JOHANNESBURG (AP) – The latest cookbook by pioneering black food author Dorah Sitole in South Africa was hailed in December as the moving chronicle of her journey from a humble township cook to a famous, well-traveled author.
The country’s new star black chefs praised her as a mentor who encouraged her to succeed by highlighting what she knew best: delicious African food.
Now they mourn Sitole’s death from COVID-19 this month. She was 65 years old.
In “40 Years of Iconic Food” Sitole described with commitment how she fought quietly against the racist apartheid system in South Africa in order to find appreciation and a market for African cuisine. Her book became a holiday bestseller, bought by blacks and whites alike.
Sitole’s career began in 1980 at the height of apartheid when she was hired by a canning company to promote the sale of their products through cooking classes in black townships. She found that she loved the job.
In 1987, Sitole became the country’s first black food writer when she was named food editor for True Love, one of the few publications for the country’s black majority.
The magazine and its competitor Drum were known for giving black writers, photographers, and editors the freedom to write about the condition and experience of blacks.
With stories about much more than just food, Sitole described how traditional African dishes brought joy to families and communities in troubled times. She was known for her distinctive approaches to familiar recipes and tips on how to cook them on a budget. It gained an enthusiastic readership and became a household name despite the ravages of violence against apartheid in South Africa’s townships.
When apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, Sitole found new opportunities. She trained as a cordon bleu cook and received a diploma in marketing. She traveled through Africa to learn about the continent’s cuisine and produced the book “Cooking from the Cape to Cairo”.
In interviews, she pointed to her East African fish dish with basmati rice, which she had developed while traveling through the region, and the seafood sampler recipe, which is basically a paella that uses chopped corn instead of the traditional rice will.
In 2008, Sitole’s success was recognized when she was named editor-in-chief of True Love.
Sitole’s warmth and generosity is seen as opening the door for many black chefs, food writers and influencers who are successful in South Africa today.
“Mam (mother) Dorah’s approach to food was a mix of things. First, it was something that was driven by her background, she was very true to who she was, “said Siba Mtongana, one of South Africa’s best new chefs who started out as a food editor for Drum magazine and now has a television series and Cookbooks.
“She would take what we ate as kids and give them a twist and add flavors we normally wouldn’t have thought of,” said Mtongana, who has opened a restaurant in Cape Town with food from all over Africa.
She said Sitole filled her with a passion for exposing the world to the many cuisines of Africa and she loved describing to her readers what others across Africa and around the world like to eat.
Another chef who credits Sitole for her assistance is Khanya Mzongwana, an editor for the grocer’s Tasteworths Taste Magazine.
“Mam Dorah wore so many hats – she was a writer, creator, mother, friend, real artist. I remember how great it was to see a black woman on the food media. Nobody did that, “said Mzongwana.
“What Mam Dorah did best was definitely how to fill a room with comfort,” Mzongwana said.
“She was so generous with her resources and wanted us all – her daughters – to win. I saw Mam Dorah first how she brought it forward in a meaningful way, “she said.” She loved and respected everyone and made such a wild dream seem so attainable and normal. She was one of the most effective black women in the food world. “
Sitole has received numerous awards for her contribution to South African culture.
In one of her recent interviews, Sitole said the highlight of her four-decade career was her journey across the continent.
“I’ve always wanted to travel through Africa and I had no idea what to expect,” she said on Radio 702. “It was almost like you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into and then you found it. I loved every moment and country I went to, I loved the food and the experience. “
Sitole is survived by her children Nonhlanhla, Phumzile and Ayanda.
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