A big scoop for African in­dul­gence

Corn bread and roasted plum, ba­con and caramel are some of the flavours on his menu

Mail & Guardian - - Friday - Nob­hongo Gx­olo

There is alchemy in loss. Grief is a cat­a­lyst that can lead one to the hard work of peel­ing the self open, of un­cen­sored re-eval­u­a­tion, of re­fram­ing one’s tra­jec­tory. For Tapiwa Guzha, the death of his ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Va­soko, in June this year, pushed him to start his own busi­ness. “It was the kick that I needed to do what I want to do with my life,” he says.

Guzha is a molec­u­lar bi­ol­o­gist by day and makes ice cream he terms “an African in­dul­gence” by night.

“I’m happy as a sci­en­tist. I en­joy do­ing it and I’m in­quis­i­tive about na­ture and how things work. But academia has a way of tak­ing things away. You must only do re­search that you know will get you that fund­ing and get pub­lished. I don’t think it’s a sus­tain­able model for me. I needed some­thing that spoke to me a lot more.”

Soon af­ter his loss he de­buted his first In­sta­gram shot of his ice cream, un­der the brand Tapi Tapi.

Guzha grew up in Harare, Zim­babwe. When he wasn’t at board­ing school he’d be at Va­soko’s house in the sub­urb of Marl­bor­ough.

“We grew up as a bunch of cousins … Every­one did ev­ery­thing — there was no divi­sion of labour. We all cooked, fed the chick­ens, did out­side chores, chopped wood. The thing I liked about cook­ing was bak­ing. I ac­tively sought it out with her.”

The ad­mi­ra­tion he has for Va­soko’s culi­nary skills is ev­i­dent in how he speaks about her. He ad­mits that his mother cooks good food — he just didn’t grow up on it.

About Va­soko, he says: “A lot of Zim food I ate in that house had a sweet slant. Shona or Zim­bab­wean cul­ture doesn’t re­ally do dessert … Gran used to go to Eng­land a lot and bring back sweet things. She’s the only in­flu­ence on my cook­ing, es­pe­cially my sweet cook­ing.”

But there’s also a link be­tween the prac­tice of science and the art of mak­ing ice cream that may not be ev­i­dent at first. “Be­fore 2015 when I was still do­ing my PHD, I had ac­cess to dry ice in the lab. De­liv­er­ies came with dry ice, which was left to sub­li­mate af­ter.”

Hav­ing watched an episode of Masterchef in which they made ice cream us­ing dry ice, it oc­curred to Guzha to put the left­overs to bet­ter use.

This was es­pe­cially wel­come in a “ridicu­lously hot” Stel­len­bosch where ice cream was a sim­ple way to cool down.

Able to source his own sup­ply of dry ice, he re­alised that he could make ice cream and have it ready within 40 min­utes — us­ing the ex­act flavours he wanted. He started ex­per­i­ment­ing. He de­fines his cre­ations not as scoops of ice cream, but rather as scoops of “dishes”.

“So, I can sim­ply make the thing with the flavour and put that into the ice cream. What’s im­por­tant to me are the flavours around the dish I’m em­u­lat­ing as well — the burnt bits around the fire … I try to cel­e­brate the in­gre­di­ent in what­ever way height­ens it. I want to make some­thing de­li­cious with the in­ten­tion that some­one tast­ing it for the first time then says: ‘Okay, to­mor­row I’m go­ing to try this fruit.’ ”

His work con­jures up food nostal­gia. He ex­plains that to evoke nostal­gia one needs to get across the flavours of long-ago mem­o­ries that may have faded from vi­brant in­ten­sity into shades of sepia.

He re­alised early on when he was still mess­ing around with ice cream that some­times his dishes would be too sweet. So he started to experiment with more tame flavours to widen the palate spec­trum. “Corn bread and roasted plum, honey and thyme, car­rot, sweet corn — those are great ice creams, but they never work alone. Those flavours are still quite weird to the tongue. They work bet­ter with bal­ance. Some­one asked me to make them pesto ice cream, for in­stance. In­stead of parme­san I used sour cream for that funky umami vibe. I’ve done blue cheese ice cream with al­monds — they just work.

He adds: “Pig and ap­ple is a clas­sic flavour combo, for in­stance. But some­times I have this amaz­ing flavour and it needs some­thing else — but, be­cause there’s no es­tab­lished some­thing else to pair it with, it can be very frus­trat­ing.

“There’s a place for savoury ice cream. I’ve made ba­con and caramel ice cream where the ba­con acts as the salt. This was still at the point when I was just ex­per­i­ment­ing — be­fore I es­tab­lished the main fo­cus.” Main fo­cus?

“I had the un­com­fort­able re­al­i­sa­tion that there aren’t any truly African ice cream op­tions around. I’d been mak­ing ice cream for four years and it hadn’t oc­curred to me ei­ther. Malva [pud­ding] and milk tart are safe and pre­dictable. I wanted to re­de­fine some­thing that rep­re­sents us.”

