‘Leaving a legacy of recipes for memorable meals brings me so much joy.’ – Zola Nene
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Media personality, chef and cookbook author Zola Nene is cooking up a storm with her latest cookbook, Simply Seven Colours. Zola chatted to Lauren Mc Diarmid about the joys of cooking, her most favourite kitchen appliance and her biggest food combo fail.

‘I can honestly say that I love every recipe in the book … I certainly couldn’t pick just one favourite.’

It may go without saying that all my favourite things to do revolve around food. If I’m not cooking, I’m likely looking for the next spot to go have a bite to eat or heading off to a market to find fresh seasonal produce and ingredients to inspire my next meal. Even when it comes to travel, I’ll choose a destination based on what I’ll eat there.

And, of course, I love to cook for people. Family gatherings usually end up happening at my house. I do most of the cooking these days, but my mom, an incredible cook herself, still likes to get stuck in, too. Her lamb curry (which I shared in my first book, Simply Delicious) is legendary. But what’s great is that my kitchen is open plan, which makes it easy to bring everyone into the cooking festivities. So while I might be the one standing at my gorgeous gas cooker (the centrepiece of my kitchen, and my most favourite kitchen appliance by far), we still get that all-important quality time together.

Actually, I’ll often be the one in the kitchen, getting stuck into some or other dish, even if I’m the guest! It just naturally happens that way, I guess, and I can’t say I’m mad at it.
When it comes to deciding what to make, I generally cook according to what I crave: if some dish or meal has been on my mind, I’ll make it. I also love changing things up with ingredients I’m not that familiar with or seasonal fruit and veg, which means my shopping list changes all the time.

Though, I’m definitely not the meal-prep type. I would get bored with eating the same meal over and over again. Plus, I love cooking so getting into the kitchen to prepare a meal makes me happy. I do freeze a lot of leftovers, but I don’t really consider that meal prep; that’s just leftovers, right?

I always get excited about diving into a new cookbook project, and Simply Seven Colours is my third. I absolutely love this book. The theme around it is something that wholeheartedly speaks to the way I cook and how we love to eat as South Africans. Each chapter is a different colour, every one filled with even more deliciousness than the last.

Working on a new book gives me the chance to sift through all the recipes that I’ve created since the last, and narrow down what to include – definite yes to chicken and apricot sosaties; hard no to cauliflower and chocolate brownies. It’s a tough process, but I can honestly say that I love every recipe in the book … I certainly couldn’t pick just one favourite.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had so many incredible experiences, which includes working with some amazing chefs from all over the world. A big highlight for me was cooking with Gordon Ramsay for his show Uncharted with National Geographic. We cooked braai-style outside in KwaZulu-Natal wilderness, while a snorting hippo looked on from the nearby river.

Being a judge on season four of MasterChef South Africa has also been a huge career highlight. It is such an amazing franchise and production, and I’m grateful to have been involved with it.
I don’t know if there’s a set recipe for success; I think everyone’s journey is so different and success is such a relative term. For me, my recipe for success has been to follow my passion, be authentic and work hard, even when no one is watching. With what I do right now, I’m able to teach people about food and help them gain confidence in their own cooking skills – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But there is still loads more that I’d like to do, in terms of travelling to further explore and immerse myself in the world of food and meeting more chefs from around the globe to learn from and share food stories with. Hopefully there will also be more cookbooks in my future. It’s one of my favourite ways to share my recipes and love for food. By creating a book, I’m leaving a legacy of recipes for memorable meals long after I’m gone, and that brings me so much joy.

Simply Seven Colours is out now.

This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa. 


Categories Cookery Lifestyle Non-fiction South Africa

Tags Penguin Random House SA Simply Seven Colours The Penguin Post Zola Nene

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