Food is so much more fun than law. That truth dawned on Zola Nene two years into a law degree, and saw her swap the dryness of books for the invigorating smells of the kitchen.
Nene (33) is now the resident chef on the Expresso Morning Show on SABC 3 and has written her first cookbook, Simply Delicious. In May, Simply Delicious took her to Yantai in China to compete in the international finals of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. She won in the category of Best TV (English) Celebrity Chef and also came second in the category for the Best TV Chef Book in English, competing against chefs from around the world.
“It was all very dramatic, but so very exciting. I came to China to represent South Africa in one category and ended up receiving two awards. I’m just thrilled,” she says. Nene carried the South African flag in the opening procession and at the invitation of the South African Embassy travelled to Beijing to host a South African food festival.
Her career change started when she left her legal studies for a working holiday in England to discover what she really wanted to do with her life. “I’ve always been interested in food, so I decided to look for a job in a professional kitchen,” she says. “I worked in a brasserie in Cheshire for two years, first as a hot section chef, and then as the head pastry chef. I have really paid my dues!”
After two years she came home and enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch. “During my studies I got to work with some amazing top chefs in the local industry such as Margot Janse of Le Quartier Français and Chris Erasmus of Foliage Restaurant,” she says.
In her third year she specialised in food media and worked as a food assistant at a magazine for six months, preparing dishes for mouth-watering photoshoots.
After graduating she moved to Johannesburg as the catering manager for a large catering company. When the Expresso TV show was being launched the producers required a food stylist and headhunted Nene, where her bubbly personality and skills saw her rise to the role of resident chef.
Nene also develops recipes for food brands, does food styling for publications, is a food judge and an MC.
— Lesley Stones