JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Black South African culinary writer Dorah Sitole’s latest cookbook was widely hailed in December as a moving chronicle of her journey from humble township cook to famous and well-traveled author .
The country’s new black celebrity chefs lined up to congratulate her as a mentor who encouraged them to succeed by highlighting what they knew best: tasty African cuisine.
Now they are mourning Sitole’s death this month from COVID-19. She was 65.
In “40 Years of Iconic Food,” Sitole engagingly described how she quietly fought South Africa’s racist apartheid system to find an appreciation and a market for African cuisine. His book became a holiday bestseller, bought by blacks and whites alike.
Sitole’s career began in 1980 during the height of apartheid when she was hired by a canning company to promote sales of their products by giving 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 appointed food editor for True Love, one of the few majority-black publications in the country.
The magazine and its competitor Drum were known to give black writers, photographers and publishers the freedom to write about the condition and experience of black people.
With stories that were about much more than food, Sitole described how traditional African dishes delighted families and communities in these troubled times. She was known for her distinctive ideas on well-known recipes and tips on how to prepare them on a budget. She gained an avid readership and became a household name even as the townships of South Africa were troubled by anti-apartheid violence.
When apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, Sitole found new opportunities. She trained as a Cordon Bleu chef and obtained a diploma in marketing. She traveled across Africa to learn more about the continent’s cuisine, producing the book “Cooking from Cape to Cairo”.
In 2008, Sitole’s success was recognized when she was appointed Editor-in-Chief of True Love.
The warmth and generosity of Sitole is credited with opening doors for many black chefs, food writers and influencers who thrive in South Africa today.
“Mam (mother) Dorah’s approach to food was a mixture of things. First of all it was something that was driven by her journey, she was very loyal to who she was, ”said Siba Mtongana, one of South Africa’s brightest new chefs, who started as a culinary editor for Drum magazine and now has a TV series and cookbooks.
“She would take what we grew up eating and add a twist to it, and add flavors to it that we wouldn’t ordinarily have thought of putting together,” said Mtongana, who opened a restaurant in Cape Town, offering dishes from all over Africa.
She said Sitole had imbued her with a passion for exposing the world to the many African cuisines, saying she loved to describe to her readers what others love to eat in Africa and around the world.
Another chef who credits Sitole with helping out is Khanya Mzongwana, editor-in-chief of Taste magazine from food retailer Woolworths.
“Mam Dorah wore so many hats – she was a writer, a designer, a mother, a friend, a real artist. I remember how awesome it was to see a black woman blazing the beaten path in the food media. No one was doing that, ”Mzongwana said.
“What made Mam Dorah the best was without a doubt the way she could fill a space with pleasure,” said Mzongwana.
“She was so generous with her resources and wanted to see all of us – her daughters – win. I saw it in a meaningful way, Mam Dorah …
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