Making sushi for Winnie
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.”