• We chat to Zola Nene, who has recently walked away with two prestigious awards at the critically acclaimed Gourmand Awards!

    I still get giddy when I think about [the awards]. I’m so thrilled about receiving the two awards, I feel such an immense sense of pride.

    The experience…

    The first award “TV Award – Best Woman Host ” was a complete surprise and was awarded to me for my work on Expresso. When they first announced me as a winner of the award, I didn’t even hear them because it was so unexpected.

    The second award: second place in the “Best TV Chef Cookbook in English” (for Simply Delicious) was the award that I went to China for, because I was nominated among eight other chefs for the award, two of whom were the famous Marco Pierre White and Mario Batali. To have been nominated was already such a prestigious accolade, but then to actually walk away with the title of Best in the World was simply incredible. I am just so thrilled that my very first cookbook has received such tremendous recognition, there’s no other way to describe it other than sheer pride.

    A love-hate relationship with the food in China…

    The best food experience I had in China was learning how to make dumplings from scratch, as well as how to hand-pull fresh home-made noodles. I can’t wait to recreate the recipes here at home. I even bought myself a special dumpling roller and a massive Chinese cleaver. I also visited a bustling food market which was incredible, the variety of fruits, vegetables, pulses, seafood and meats on offer was out of this world, some of the foodstuffs I’d never even heard of or seen before; the market brimming with the freshest of fresh produce.

    I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the food in China. Some of the things I ate were incredible and other things just plain strange. The best meal I had was definitely the Chinese Hot Pot – a spicy cauldron of chilli-spiked stock served with your selection of meats and vegetables to poach in the stock. I had it three times during my stay in China!

    At the end of the trip, I hosted a book talk in a book store in Beijing. I got to meet some South Africans who came to buy my book as a “piece of home” in China – I had no idea there were so many South Africans living in Beijing. There were many Chinese food journalists at the book talk who were genuinely interested in learning about South African cuisine and what types of food we eat at home. It’s always a great honour to talk about South Africa and our food culture to international people and to boast about how fabulous our indigenous food and cuisine is.

    On knowing when she wanted to be a chef…

    I spent two years in the UK working in a brasserie and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a chef. Working in a professional kitchen during that time gave me so much life; I enjoyed every single aspect of the job, even the heated moments during a high-pressured service. I felt invigorated after a day’s work. I knew then I wanted to enrol in chef’s school and get my qualification, which is exactly what I did on my return home.

    The favourite part of my job is…

    I love that I get to share my food knowledge and passion with so many people every day. Talking about food, writing about food, feeding people and eating food are the things that make me happiest and I get to do all of them on a daily basis.

    What is next?

    I’ve been saying for a while now that I really want my own cooking show, so that’s the next big step for me, hopefully that will happen soon. Then, after the success of my first cookbook, I think a second book is definitely in order – watch this space…

    ALSO READ: We chat to Expresso Show chef Zola Nene – Food & Home Entertaining

    Visit Zola Nene’s website here.

    Imka Webb

    Imka Webb is a freelance digital marketing expert and the digital editor of Food & Home Entertaining magazine.  www.imkawebb.com