Five Women Changing Up Local Food Culture

With the aim to put more South African women chefs and culinary stars on the map, Food XX is making feminist waves in local kitchens.
FOOD XX, a platform and movement created by the all-women culinary collective, Studio H, is introducing feminism to a place that’s long been overlooked: South Africa’s kitchens.
Written by Lesley Marchant

Earlier this year, Hannerie Visser and her team of creative culinary experience designers at Studio H partnered with Eat Out to host the inaugural FOOD XX symposium and awards ceremony.

‘We created FOOD XX as a safe space to build a network for local women in food,’ says Visser, who’s seen first-hand how predominantly male the South African food and drinks industry is. ‘If we can facilitate healthy conversations about women’s experiences in the culinary world, they can share not only their challenges, but their successes.’

From front of house to farming, the FOOD XX awards categories are as diverse as the winners themselves, recognising women who are killing it in their careers, and enriching their communities while doing it.

Here’s what five FOOD XX award winners have to say about their glass-ceiling-shattering experiences in the South African food industry.

The Baker

Nikki Albertyn, founder of LionHeart P√Ętisserie Studio 

I’m a trained graphic designer, and, while working for an online food magazine, I started to dabble in food styling and photography, eventually playing with recipe development. I loved it! When a career change took me out of the food space, I desperately wanted to get back in. 

In 2015, I enrolled in a part-time p√Ętisserie course, dedicating one day a week to learning the ins and outs of pastry and documenting my creations on Instagram. Soon, people following my journey were asking me to bake things for them. By the end of 2015 I had a mini-business on my hands.

As a woman who successfully started her own food business without any prior experience in the industry, I was very fortunate; but I know how important it is to raise awareness around gender inequality in our kitchens. Starting conversations, as FOOD XX has done, can have a major impact on changing behaviour in the workplace and making women feel safe and seen. 

The Farmer

Mokgadi Mabela, beekeeper and founder of Native Nosi

There aren’t many beekeepers like me – that can be a bad thing, but mostly I see it as an advantage. Even though it’s hard work, I’m able to pioneer my own way, navigating with a map I’ve drawn myself, and learning as I go.

My family is the reason I got into the bee business. My father was a beekeeper, and, for a long time, I sold his honey. Soon he couldn’t keep up with the demand. That’s when he suggested I get my own beehive and produce honey myself. One beehive grew to 360, and became Native Nosi.

Native Nosi is still a family business, so my job is by no means a nine-to-five. I’m involved in every aspect, from beekeeping to branding, and no two days are the same. Because there aren’t many young black women in my industry, the amount of support and enthusiasm I’ve gotten is incredible.

The most beautiful aspect of beekeeping is that anyone can do it. By nature, it’s especially suited to rural communities – many of which are disadvantaged and stand to benefit the most. All you need to start (and succeed) is a smartphone and some dedication.

The Craft Distiller

Lucy Beard, co-founder and distiller at Hope Distillery

My husband and I were both lawyers working in London when we started to notice the gin revolution happening. We took a year’s sabbatical, travelling the south of Europe, and gin was everywhere. During that year we decided we wanted to move back to South Africa. Determined not to return to our corporate jobs, we wondered what we could do. It was in a campsite in Spain that we turned to each other and asked whether we could make gin. The rest is history!

As a woman, my career in the alcohol industry has been remarkably smooth. I think the world of craft distilling is very different to the mainstream alcohol world, where damaging stereotypes are prevalent, and women are often just cast as promo girls. In fact, the South African craft drinks industry is surprisingly female.

My husband and I are loving running our own business. There have been real ups and downs, but it’s incredibly rewarding seeing our bottles on someone’s shelf, knowing all the hard work that went into getting it there.

The Writer

Ishay Govender-Ypma, food and travel journalist, and author of Curry: Stories & Recipes across South Africa

I’ve always loved research and trying to piece together aspects of the puzzle related to food heritage and how our communities function. I often say food is merely a window into the bigger picture – however jarring or uncomfortable it may be.

We are yet to have our own #MeToo moment in South Africa, mostly because of the insular nature of the food industry and how much there is to lose by speaking out. Even now, known misogynists are running top establishments. We need to have regular open conversations in all kitchens, calling out behaviour that borders on bullying and harassment.

Worldwide, the food industry in general is white-dominated. But, what’s exciting in South Africa is that there’s plenty proof of a black market ready to buy the works of black authors, from Mogau Seshoene of The Lazy Makoti to self-published chef Zanele van Zyl.

In my experience profiling many women in power over the years – from chefs with 3-Michelin stars like Dominique Crenn and Anne-Sophie Pic, to game-changers like Selassie Atadika, a pioneer in New African Cuisine – one shared trait for success is clear: unwavering passion.

The Forager

Roushanna Gray, founder of Veld and Sea

There were many inspirations for the conception of Veld and Sea. I always wanted to share my passion for everything that I was learning and experiencing around me in the edible landscape. 

The first ‘aha’ spark was seeing the way my kids interacted with food ingredients after they’d foraged, harvested, and helped prepare a meal themselves. They were more likely to eat these new ingredients because of the connection and pride that resulted from this experience. 

This seed of inspiration grew into a multi-sensory workshop offering, where participants are actively involved in collecting and incorporating wild flavours into food with a familiar context, infusing a personal story into the meals. Now, my business is an extension of my lifestyle, and I love to share it with other people.

I’m not in a ‘normal’ kitchen environment, so my mentors and peers in my field are all incredibly strong women. The mainstream food industry needs to start fostering support networks, and cultivating community instead of competition. If this can happen, I have no doubt my overwhelmingly positive experience as a woman in the food industry will become the norm.

The inaugural FOOD XX conference and awards ceremony was held on 12 February at the V&A Waterfront.

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  1. Absolutely awesome! Congrats to all of you and your journey and how that will impact generations now and in future.

  2. I fully agree with every single viewpoint discussed here. It is very useful to read this story in order to understand certain details.