It’s been said that “there’s no love sincerer than the love of food”, which must be why food stylist and recipe developer Khanya Mzongwana is sharing her passion for food with us all
Pop-up restaurant Off-The-Wall is the brainchild of Khanya and her partner Sakhile Ndlazi. Opened in June 2014, they host a pop-up dinner on a monthly basis.
“My partner and I were both in unfulfilling places in our lives. I was unemployed and he was stuck in a dead-end job, so we decided to use our respective gifts to start a business,” Khanya explains.
She says trends like pop-up restaurants are culminating towards something bigger, especially since we’re living in the age of food experimentation and exciting new ways of dining. While the pop-up restaurant idea is not revolutionary, she says it is exclusive. It’s also a liberating way to operate. “We get to make our own rules and decide what we’re going to serve, what music we’re going to play and so on,” she adds.
Although Khanya has no formal culinary qualification, she believes her wealth of work experience as well as being mentored by Eastern Cape chef Brent Mills for two years has opened many doors for her. “He [Mills] taught me about the origins of different flavours and how to let ingredients shine in their most natural state.”
Developing recipes and planning meals isn’t always a seamless process, and Khanya admits that she struggles to work unless there’s music. She also draws inspiration from nature, science and the “vibrancy and creativity of the black South African food culture”. Being exposed to an array of cuisines and dishes hasn’t taken Khanya away from her roots. “I still enjoy umngqusho, which I grew up eating tonnes of! I also love fresh summer fruit – mangoes, nectarines and plums are all my favourites! I love cooking Indian-inspired food too, the flavours are tremendous and their vegetarian cooking is the best.”
Off-The-Wall’s menu changes monthly and this year they’ve centred their pop-up dinners around culturally-rich regions of the world. The last one was brought home to South African cuisine, with the aim of “decolonising the idea of what South African food means to the vast majority of South Africans”. As you can imagine, some amazing traditional Xhosa dishes came from this dinner!
As with many businesses, Khanya says their biggest challenge is a lack of funding. “It’s hard to be taken seriously in business because we’re still perceived as caregivers to men and their children as opposed to capable entrepreneurs. Or we’re treated as second-rate citizens – as women and as black people. Our creativity is undermined as a whimsical thing as opposed to something serious that can be applied in business.”
For on-the-go women who don’t always have time to cook, Khanya says: “The freezer is your friend! Make a delicious, simple soup or stew and freeze in portions – all you’ll have to do is prepare a quick accompaniment like flatbread or rice. Also keep lots of fresh fruit and veggies on hand.”
Can you think of a cooking rule that was passed down from the women in your family that you swear by, and what would be your rule, we ask her. Khanya takes from her grandmother the rule to never waste, and her mother has passed down the rule of generosity. And as for her own rule, its the importance of fresh ingredients when cooking.