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Catching up with sensational South African chef Zanele van Zyl

Zanele van Zyl shares her passion for food, plans for the new year and signature dish

By Amy Saunders | January 22, 2022 | Recipes

Powered by passion and ambition, Zanele van Zyl has become a household name since launching her brand, Cooking with Zanele, and publishing two cookbooks, the second of which recently won the Cookbook of the Year award at the Luxe Restaurant Awards. Below we chat to her about her passion for food, food trends for 2022 and she shares her signature Egg Benedict recipe with us.

What made you decide to become a chef?

My husband inspired me. When we started dating, he used to cook for me, very well I might add. I then saw a challenge and told myself that I have to up my game in the kitchen. I enrolled in culinary school and the rest is history.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your craft?

I always challenge myself to do better, to find new ways of doing things as well as constantly improve my craft. I always look back at what I have created, to grow and better my brand. I am my biggest critic and therefore encourage myself to improve and do better.

Considering food trends for 2022, what will South African’s be eating in 2022?

From where I am sitting, I see that food is not just food anymore, but a lifestyle. People always find ways to twist it so that it's more appealing on their palate. I advise people to start with what they have in the fridge or pantry, as well as use their leftovers to create something scrumptious and beautiful looking. We eat with our eyes after all.

What is your signature dish? Can you share the recipe and an image with us? (if it’s not a secret)

My signature dish is Eggs Benedict…mind you, I don’t limit it to just breakfast. I love the Hollandaise sauce as it is versatile, it can be served with seafood and white meat, such as chicken and pork, you can also serve the sauce with veggies.

What inspired your second book Cooking with Zanele Volume 2: Find joy in cooking?

I made a promise to myself that every two years I will publish a Cookbook. Food is my love language and I get excited at the possibility of every kitchen in South Africa having my cookbook. This is an extension of my love.

What is your favourite food destination?

I would love to go to France and sharpen my French culinary cuisine skills. That’s definitely on my wish list to go and do a short course, hopefully, this year, if not definitely next year.

What are your favourite foods and who is your favourite cook?

I love Jamie Olivier, I like his creativity. He creates simple dishes for delicious and flavourful meals. My favourite foods – anything with heat! I just love spicy food.

Picture: Zanele van Zyl, Supplied

If you were not a chef what would you be doing for a living?

I would be doing fashion and home interior design. I enjoy working with bright colours and experimenting with how well they work together.

What accomplishment are you most proud of? Be it professional or personal

My self published books doing very well and becoming best sellers. My second cookbook won the Cookbook of the Year award at the Luxe Restaurant Awards in 2021.

What can we expect to see from Zanele van Zyl in 2022?

Sharpening my food styling and food photography skills. I love making good looking food, so this year is the perfect time to improve on that skill.

Zanele van Zyl’s Egg Benedict

You will need:

One saucepan, one small pot, a steam proof bowl, whisk, paper towel, egg lifter and a wooden spoon.

Ingredients

  • 500ml water
  • 200ml white vinegar
  • 4 eggs
  • 125ml melted butter
  • 5 ml cayenne pepper
  • 8 bacon steaks(grilled)/ smoked salmon
  • 250g rocket leaves
  • 2 English muffins
  • Salt and pepper

Method

Bring water to boil.

In a deep saucepan, add about 125ml of vinegar, leave some for the hollandaise sauce. Break two eggs into the boiling water to poach the eggs. They will curl into round shapes. Cook for 2–3 minutes. Then remove with a slotted spoon. You can place the cooked eggs on paper towel to drain the water.

Hollandaise Sauce

In a double boiler let the water simmer and place the steam proved bowl. Put the egg yolk in a bowl, mix using a whisk. When the consistency starts changing, add melted butter and vinegar, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Cut the English muffin into two.

Place the rocket leaves, grilled bacon/ smoked salmon, place the poached egg on the English muffin, then pour over the hollandaise sauce.