Zolitha Magengelele on turning her passion for food into The Cook’s Table

Zolitha Magengelele, has always loved cooking and hosting, so it was only natural that she’d turn her passion into a thriving business.

Magengelele is a woman of many talents. She runs Peekin’ In, a small, but successful children’s clothing line and her latest venture, The Cook’s Table – a combination of art, lifestyle and food – is winning her hordes of fans.

She’d always loved cooking and frequently prepared meals for others, but never thought she could make a business out of it. “I was bored and unfulfilled in my job. Then a friend suggested that I start charging people for catering and hosting meals,” she says.

Determined not to become a run-of-the-mill caterer, Magengelele decided to do something different. “In 2013 I came up with the concept of creating food experiences in deconstructed spaces, so I found an attic in Maboneng, Johannesburg, and hosted my first Cook’s Table event. I was very nervous, as I don’t have any formal food training. However, cooking is my passion. I really put myself on each plate I prepare and add my own spin to conventional dishes. The event was a rousing success and the initiative’s since led to other opportunities in the food industry,” she recalls.

What: The Cook’s Table

Start-up capital: R6 000

Average annual turnover: R840 000

Magengelele creates cuisine based on different themes and charges guests R400 for the experience. She also uses artworks to enhance the ambience of the events.

READ MORE: Chef Sullaphen serves up a culinary odyssey at the Radisson Blu Anchorage

“It was tough at first, as I had to hire everything from tables and crockery to extra staff and find money for the ingredients. My income can be unreliable, as I’m entirely self-funded. I don’t have any permanent staff and often jobs get cancelled at the last minute when I’ve already booked people to work with me. Another big problem is guests not paying me on the day of the event or not booking in advance, despite my need for definite numbers. I’ve since found a way around this by always over-catering slightly in case of last-minute attendees.”

Magengelele’s pop-up dinners only take place once a month, so she’s expanded her offerings to catering for dinner parties or events. “I try to stick to my signature style on these occasions, as I don’t want to be just another caterer. Luckily, it’s all coming together and I’ve got a lot of exciting projects coming up,” she says.

Her personal taste, she says, is for good, old-fashioned staples. “I love simple dishes. I don’t like using more than five ingredients for any dish and I believe in making everything from scratch. One of my favourite treats is a humble peanut butter and jam sandwich, but I make everything from the bread to the spreads. For me, it’s about finding new ways to experience the ordinary.”

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