In Conversation with: Chef Dananai
Dananai Chipunza is a French and Italian trained graduate in the culinary arts field. She is passionate about her career and probably a foodie by birth. In her free time she enjoys travelling and reading books with the normal tv series binging being one of her favourite things to do. Dananai was raised by a single mother a banker and has one sibling her older sister Ruvimbo who is a medicine student at Wits University in South Africa.
When did you know that you wanted to be a chef, how did your parents take that?
I was around 16 when I started developing a liking toward the culinary field. This was because of my then obsession with food shows on DSTV. My mother initially wanted me to study law, but gave into my passion and encouraged me to at least go to school and learn more about it.
What would say makes your cooking unique?
I am fortunate to have travelled to quite a few countries and have had the privilege to experience their culture and cuisine. Merging that with my knowledge of African cuisine and herbs and spices enables me to create remarkable dishes in the kitchen that each tell a story of the places I have been including homes I have had the privilege to eat in as well.
Where did you receive your culinary training?
I have a grand diploma in culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu Paris where I graduated in 2015.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
I was fortunate enough to share the kitchen last year with visiting Chefs from Alma Culinary School which is the biggest culinary school in Italy during the Italian Culinary week. The delegation included Chef Stefano Santo who is a world-renowned Chef and is also a lecturer at Alma.
Of the awards you have won in your culinary career so far, which one meant the most?
In 2016 I received award for Most Spirited Young Entrepreneur from the African Woman Awards. Being nominated among amazing African women who work tirelessly to bring their ideas and business to life was a huge accomplishment in its own. Winning the award, however just reassured me that I am doing ok and like all things it takes time to grow.
What do you hope people take away from eating your food?
I create bespoke menus for my clients for the sole purpose of creating a culinary experience for them. Like the Shona saying goes “hukama igasva hunozadzikiswa nekudya”, my biggest wish is that while dining my clients come together not only for good food but for a good time and with new friends.
What inspires your cooking and how do you know when what you have made has “that thing”?
Practice makes perfect. I have the perfect guinea pig in my partner. I try most out most of the meals I then put on menus at home. If they are a hit there I know they will be hit for my clients.
Of all the dishes you have ever made do you have a favourite?
I have many favourites lol and to be honest I cannot choose one. My favourites differ the moment I create a new dish.
Is there any food you find hard to cook or prefer not to cook?
Not really, I am not a fan of kidney, but I make the most amazing steak and kidney casserole.
How do you sort out your work/life balance?
At this point work is my life. It is where my bread is battered, and it is also a new company that requires my full attention at any hour of the day. As we grow and have more people come on board I am sure it will get easier eventually.
What is your process when creating a menu?
I create menus according to my client’s budget and their preferences when it comes to certain foods. I give my clients options to choose from until we find the menu that makes them happy.
When preparing to cater for an event what are the most essential things you consider?
A great team, The freshest and best quality ingredients as well as the availability of clean water, gas and electricity.
Who are your favourite chefs and why them?
I have the greatest respect for Chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver. Simply because they took a chance with their passion and have managed to break beyond their borders to influence Professional Chefs and Upcoming ones all over the world. The lesson I constantly learn from them is to not give up on your potential.
What is your goal for the year?
This year I want to focus on growing and dominating the market locally to enable myself to think beyond Zimbabwe and taking Zimbabwean Cuisine to the world.
What is the one thing you can’t live without?
My phone (lol)
Given the chance who in the world would you want to cook for and what would you make for them?
Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey. I cannot decide on one because clearly cooking for one of them opens opportunities for you to cook for the other.
I would prepare a fusion of different African dishes prepared and plated in an international standard manner.
What advice would you give to chefs in training, what should they consider before starting their own thing?
It is important to work in the hospitality industry as an employee. This opens a whole new appreciation of what it means to be a chef and shows you for example the hard work and the hours most of us put in. It allows you to also see what it is the public wants and what kind of market is out there regarding the food industry and what you can offer.
What are you most fond of about being Zimbabwean?
Zimbabweans are always looking at what’s next. Being Zimbabwean automatically installs a sense of hard work and perseverance. No matter how down you might think you are the best thing to know is you are never OUT.
How can people get in touch with you for catering services?
Facebook: Chef Dananai