Meet the dynamic duo making waves in the food industry

Our food editor spoke to two of the winners of the recently announced Food XX Awards

29 August 2021 - 00:02
Maria van Zyl.
Maria van Zyl.
Image: Supplied

The 2020 Food XX Awards, in association with Woolworths, were launched in 2019 by Hannerie Visser of Studio H — a culinary-minded design team in Cape Town — to celebrate women in food.

After the awards were postponed due to the pandemic last year, it was decided to announce the winners in Women's Month 2021.

There were 84 nominations, which were open to the public, for 16 category winners, with the addition of best newcomer this year.

Judges included a panel of previous winners, South African chefs and food experts — Margot Janse, Jackie Cameron, Karen Dudley, Ishay Govender and Anna Trapido. 

We speak to two of this year's winners:

MARIA VAN ZYL OF CREAM OF THE CROP

'SECRET INGREDIENT' CATEGORY WINNER

My food journey began on our farm in Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch. We no longer have the farm, but I spent most of my childhood there. My mom is an excellent farmer, she grew bio-dynamic vegetables that were sold to local shops, restaurants and markets. We had two cows, Meg and Meadowsweet, and my mom made the best Greek-style yoghurt, labneh and soft cheeses. We had olive trees that we cold pressed as well as grape vines — my dad made a lovely syrah.

My business is about making cultured butter in the way butter used to be made on farms — by allowing milk to sit out at room temperature overnight. The cream would naturally rise to the surface and be scooped off gently the next day for butter making. This cream would naturally develop a slight tang and cultured flavour, just like what we know today as crème fraîche.

Today cultured butter is made by adding a culture to sweet cream, allowing it to culture/ferment and then begin the churning process. Through the fermentation the lactose is converted into lactic acid, adding beneficial bacteria and microorganisms into the cream, protecting it from any unwanted spoilage bacteria.

As cultured butter has a high acidity, the shelf life is much longer compared to sweet cream butter. The butter has more flavour, added probiotics and a delicious tangy taste.

I don't have my own cows yet, that is my goal as I would like to be in control of everything my cows eat and how they are treated in their life cycle. I source my cream from two herds of jersey cows, in Robertson and George, that produce dairy in a sustainable way.

I work from a factory space in Muizenberg, where I culture the fresh cream and allow it to ferment for up to three days. In our production, myself and Atusa Chamuti begin the churning process and are able to churn 5l at a time in our machine. The butter is then salted, packaged and refrigerated. We now make double-thick yoghurt as well.

I have developed a subscription system, Committed Value Chain, for selling my products. Members subscribe for 12 deliveries in advance for milk, butter and yoghurt, which they receive weekly delivered to their door. We package our products in glass bottles which are collected, washed and sterilised for the following week.

The best way to enjoy our cultured butter is on a piece of freshly baked sourdough bread. I always say to spread your butter to bread on a 1:1 ratio. I recommend removing butter from the fridge before eating it as when it is super cold it cannot be enjoyed for all it has to offer. Once it comes to room temp at between 18°C and 20°C it can be spread easily.

BATHANDWA NKAMBULE OF 'THE EARTHY COOK'

'FRESH VOICES' CATEGORY WINNER

Bathandwa Nkambule
Bathandwa Nkambule
Image: Supplied

Winning this category means the judges have discovered something different in my voice on food that is true to who I am. My blog The Earthy Cook is not perfect, yet I strive to share my story about how veganism goes beyond food.

I owe the inspiration of The Earthy Cook to my sister Nomfundo Umetor. When I became a vegan I was completely lost and my sister and I would brainstorm dishes together, which I'd post on social media until she pushed me to create my blog. I soon realised that a lot of people had an interest in going meat free for a day or more and were looking for inspiration.

Covid has interrupted so many of our plans but the most painful is the community work I do with the organisation Sisterhood Of Power that I run where we create programmes, awareness campaigns and hold safe spaces for young girls. I believe that with whatever privilege I have, I can use it to make somebody else's life better and one way is by creating sustainable ways for women in rural areas to grow vegetable gardens to provide a source of income, making them less reliant on their partners.

I have never been much of a baker and during lockdown I had time to learn how to bake more than just bread. I had the time to create meringues, pineapple and macadamia cakes, chocolate tarts and more. It has given me a deeper interest in finding vegan substitutes for ingredients like eggs and buttermilk and how to use fruit and other elements as replacements in baking.

Three dishes that best describe me are: uJeqe nobhontshisi (steamed bread and bean stew) — it is such a comfort dish that reminds me of home and my family. Upside-down citrus cake — I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so this cake offers bitterness, acidity and texture to balance the sweetness. Salads — I absolutely love fresh and raw salads filled with rocket, avocado and cherry tomatoes.

If I could give a young person advice for starting out in the food world it would be for them to find their own voice. We all have a different relationship with food and when there is meaning, there is so much more beauty in it. Do not be afraid to ask for advice either. I thought this was a dog-eat-dog industry but it is filled with so many people who genuinely want to see others succeed.


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