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Johannesburg's afrocentric chef opens restaurant to honour his heritage

Johannesburg's afrocentric chef opens restaurant to honour his heritage

South Africa

Sizo Henna is one of South Africa’s top chefs – well known for discovering and celebrating African dishes on his cooking show, ‘Rustic Chakula’.

This year, Henna took the plunge avoided by many young chefs and opened his own restaurant, Blaque Wine and Grillhouse, in Johannesburg.

The eatery offers an exclusive pairing of South African wines and African cuisine with a spins on international dishes.

I was not that kid that loved burger or fishfingers, I actually loved soups, different broths, curries

During his famous “One Night with Sizo” dinner, Henna told Reuters that his love for food can be traced back to his childhood, when his family would travel to different parts of the country, enjoying indigenous cuisines made by locals.

“From the age of 9-years-old, I didn’t know what was a palate but my palate grew and understanding different flavours and textures, hotel food from restaurant food, felt like I could tell a difference. So, I was not that kid that loved burger or fishfingers, I actually loved soups, different broths, curries,” he said.

“What I made now, is the lamb cutlets, beautiful lamb cutlets, French trimmed underneath we did a nice casserole which is potato, butternut, cream and then just to make the plate pretty, we put the baby fennels, which went beautiful with it,” he boasted.

The 5-month-old restaurant has already won positive reviews and guests are flocking in to enjoy his signature flame-grilled meats.

Henna studied at London’s prestigious Walthamstow Forest College. After graduating, he travelled around the world, learning about different cultures and cuisines.

His ideas come from worlds as far apart as a pan fried foie-gras from France, and creamy Umngqusho – a mix of dried kennels, sugar beans and potatoes from his home town.

But one thing is constant, his obsession of pairing local wines with local dishes.

“Being a chef and obviously we work very well with wines and I’m human – I love wines, I love good wine. I then decided now it’s time to open my own little baby which is called ‘Blaque Wine and Grillhouse. We’re taking South African dishes with South African wines – we pair that together,” he says.

Henna’s TV cooking show, Rustic Chakula airs on South Africa’s national broadcaster SABC3.

On the show, he explores a contemporary lifestyle while trying to demonstrate how simplicity is always best.

But moving from screen to the restaurant business was not easy.

Like most entrepreneurs, he struggled to find funding and says he is finding his way.

“Of course, I have spent 16 years of my life in the kitchen so now when you are having to run the business, looking at the stock, the cost, HR and everything, it becomes a big thing you know? So… but I am learning every day. Those are the biggest challenges,” he said.

Henna has received massive support from black South Africans, who say they are consuming more than just food. There are not many black-owned fine-dining establishments in South Africa.

Eating here, they say, is part of an emergent lifestyle where tradition can be honoured in a fine dining setting.

“Being here with my friends, my friends that I wanted to be with and to be in Sizo’s restaurant – I love Sizo, I love all he’s doing and I actually want to celebrate all my happy moments and I hope many other black people do because he’s doing something amazing,” said Dashi Sabina.

“I enjoyed the fact we are celebrating a dear friend’s milestone birthday in a black-owned establishment that’s successful and just having a good time and great food, great wine, great company,” said Shiela Otieno-Osanya.

Sometimes referred to as Joburg’s afrocentric chef, Henna considers himself a humble trendsetter who has stayed grounded from his days waiting tables, to cooking for South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

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