Three chefs share the story of a memorable moment in the kitchen with a wonder woman who has moulded their lives – and what it taught them about food, about family and about life. Christi Nortier sits down with them to hear all about it.
The world is in a grain of rice
Ayabonga Gape spent his childhood living between the homes of his aunt in the Eastern Cape and his mother in the Western Cape. One constant was his gravitation towards food – from the corner shop treats to formal function spreads.
‘When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I was staying with my mother, Veronica, and she would come back home very late from working two jobs. Once, on her day off, she taught me how to cook rice. It was the first dish I learnt to cook, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
‘When I look back now, I realise that she taught me more than just how to cook, she taught me a lot about kindness, love languages and responsibility. She taught me even though she was tired – this was her love language. She gave me all that she could, and that pot of rice planted a seed in me.
The kitchen is a classroom
In 2014, Mogau Seshoene agreed to teach a good friend, a nervous bride-to-be, how to cook. As word got out about these lessons, more and more women who were afraid of being labelled ‘the lazy makoti’ requested classes with Mogau.
‘A fond memory I have of my mother and food is of Saturday mornings back in Turfloop, Polokwane, where I grew up. Every weekend, I was woken up by the smell of banana bread filling the kitchen and wafting through the rest of our home.
‘My mom taught me that food is such an easy but impactful way to show love and care. It’s huge inspiration for why I do what I do now. Everyone loves a stew or curry, but everyone can agree that mama’s stew or gogo’s curry is always superior. That’s how powerful food is.’
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It’s in the blood
Although Lufuno Sinthumule’s maternal grandfather was a cook, many questioned the aspiring chef’s career path. Nevertheless, Lufuno decided to walk in his grandfather’s footsteps and head to culinary school. Years later, ‘Chef Funi’ is himself an esteemed culinary lecturer, cookbook author and private chef.
However, it was a chance meeting at university that proved he was on the right path, and gifted him the mentor he never knew he needed: ‘I left my hometown in Limpopo to study cooking at the Vaal University of Technology. When I arrived, I noticed that my Food Theory and Practical lecturer had a Venda surname.
But soon I wanted to pursue a Masters degree just like her, and today I am also a lecturer. She runs her own food business now, and so do I – Cooking with Funi, which offers workshops and exclusive recipes. I really look up to her, and she makes me believe I can do even more with myself and my food.
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Words by Christi Nortier