Mak­ing sushi for Win­nie

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It was Oc­to­ber 2007 and chef Mazmo Zi­masile was pre­par­ing a feast of a lunch, sushi and lamb, at Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela’s Soweto home.

It was a tricky af­fair be­cause he made Africanin­spired sushi, us­ing pap in­stead of rice. The pap couldn’t be too hot be­cause it would cook the raw sal­mon, but it couldn’t be en­tirely cool ei­ther, for then it would not be mal­leable.

What struck him that day was Ma Win­nie’s hu­mil­ity, and how she in­sisted on liv­ing in Soweto de­spite jibes from her chil­dren that she should move to Sand­ton.

That day, Princess Caro­line of Monaco was vis­it­ing Soweto as Madik­izela-Man­dela’s lunch party guest.

“Ma Win­nie was amaz­ing. It says a lot that some­one of her sta­tus was still liv­ing in the town­ship,” said Zi­masile.

“Her daugh­ter Zindzi Man­dela was there too. Zindzi wanted her to buy a house in Sand­ton. Ma Win­nie said: ‘No. I will stay here, I will die here.’ It was a joke and peo­ple were laugh­ing.”

Zi­masile was struck by her house, a “very pri­vate home with safety fea­tures. Noth­ing fancy, not the kind of house you get lost in.”

In the kitchen was “an old stove, in good con­di­tion”. The walls were lined with framed fam­ily pho­to­graphs, sev­eral of Madik­izela-Man­dela with for­mer pres­i­dent Nelson Man­dela on their wed­ding day, and in their younger years.

On the menu was sushi, roost­erkoek, spit­braaied lamb, boere­wors, mealies on the cob, and choco­late fon­dant for desert.

“The menu was posh while re­tain­ing who we are as Africans,” said Zi­masile. “Princess Caro­line en­joyed the meal very much. She was lovely and not fussed.”

Zi­masile also cooked for Madiba at a Nelson Man­dela Foun­da­tion func­tion in Jo­han­nes­burg in 2007, but by then the for­mer states­man was too frail to re­ally par­take in the meal. “He took very small bites. His health was at the end and he was on a very strict diet.”

Zi­masile (33) is cur­rently fin­ish­ing a con­tract at the up-mar­ket Emily Moon River Lodge’s restau­rant, near Plet­ten­berg Bay.

Next, he hopes to em­bark on a pro­ject that com­bines his pas­sions of food and nu­tri­tion with education.

Zi­masile grew up in Nyanga and in Khayelit­sha, but hit Cape Town’s streets when his par­ents sep­a­rated. On the city’s pave­ments, he begged for bread crusts, liv­ing from meal to meal, little know­ing that one day he would cook for the world’s rich and fa­mous.

The turn­ing point was in 2006, when he en­rolled for three months at the gov­ern­ment re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre Chrysalis Academy. Here he first dis­cov­ered his flair for cook­ing in the can­teen while pre­par­ing meals for stu­dents and staff. Soon af­ter he joined the My Life Foun­da­tion, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps home­less chil­dren de­velop skills and ca­reers. Through the foun­da­tion he was se­lected to com­plete four months of train­ing at celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Fif­teen Restau­rant in Lon­don. He was later awarded a diploma at the Culi­nary Academy in Wood­stock in Cape Town.

“I want to re­main in food, but through food I want to make an im­pact on peo­ple’s lives,” he said. “Education. This is what peo­ple are lack­ing. When I go to the town­ship where I grew up, there is a whole dif­fer­ent life. Peo­ple there don’t know where their next meals will come from, food prices are high and go­ing up. The habit is to eat non-nu­tri­tious food.”

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