Kings Cuisine celebrates heritage with nouvelle isiZulu style
Durban chef blends tradition, King Shaka’s palate and childhood memories with his inspired hi-end menu featuring isigwaca (quail), umgxabhiso (tripe), imbuzi (goat), straight-out-the-water Cape salmon, amasi ice cream and more.
By Wanda Hennig
“True story this… When we bought a goat and took it home because my father deemed it necessary to slaughter it for the ancestors, that goat ate my mum’s spinach and she was not happy. She made this clear to the whole family. Hence I decided to stuff the goat leg with braised spinach to captured ‘my mum’s spinach inside the goat’.”
Durban’s “secret chef”, in creating his first heritage celebration dinner, tells this amusing (to all but his mom) story to guests before he serves the “Imbuzi ate my spinach” option on the menu. The rolled goat leg, tender and juicy, is stuffed with leafy greens and served with mini herb dumplings (very traditional: flour and water-based) and young spring vegetables.
“When we prepare feasts for Zulu rituals, goat is used as a sacrifice and it is always prepared with dumplings. I added young colorful vegetables since it was the first day of spring.”
“I don’t want our heritage food to disappear,” he says. The chef, who caters for functions and does pop-up dinners under his Kings Cuisine brand, is one of South Africa’s most inspired—and inspiring—activists for a “local” isiZulu-inspired cuisine using fresh and local ingredients and a creative nouvelle approach to appeal to foodies across the spectrum including visitors to South Africa keen to taste inspired traditional flavors and adaptations.
“I am inspired by memories of my grandmother’s kitchen,” he says. “What I do with these taste and food memories is inspired by my three years in London.”
On the one hand #secretchefdbn sees young people losing their traditions. It hurts him. He wants to know the cuisine of the ancestors will not be lost.
He sees young—and older—people eating fast-food and spurning the old ways: for example, goat that boiled and boiled till it is tasteless so that many people now see goat meat as something to avoid. This, when he knows goat can take its place on fine-dining and taste-forward menus.
Then, he meets visitors to South Africa who want to eat traditional food. But they expect—and should—be getting heritage options presented in palatable, delicious ways.
And there has to be more than shisanyama!
Traditional not authentic
“What I am doing is making food that is traditional but not authentic,” he tells guests at his first Heritage Celebration dinner, held in heritage month in South Africa: September. We are in a private dining room at Havana Grill.
His menu starts with “Zulu-inspired canapés”—for which he has prepared a chakalaka mayo served over juicy delicate fishcakes, served on spoons; crispy flavorful sweet-potato fries or chips (uBhatata); and delicate melt-in-the-mouth madumbi (yam) balls with crème fraîche spooned into hollows, then topped with slivers of biltong.
What follows is a dish he has, with a dash of humor, called “King Shaka’s Skepticism”.
King Shaka, he tells his guests, was skeptical about eating fish, which he felt resembled the snake, although perhaps it was an eel he had seen.
So we will have pan roasted Cape salmon “that came out the water yesterday” served with a side of isigwamba (pap mixed with imfino, a wild spinach: subtle but flavorful and something I would like to eat regularly) and a piquant side of “my mum’s semi-dried tomato”. (His mom would put tomatoes on the window ledge to ripen and then she would let the sun dry them. Hence this dish.)
This is accompanied by (on a separate dish) lamb tripe (umgxabhiso) beautifully prepared, simple and flavorful. We have the option of spooning it onto our fish plate. The tripe, he explains, adheres to the “no waste” philosophy. “Indigenous people, including Zulu people, eat nose-to-tail and and this is show-cased with the tripe.”
Imbuzi ate my spinach
Next is the “Shepherd’s Meal”—so called because once-upon-a-time a young man might shoot an isigwaca (quail) in the forest (which he might cook crusted with amantongomane, which involves peanuts), and come upon amakhowa (a large naturally growing forest mushroom, usually foraged) when picking up his quail.
We have these with pumpkin puree, which Chef has uses to create a forest pattern, sprinkled with crispy sage leaves and served with amajikijolo (wild berry) jus. Delectable, individually and in combination.
The option to the “imbuzi ate my spinach” dish is “Inkomo idla utshani” (cow eats grass). Not surprisingly, grass-fed beef fillet, young spring vegetables, crispy isijingi and natural jus. “Grass-fed beef is the ‘new-age’ thing because nutritionists are now aware of health benefits on natural grass feed animals then the ones that are fed grains (and heaven knows what else). However, this has been the only practice for Zulus: to let their animals wander and graze naturally. So with this dish I am hinting at this.”
The perfectly medium fillet is served with crispy isijingi (pap and pumpkin blended), which is set, cubed, dusted in flour, and deep-fried. Crisp on the outside, melting on the inside. (I chose the goat over the beef, but pinched cubes from fellow guests and can vouch for texture and taste. Lovely.) These served with young spring veggies and the natural beef juices with a hint of red wine.
With the dessert, which Chef called “My nephew’s treat” (Valrhona chocolate tart, amantongomane—peanut—praline and amasi ice cream), it is important to note, he says: “that Zulus don’t really have desserts. So I had to dig deep for inspiration. It came in a form of amasi (fermented milk) as it is common practice that when you visit your uncles from your mum’s side, amasi (with uphuthu) get served to you as a treat. This inspired the amasi ice cream.
“I also remembered that when I was growing up, my uncles used to spoil me and my siblings rotten with treats when they get paid. Fortunately for me it was every Friday. They would then buy things like amantongomane (peanuts), hence the praline, and chocolates, which is represented by the chocolate tart. Beautiful childhood memories, I tell you.”
#secretchefdbn’s previous pop-up dinner was Christmas in July at Moto Cafe in Umhlanga.
Add to this delicious menus of a heritage dinner to remember.
The meal was accompanied by Imvula wines.
Follow Chef on Instagram at @secretchefdbn on @secretchefdbn on Twitter or email email@example.com.