Designer Mpumelelo Dhlamini cooks up a storm in memory of late dad

Foodie leans on cooking as therapy to navigate grief

Nombuso Kumalo Content Producer
Ezokhetho fashion designer and cook Mpumelelo Dhlamini
Ezokhetho fashion designer and cook Mpumelelo Dhlamini
Image: supplied

Fashion designer Mpumelelo Dhlamini’s viral food platform Umpheko is a finger-licking story of a family that honours the memory of his late father.   

The 32-year-old from Naturena, south of Johannesburg, leaned on his cooking as therapy to navigate grief after losing his father Chris in 2021. In honour of Father’s Day at the weekend, Ezokhetho cooked up a storm for SMag in memory of his father and shared the love on a plate with other dads. (Read about the first part here)

“Food carries memories in that when you taste a meal, it takes you back to a certain point and a memory,” he says. “The food I cook reminds me of him. There are certain foods he loved, such as home-cooked beef stew, steamed dumplings (dombolo)... mainly the traditional food." 

Dhlamini’s love for cooking blossomed from a modest creative outlet from the sewing of the threads of his idiosyncratic fashion brand Ezokhetho in SA’s bustling fashion scene. “Being a fashion designer has become my job. Cooking became therapeutic for me; a way to escape and still create and express myself. When I cook, no one is looking over me, sharing their opinion or trying to control it. Once I’m done and I present the meal to you, it’s either you take it or leave,” he says.  

Dhlamini studied fashion design at the prestigious Villioti fashion school in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, and founded his fashion label in 2021.  

Umpheko, which translates to cookery in Zulu, is Dhlamini’s social media food page of mouth-watering Eden for foodies. Endless scroll after another, melodic instrumental reels of easy-to-follow recipes and perfectly shot dishes serve as food porn inspiration for the aspiring home cook.  

Having sampled the food, I can attest that the dishes are equally delicious as they are photographed.   

Beginning his cooking journey from a young age in his late aunt’s kitchen with an audacious bake, Dhlamini expresses deep gratitude to his mother and aunts for the green light to explore his cooking ambitions.  

“My family is full of foodies... food is how we bond,” says Dhlamini. “I baked my first sponge cake when I was four years old with my aunt; it was tasty but had no sugar. 

“My late aunt would let me experiment in her kitchen and let me do my thing at a young age. She was always someone who would let me be free in the kitchen. From there, my mom Ntombizonke said I enjoyed cooking.

“Growing up I would cook every other day, but mostly during holidays when I had more time and could start cooking the day before. It would be something over the top such as 12 to 15 dishes on the table. Apart from those, my mom would do most of the cooking.”  

Dhlamini recalls his home cook skillset being called on for a last-minute funeral caterer.    

“Last year, my cousin cancelled the caterer for my aunt’s funeral. She called me and another cousin asking if we could step in. We cooked for nearly 1,000 people,” he says, shaking his head in amusement.  

“In my cooking, I put my twist into everything I do. I always add an element of me into it. To nail home cooking, you must cook from the heart. Then, once you taste it, it’s so good. Cooking from the heart makes it your own.” 


Wild spinach and mushroom savoury rice

Father's Day inspiration meal
Father's Day inspiration meal
Image: supplied



  • 400 g chopped spinach  
  • 250g sliced mushrooms  
  • 1 medium diced onion 
  • 1 tbs garlic and ginger paste 
  • 1 tsp sugar 
  • 2-3 tbs vinegar 
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs spice  
  • 1 tsp black pepper 
  • 1 tsp of smoked paprika spice 
  • 1 tsp onion powder  
  • ½ tsp chilli flakes  
  • 1 tbs onion soup powder 
  • 250g cooked brown rice  
  • salt to taste  


  • In a large flat saucepan, sauté medium onion. Add the garlic and ginger paste, sugar and vinegar. Let the onions caramelise.  
  • Once caramelised, add sliced mushrooms, mixed herbs, black pepper, smoked paprika spice, onion powder, chili flakes and onion soup powder. 
  • Combine together 
  • Add chopped spinach and salt to taste 
  • Let it cook for 12-15 minutes. 
  • Add cooked brown rice  
  • Cook for a further 5-10 minutes before serving  

Head to for more recipes from Dhlamini.

Braised beef stew with seasonal roast vegetables, spicy-mayonnaise-marinated chicken bake with plain yoghurt and cherry tomatoes served with dombolo [steamed dumplings], spinach and mushroom wild rice.
Braised beef stew with seasonal roast vegetables, spicy-mayonnaise-marinated chicken bake with plain yoghurt and cherry tomatoes served with dombolo [steamed dumplings], spinach and mushroom wild rice.
Image: supplied

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