Chef Zondi - Living the Dream... from a Free State farm to Disney World's Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Mosondase Sophia Maloka is living proof that you are never too old to realise your dream. Born in 1976 on a farm in Bothaville in the Free State, the 43-year old - more affectionately known as Zondi - currently lives and works in Midrand where she is the chef at the Premier Hotel. But that is all about to change ... Her love for cooking started when she was very young and she says some of her earliest memories are the smell of her aunt's cooking as she conjured up dishes using butter, garlic, cinnamon and other spices. In 2001, at the age of 24, Zondi moved to Pretoria and began working for her cousin, Matothpe Thusi, looking after the children and cooking and cleaning. Armed with her monthly copy of Bona magazine and following its recipes, Zondi was inspired to create her own dishes and it was not long before she set up a small catering company operating out of her cousin's kitchen. “With her full approval and encouragement,” she hastens to add. And that's where Zondi thought her career in food would end! But 18 years later, and with the children in the household grown up and gone, Zondi's cousin urged her to study further. “I was always keen to study at Capsicum Culinary Studio as I was drawn to their big red pepper logo,” she says. She Googled the school, found their number and every month would call them and ask if they had a bursary program or - at the very least - if they would consider hiring her to wash dishes. What she didn’t know is that Thusi and her husband had secretely been putting money aside every month for her, so she was overwhelmed when her cousin finally revealed that there were sufficient funds to not only study cheffing, but to do so at the school of her dreams – Capsicum Culinary Studio. Zondi enrolled for the Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking course and graduated in 2018. “My time at Capsicum was marvellous. It wasn't easy as I was still working for my cousin as well as being a full-time student, but I was so happy doing what I had always wanted to do.” Zondi admits that even though she didn't own a laptop, her lecturers allowed her to complete her assignment with pen and paper. “Chef Peter van Aswegen was my class lecturer and he made sure I understood the maths side of the course as this subject was not my strongest suit, but is vital in the cooking and restaurant business. Chef Jovan Bester and Chef Ewan Johnston were my kitchen chefs and taught me so many new techniques and gave me the confidence I needed. I have all three to thank for getting me to where I am today.” And that place is soon to be Orlando, Florida, as in the next few days Zondi will be winging her way to the US to take up a year-long position as trainee chef at Disney World's Animal Kingdom Lodge. “My trip to the US came about when I went back to Capsicum after my graduation to collect my files. Chef Ewan introduced me to his colleague at the Rosebank campus, Chef Pierre van Heerden who took my details and got in touch with a contact he had at Disney where he had previously worked.” Thereafter followed a set of interviews and a Skype call with the head chef at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and before she knew it Zondi was clutching her new passport and plane ticket. “It will be my first trip overseas and I cannot begin to describe how excited I am to be going to America, meeting new people and learning as much as I can.”
We caught up with Zondi before she boarded her flight to the US and asked her a few foodie questions: What do you love eating/dislike eating? I grew up on a farm in the Free State. I don't have food allergies and I eat and love to eat everything. What ingredients are always in your fridge/pantry? Stretching back to those early days on the farm when my aunt was cooking, you will always find butter and cream in my fridge as well as tomato paste, cinnamon, paprika and pink salt in the cupboard. Who are your food heroes? Siba Mtongane, Jamie Oliver, Chef Ewan Johnston from Capsicum and Chef Ross Jurgens from the Premier Hotel in Midrand. Apart from friends and family, what will you miss most about SA while you are in the US? I will miss those good old African staples like pap, chicken feet and mala mogodu (tripe stew) as well as Malome Mathusi butter biscuits. What is your dream? Where do you see yourself in five years? I see myself back in South Africa owning and running a kitchen where I can help the youth, teaching them about spices and hospitality. I also want to have popup restaurants all over the place and from where I can cook and serve 5-star food on the street.