We catch up with acclaimed chef Zanele van Zyl, who takes us through preparing her own twist on 7 Colours and gives insight into her illustrious career in food.

Zanele van Zyl needs no introduction in the South African culinary world, having risen from an impoverished background to become a household name; having written both cookbooks and hosted cooking classes across the country. It was Zanele’s mother who motivated her love of food, where the then-aspiring chef would grow up watching her mom make a 7 Colours luncheon.

Named for the assortment of colours it presents when served, 7 Colours is a traditional South African meal that would include rice, chicken or beef, and sides such pumpkin, sweet potatoes, beetroot, cabbage, beans salad, potato salad, or coleslaw.

For Zanele, 7 Colours is a dish that’s close to her family, both past and present – Zanele remarks that “I’m a very colourful girl, and 7 Colours has got all the colours you can think of – the textures, the taste, it’s balanced – and it reminds me of my childhood. We’d open our eyes and it was there – on Sundays or Christmas!”

Growing up in the village of Bergville in Kwa Zulu Natal, Zanele works the job of her dreams – but this wasn’t always the case. With a background in IT, Zanele discovered her passion and talent in culinary arts only after meeting her husband – another talented chef.

Zanele has, over time, built a community of foodies, connected with aspirant chefs through her cooking classes, promoted her social media presence, and even self-published her own cookbook – but that’s just the beginning for this chef extraordinaire. “I’d also like to have my own studio where I’ll give cooking classes, and of course I’d like to have my own television show in a few years time!”, says Zanele.

For Zanele, food brings together both family and friends. “Having a mom as a chef is nice – I eat nice food all the time!’ says her daughter, Thando Hadebe. “Family dinners at home are always interesting.”

“Zanele’s cooking is brilliant – I love the fact that she incorporates the African food and makes it look so beautiful. 7 Colours is a Sunday lunch that reminds me of home, because it has a little bit of everything”, adds friend Samkelwa Satosa.

Dishes such as 7 Colours give Zanele the opportunity to do what she does best – to take her own spin on a classic meal. “Developing a recipe is very tricky”, says Zanele. “At culinary school, they taught us how to pair this with that – but it must always be here [in your mind]. You must always work around it, twist it, to see…. “You don’t have to be a chef to cook this meal – it’s something that will never go out of fashion!”

Reflecting on her illustrious career, Zanele smiles warmly. “I always tell people that are inspired to become a chef that they’ll never run out of work because, hey – people always eat!”

"I always tell people that are inspired to become a chef that they’ll never run out of work because, hey - people always eat!"

With a career and personality that’s as colourful as the meals she makes, the sky is the limit for Zanele – and she has no plans to stop anytime soon and aims to release her second cookbook in October this year.

Get Zanele’s special dumplings and roast chicken recipe! Click here