He re­calls en­joy­ing var­i­ous fruits and veg­eta­bles grow­ing up. “For me, child­hood flavours equal lo­cal pro­duce. My grand­par­ents on my fa­ther’s side had a mas­sive or­chard — so we had sea­sonal fruits.

“Our food is seen as com­mon­place and triv­ial, whereas it’s pretty unique be­cause our flavours ex­ist in a lim­ited space. And for me it’s about us­ing this fruit to en­hance the prod­uct.

“It’s jar­ring, be­cause you wouldn’t think to buy this pro­duce in su­per­mar­kets. The idea of buy­ing mazhanje [wild lo­quat] in a su­per­mar­ket is un­usual. Peo­ple wouldn’t be will­ing to pay the su­per­mar­ket price for it be­cause they have it in their yards. It’s de­li­cious and we love it, but peo­ple un­der­value it.”

He says that ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about our food is im­por­tant: “Our food is only seen as rel­e­vant when some Euro­pean cu­ra­tor has used a cer­tain lan­guage to gen­trify it. That’s how the ice cream tast­ings came up. They high­light the im­por­tance of hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about our cul­ture. They sit as a record. Most au­thors writ­ing about our food aren’t nec­es­sar­ily peo­ple of colour. And when there’s ac­tive re­search about us it’s of­ten not be­ing done by us.

“I love indige­nous food be­cause that’s what I grew up eat­ing,” he says be­fore au­to­cor­rect­ing: “I ac­tu­ally don’t like that word — I use it as a crutch be­cause there’s no bet­ter way of ex­plain­ing what I’m try­ing to do. I’m not mak­ing indige­nous food — I’m mak­ing food. I’m in­ter­ested in food from the con­ti­nent … Perus­ing those dif­fer­ent re­gions can only im­prove my cook­ing skills and knowl­edge. I don’t want Tapi Tapi to be Zim­cen­tric. It’s a cross-cul­tural ex­change about how sim­i­lar or dif­fer­ent we are. It’s about the pro­duce as well as the flavours from your child­hood.”

In cre­at­ing his dishes, how­ever, Guzha is not a purist. For him the fo­cus is on high­light­ing the in­gre­di­ent, not a con­cept.

“There’s al­ways room to im­prove a thing. If I have to bas­tardise it I won’t shy away from that. Some dishes need some mod­erni­sa­tion. But it’s not about dis­re­spect­ing the one that ex­ists al­ready. It’s about: if I tried cook­ing it this way it would be a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Mean­ing, it’s still about the in­gre­di­ent. And if there’s a way to make it de­li­cious dif­fer­ently, why not?”

About why he moved into the ice cream space, he says he’d been think­ing about open­ing a restau­rant for a while — one that served just desserts. Go­ing through his so­cial me­dia pages, he re­alised he had al­ready cre­ated more than 100 dif­fer­ent flavoured dishes over the past four years.

His idea was orig­i­nally quite Euro­cen­tric — mod­ern French tech­niques and molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy meth­ods that he still em­ploys — al­beit his process is now in­ten­tion­ally less white­washed.

For in­stance, he says, the name was never go­ing to be some­thing like: “Del­ray’s De­lights — that’s very dis­con­nected from me.” Tapi Tapi, which he coined in Oc­to­ber last year, is rem­i­nis­cent of the jin­gle of a Sun Jam ad­vert he heard grow­ing up. It had the tagline “nhap­i­tapi chete” (a loose equiv­a­lent of yum yum, but spe­cific to a sweet taste). He changed Nhap­i­tapi to Tapi Tapi be­cause they are syn­onyms in dif­fer­ent Zim­bab­wean di­alects, have sim­i­lar rings and is a play on his name, Tapiwa.

Guzha also started his busi­ness be­cause he wanted to work for him­self.

“But, more im­por­tantly, I want to show peo­ple that you don’t have to have shoot-for-the-moon goals and tar­gets be­fore you can kick off. You don’t need all the fund­ing, and a so­cial me­dia team. My ap­proach was very guerrilla. You have to work within your cir­cum­stances. If you want to work for your­self there’s never a right time to start … and I’m for­tu­nate to still have a cush­ion at work. If it’s not a fi­nan­cial suc­cess then at least it was a suc­cess be­cause I did it. I started.”

To place an or­der or book a tast­ing visit @_tapi_­tapi on In­sta­gram,

T • A • P • I | T • A • P • I on Face­book, or email tap­i­tapi­[email protected] gmail.com

Not gelato or roomys: Re­al­is­ing that there were no truly African ice cream flavours has in­spired Tapiwa Guzha to cre­ate a brand that rep­re­sents this con­ti­nent

Food nostal­gia: Tapiwa Guzha strives to cre­ate ice cream with tastes that evoke child­hood mem­o­ries while also en­cour­ag­ing those who try it for the first time to find the fruits be­hind the flavours

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