Zola Nene gives Gordon Ramsay a taste of Zulu cuisine

Chef and author Zola Nene observes as British chef Gordon Ramsay tops grilled fish with ushatini, a salsa-like mix of onions and tomatoes.
Chef and author Zola Nene observes as British chef Gordon Ramsay tops grilled fish with ushatini, a salsa-like mix of onions and tomatoes.
Image: Jon Kroll

The Zulu and the British meet once again in a clash of pots, or rather in an exchange of culinary knowledge.

Bubbly award-winning cookbook author, food stylist and TV chef Zola Nene will be showcasing the best of sunny KwaZulu-Natal's cuisine to British juggernaut chef Gordon Ramsay.

Ramsay and Nene shot the season premiere for his show Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.

It appears the chefs had a blast filming the show and Nene got to see what more there was to the man who is known and loved for his work and his fierce critique as well as high energy in the kitchen.

He is a gentle soul, according to Nene.

"It was incredible, we spent a week filming together. He's really very lovely and very tall, so he's got quite a presence about him. But he's very lovely, I think a lot of people, myself included, expected that aggressive [Gordon], you know the way that everyone sees Gordon - aggressive, really outspoken, swearing all the time, but actually he's a really gentle soul.

"He's very lovely and willing to learn; he's interested and he listens to everything you have to say. Very definitely there was swearing because I don't think it would be Gordon without any swearing, but in the loveliest way. "

The KZN-born Nene guides Ramsay through traditional Zulu fare for the season's premiere.

Gordon Ramsay points toward a sign warning about hippos.
Gordon Ramsay points toward a sign warning about hippos.
Image: Justin Mandel

"I wanted to show him a piece of Zulu culture and the type of things I grew up eating. So, he was learning a lot about the culture from me. In terms of what I learnt from him, he is an incredibly professional person; he's got this camera presence that is so admirable.

"The way that he can just off the cuff present certain segments, and just the relaxed and fun nature he has on camera and having done a lot of television myself, it was lovely to see another perspective of somebody who works on massive international productions; obviously I was able to learn a lot from him in terms of his skill sets when it comes to be in front of the camera," she says.

"It was fun to cook with a fellow chef, but also with a chef of his calibre and also, I was honoured and excited for him to learn about the basics of Zulu cuisine. The type of stuff my mom and my grandmother cooked for me. It was a really great experience."

And if you're wondering what the basics of Zulu cuisine are, Nene says that the fundamental are knowing how to cook in an open fire, in a three-legged pot and braaing.

"I showed him ujeqe...a lot of other cultures just call it idombolo. So, I wanted him to understand that ujeqe is steamed bread by itself and idombolo is cooked on top of stew or whatever. I was very excited to teach him about that. We also made pap."

Nene says she then educated Ramsay about Indian influence in Zulu cuisine, and how that has made people in KZN to be great fans of hot spices and chilli. Nene had to tell him to tone it down on adding too much chilli when he heard this.

"I wanted to stress to him that the way that Zulu people traditionally eat, we pay a lot of attention to the ingredients.

"We let the ingredients speak for themselves and not overpower it with too many different flavours. Our food is plain, but it's also very wholesome and delicious and slow-cooked," she adds.

TV chef Zola Nene.
TV chef Zola Nene.
Image: Lisa Skinner

The author says demand for her book Simply Zola is high due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, is set to premiere on August 26 on National Geographic (DStv 181 and StarSat 220) 

Nene's tips on keeping warm with hearty meals 

Cut of meat -The longer and slower you cook things like oxtail, lamb shank and lamb neck and beef shin, those types of dishes will always give you a hug from the inside.

With that long slow cooking, the flavour develops and the meat falls off the bone.

These cuts are often inexpensive, so they're good for your pocket too.

Add a level of spice - not necessarily chilli spice, but aromatic spices. If you add things like garam masala to your stews and soups, or ground cumin, all those are warming spices, so they give you a sense of comfort and a slow, easy, familiar taste.

I think that is a way to transition your food into wintery flavours.

Accept our stodgy food - Nene says it's okay to eat your heavier food such as samp and beans, which is a staple in most South African homes when the weather gets colder. Everybody loves a warm bowl of samp, she says. Pap is also okay because it's comforting.

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