South African culinary heroes
South African culinary heroes are an unlikely gathering of food fundis. None can boast the international fame of celebrity cooks like Jamie Oliver, and some found their calling in a round-about way, but their passion for the culinary arts has forever changed the way we think about, and eat, foods in South Africa.
In many of the culinary icons of South Africa, there is an element of culinary-activism. From Dr. Bill Gallagher’s tireless efforts to see the South African hospitality industry become inclusive and internationally competitive, to Lucas Ndlovu who overcame apartheid to become one of South Africa’s finest chefs.
Cass Abrahams and Renata Coetzee engage directly with the politics of food, though neither has ever held rallies or shouted slogans. Instead, they have sought the origins of our culinary heritage, and honoured it in their cooking. In so doing, they have opened our minds and freed our palates.
Some South African culinary figures inspire us by their sheer love of food and boundless sense of culinary adventure. Dora Sitole has crisscrossed Africa twice to uncover the rich culinary legacy of the continent, re-educating us all with her generous style of cooking; and Topsi Venter, has captured the essence of South African food terroir in her seasonal menus.
Among South Africa’s culinary icons are the great gourmands, who challenge conventional thinking about what it means to eat and drink. CL Leipoldt is considered the father of South African gastronomy, and his books and food essays are as rollicking as an Indiana Jones adventure.
Renata Coetzee is also one of South Africa’s famed food social anthropologists. Through her we have come to know the very first culinary heroes: the ancient San and Khoi-Khoin, who combed the beaches, hunted, and brought the first foods to our southern African table.