came later because I was following my passion. While studying, I specialised in food media because I wanted to educate people about food. When I was working at Expresso, I was quite happy simply working in the background. I resisted being in front of the camera for a year, and when I did go on I thought it would be a once-off experience. I strongly believe that if you live your passion, success will folllow. 

If you were a food or dish, what would it be?

Oh gosh, so many choices! I guess I’d have to be frozen yoghurt – it’s my favourite treat. Who wouldn’t want to be a favourite treat, right?! 😆

Zola Nene | House and Leisure Zola Nene | House and Leisure
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What's the oddest (or most memorable) dish you've ever tasted?

On my trip to China, I tasted many odd and unusual dishes. I guess the most memorable would have to be my first taste of durian fruit. It stinks smuch that it made me gag, but funnily enough, it actually tasted pretty good!

What tastes remind you of your childhood?

Lamb curry and mielie bread evoke such nostalgia for me. Those two dishes are the epitome of home.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef/food stylist?

I love bringing people joy through food; sharing my passion for food with the world and making food less intimidating for people. The best compliment I ever receive from people is that I 'make it look so easy'. For me, that’s the whole point – I want people to feel brave enough to try cooking so they can learn to love it as much as I do.

And if you could change one aspect of your job, what would that be?

I love my job – the good, the bad and the ugly... I’m blessed to be able to do what I love everyday.

What is the most rewarding and most challenging part of being female in the food industry?

The most rewarding part is having the honour of being an example to other young girls that you can follow your passion and be successful.

Zola Nene | House and Leisure

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What advice to you have for women who are starting their careers as chefs/food stylists/TV personalities?

I’d say just be authentically you, don’t try to imitate or emulate anyone.

What's your current favourite drink, and why?

Gin and tonic with a slice of grapefruit in it - it’s so refreshing and the slight bitter note added by the grapefruit is perfection.

Which part of the world should every serious food lover visit?

I haven’t visited nearly enough places myself, but of the places I’ve been, I'd have to say Thailand – for the amazing street food.