South African Chef and author, Nompumelelo Mqwebu, has created a name for herself through her culinary talent and now cookbook, which was named the “2018 World’s Best Self-Published Cookbook” by the Gourmand Work Cookbook Awards. The Gourmand World Cook Awards is an international competition that awards and recognizes the authors of the best food and beverage cookbooks, and so for Chef Nompumelelo, achieving this incredible milestone remains one of her most satisfying accomplishments.
Born in North Coast of KwaZulu Natal, Nompumelelo grew up in uMlazi Township and Margate. Despite growing up during the painful chaos of apartheid the 1980s, she recounts how her childhood was quite pleasant. As a little girl that was raised with great cooks, it is no wonder she would grow up to be a culinary master with a heart for creating innovative dishes that quench the palates of those she serves up meals for.
Travel Essence Magazine caught up with Chef Nompumelelo to learn a little more about her passion for cooking, her award-winning cookbook and of course, building herself as a brand in South Africa’s culinary landscape…
1. Chef Nompumelelo, tell us a little about your childhood and what influences inspired you to pursue your goal of becoming a chef?
I grew up with a love for people and the beach and was raised by entrepreneurs all around – from my grandmother to my parents. There was also always an abundance of home-grown good food and excellent cooks. Cooking was just part of life at home with my biggest inspirations being my grandmother and my father. They shaped who I am today, and though they are both late, I am forever grateful for what they instilled in me.
Food was part of many festivities enjoyed at home and through family visits and the more I was exposed to cooking, the more it fuelled my passion to pursue various avenues within the world of food. I never imagined that my passion for cooking and food would be my passport to travel internationally, let alone compete and win against the best in the world.
2. What inspired your cookbook?
This is typically a challenging industry to be in and one that involves long hours and high pressure. I believe that in order to succeed you need to be passionate and love what you are doing. My inspiration has come in many forms and the fact that the African food scenery was simply not changing just kept reinforcing and encouraging me daily that I needed to go on this journey and publish my first-ever cookbook. The more I travelled and saw also reiterated that no matter how cosmopolitan each country or city was, local food was sought after and celebrated by both locals and visitors. To me, we needed to really rediscover our roots for local cuisine and ingredients – particularly in South Africa.
3. What have been your most memorable moments during your journey as a chef?
Birthing my cookbook – Through the eyes of an African Chef that went on to win, not one but two Gourmand awards for it.
4. What is your favourite dish to make?
No one particular dish, though I look forward to fresh produce as the seasons bless us and I create new dishes or explore old ones further. Cooking game meat in winter when it’s in season is also a high in my calendar.
5. What is your idea of comfort food?
Wholesome, tasty food that lingers on in memory. Your grandmother’s cooking for example. You remember the feeling you had when you ate it, the scent of the pot cooking. This definitely leaves one with a warm and fuzzy feeling!
6. What have been your biggest takeaways during your journey as a cookbook author? How has it been received by the local and international market?
Being an independent author, who self publishes a cookbook has so many facets to it. My experience was more than just sitting down and thinking up a story. I had to create and write down recipes, test and taste them, do photography, launch the book, look at innovative ways to market the book and so on. It is hard work. The reception both at home and internationally has been so rewarding. It’s been a few years and the book presence remains an area of interest and I take that as a compliment.
7. What impact do you hope the cookbook will make on the culinary industry in South Africa and beyond?
I am excited to see that African cuisine is now an area of interest. There’s a buzz about our indigenous ingredients and indigenous knowledge systems. More people are researching in order to get closer to writing about the authentic and true culinary history of the continent. The well-deserved respect is being granted to African cuisine and culinary creatives; this truly is an exciting time to be operating in the African culinary space.
8. What does the future hold for you? Any future projects you would like to share with our readers?
Sadly, COVID -19 has thwarted many great plans and now we hold this close to our hearts until we know when we can operate openly again. There will certainly be a lot of intercontinental and diaspora collaborations which arise from my travels and people I have met who share the same passion as me. I look forward to being able to move ahead with the same momentum, if not more, that we had before the COVID-19 era.
9. Are there any lessons that your journey has taught you, that you wish to share with those hoping to be as success as you?
My journey has certainly not been an easy one and I am so grateful for my family and other key people in my life who have given me the support I needed to achieve this kind of success.
I would also say that having a women tribe is a great asset, as well as making sure you equip yourself in your chosen field. It’s important that you do not shy away from challenges even when you feel you’re swimming in the deep end. Overcoming our challenges makes the victory that much sweeter.
Connect with Chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu on Instagram on @nompumelelomqwebu