At KIZA, foodies can taste the entire continent.
South African national Kuhle Swana is the Head Chef at KIZA Dubai, the first authentic African fine dining restaurant in Dubai. Her culinary transformation from a small town girl to being nominated for the Professional Chef Middle East 2019 awards is inspirational.
“Interest in recipes, cooking, flavours and similar were instilled in me by two very strong women in my life – my grandmother and my mother. Helping them in the kitchen are some of the childhood memories that I cherish. It was these early lessons that prompted me to study culinary arts at the International Hotel School in Durban and now pursuing my dreams in UAE for the past eight years,” says Swana, speaking to Panorama.
Kuhle Swana, head chef at KIZA Dubai.
What motivated you to pursue culinary arts?
As a teenager, my first job was as a waitress. Seeing our guests’ reaction towards food fascinated me – secretly, it still does up to this day. Years later I took on a catering gig for my mother’s friend for a week serving 3000 people a day from breakfast to lunch. My adrenaline rush started from there; that moment and feeling is still with me like it was yesterday. The chefs I worked with had so much love and joy for what they were cooking; their energy transferred to me and inspired me to pursue cooking further. Immediately after, I decided to join a culinary school to follow my new found passion and since then I’ve never looked back.
Tell us more about the training you received from home
I was privileged to grow up in a household filled with women who loved to cook; they made it seem so effortless. Their method was quite different giving me wider exposure to different cooking styles. Raised in an African family means chores are part of growing up; all siblings get to participate in cooking and cleaning. During our school holidays we got to pick vegetables from my grandmother’s garden and cook fresh produce. Furthermore, my aunts ran a catering company, where we used to help. This exposed us to cooking and the business aspect. We also used to help my grandma‘s soup kitchen for orphans. I still do so every time I’m back home. With so much food around me, being a chef came so naturally.
What is it about food and cooking that interests you?
Everything about it – the ingredients, the equipment, pots, pans and knives. To me, cooking is therapy. I cook when I’m happy, I cook when I’m sad. As soon as I walk into a friend’s house I invite myself into the kitchen to prepare something. Food brings people together, so that's when I’m happiest. I fall in love with it over and over again.
How well does this region respond to African food?
Dubai is an epicurean's delight with diners ready to try newer cuisines. And Africa is a continent with diverse culinary heritage – from the Arabic tastes of the North to the, Indian influence of the East, Dutch infusion in South and Portuguese palates in the West. Dubai’s cosmopolitan culture is a perfect backdrop for a Pan African restaurant. While we tap into our gastronomic inheritance, diners can relate to many dishes on our menu. Africans feel “home away from home” at KIZA; while other diners get a culinary excursion to experience the cuisine in its totality. Foodies are always in search of world taste, at KIZA, they can taste the entire continent.
Everybody is into healthy eating these days. How does your menu promote this?
The African diet is filled with high nutritional dishes: ground nuts, fresh yam, smoked or seafood dishes, dried fish means there’s a balance of high fibre and omega 3. We use homemade sauces and marinades to avoid preservatives, which augurs well for a plate of good health.
What kind of culinary research has gone into your evolving as a chef?
Research doesn't stop, nor do I cease from evolving. I’m forever grateful to my mentors who support me with guidance and inspiration. We don't get to meet as frequently as I wish but when in doubt I reach out to them for advice. I follow several chefs online, on social media and cooking shows.
What is the unique element about African cuisine?
African cuisine has different staple ingredients depending on the region. We use plenty of coconut, cray fish, ground nuts, hot peppers, maize, matooke (green Banana), plantain, sukuma wiki (kale) and yam.
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