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Koketso Rakobela is a chef, but a look at her Instagram account would have you thinking she’s a foodie influencer. She has a mouth-watering sense of style, a good taste in art and comes off authentic as a plate of pap and inyama ye ntloko. But in the culinary streets, she’s christened herself with a moniker which gives more insight into who she is-The Brown Chef.

“Brown Chef came about when I realized just how much I love the colour and tone of my skin. I wanted to make it known somehow that I love being brown, and I’m a chef. So, that’s how Brown Chef came about,” Rakobela tells me.

Koketso Rakobela. Photo by Dimpho Mmotlana
Koketso Rakobela. Photo by Dimpho Mmotlana

While the Dorah Sitholes, Gordon Ramsays and Nigella Lawsons utilized traditional media to grow their brands through TV shows and print publications, today’s cooks use social media to promote their work-which gives them more authority in the curation of their content- and are seemingly more mindful about being brands.

“I’ve always been a creative person, but I think I wasn’t quite sure as to where I was headed with the creativity. I don’t want to limit myself to just being in the kitchen. I want to see myself do everything that I’m passionate about i.e. photography, modelling and a whole lot of other things which I won’t reveal just as yet,” says the ambitious chef. “If I’m not in the kitchen, I’m in front of the camera shooting pictures of myself that have a conceptual meaning of some sort to them- depending on how I’m feeling.”

KOS FOR SUNDAY: A Sunday lunch by The Brown Chef. Photo by Kokee
KOS FOR SUNDAY: A Sunday lunch by The Brown Chef. Photo by Kokee

Rakobela’s appreciation for art is palpable in her dishes and her photography. “I love colour and vibrance [sic], so yes, art does have a huge influence on my craft. Art is everywhere, and almost everything is art its own form. As much as an artist can show emotion in a song/painting, a chef can evoke the same feeling or tell a certain story on a plate. My most favourite part of cooking is plating-and that’s the best way to showcase food/cooking as an art form”

THE CHEF IN HER SEAT: Koketso being interviewed about her culinary skills. Photo by Rearabetswe Ntuli.
THE CHEF IN HER SEAT: Koketso being interviewed about her culinary skills. Photo by Rearabetswe Ntuli.

Italian cuisine holds a special place in her heart-any type of pasta with a lot of cheese go down very well with her. But her palate isn’t colonized by “sophisticated” foods. True to her rich melanin, she enjoys bogobe ka mašotša le morogo or simple beef stew with pap, morogo and some atchar on the side. Her cooking skills are varied as her taste.

TAKE ME HOME: A dish prepared by the Brown Chef. Photo by Kokee
TAKE ME HOME: A dish prepared by the Brown Chef. Photo by Kokee

“I’m an all-rounder in the kitchen! In culinary school, I studied both Food Prep [hot kitchen] and Patisserie. Both of them have different moods they give, but because I love the rush and work well under pressure, I’d say I’m a hot kitchen chef.”

After completing her studies in 2018 at Capsicum Culinary Studio, she was fortunate to bag an internship in the US. “I left my home country on pure intent of just going to cook and learn about everything that has to do with just cooking,” she says. While there she lived in Boston and then later went to Phoenix. “But, it turned somewhat into a personal adventure. I got to meet kind people; got to learn and experience other cultures; and I somehow got to ‘find myself.'”

HER SERVING: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Photo by Kokee
HER SERVING: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication here. Photo by Kokee

As beautiful as it’s been to see people cooking up a storm in their homes during the lockdown, it hasn’t been so nice for actual chefs who do this for a living. Like most industries, the culinary space has also been dealt a hard blow. “It’s a tough and competitive industry in itself, so to see businesses close due to the lockdown is just putting more strain on the industry. Taking into consideration, also, the fact that South Africa is still growing in the culinary industry, the lockdown has just suppressed the growth,” says Rakobela.

Bleak as these times are, The Brown Chef still has dreams of owning a boutique hotel someday. “Being able to groom and teach young and upcoming chefs the principles and lessons that I would have learned in my years of being in the industry, in my own kitchen, would be the pinnacle of my career.”

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In the same way a great image paired with an equally potent caption does for an article, so should an artist’s live performance do for an album. It makes it more endearing and grips the audience with a deep sense of engagement. Both artist and listener have been deprived of this exchange for the most part of the year due to the pandemic, settling for the seemingly arduous virtual concerts.

Zoë Modiga’s sophomore album Inganekwane is a body of work that has left many music lovers craving to experience it live since it was released four months ago.  “I miss people buth’wami, there’s nothing like it,” says Zoë.  “I consider myself to be an empath, I really enjoy to feel people’s energy and having that fuel me, where I’m not fuelling myself because virtual performances feel like I’m fuelling myself but the audience doesn’t understand how much of an importance they actually have in creating the world,” she says.

With only a handful of us at Constitution Hill against the women’s prison, mostly made up of the crew capturing performances which are being streamed to thousands, Zoë gave a consistent performance that should’ve been experienced live by many warm bodies at the Blooming Sounds in Joburg. My eyes closed, taking in the music, the sound of her voice is as pure live as it is on record.

“With the virtual space we’re in right now, I suppose me trying to be consistent is the understanding that I know it’s an awkward place for everyone to be in, I know we all like to doll up when we go watch our favourite musicians so I think that consistency is not taking that for granted ukuthi people are gonna be in PJs, they probably don’t want to watch a show in PJs, but they’re gonna tune in anyway and that means something to me. I suppose another thing, it is the music [and] it is the passion but also the product and I feel like if you want to exist in spaces where people respect the brand as well, you need to be able to do it professionally, regardless of the circumstances that you find yourself in,” Zoë tells me after her performance.

Zoe Modiga performing at Constitution Hill, with Banda Banda behind her. Photo by Sip The Snapper
CONNECTING WITH HER PEOPLE: Zoë Modiga performing at Constitution Hill, with Banda Banda behind her. Photo by Sip The Snapper

As Stogie T gets his turn on the Blooming Sounds stage, between the historic walls of Constitution Hill I find a quiet space to talk to Zoë about her work. Inganekwane, a Nguni word for fairy-tale, is a project that’s preceded by adjectives such as ‘moving’ ‘divine’ and ‘healing’. Poignantly released at a time when black youth is enamoured with being woke and is having conversations about what it means to be black in this world- it’s the perfect soundtrack.

Stogie T at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper
SMOKING THA STAGE: DJ P-Kuttah and Stogie T at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper

“This album is about a lot of conversations that I had been having for three years after Yellow The Novel, my debut album was made and released. There’s a lot of conversations about the state of black people and what’s that like. For the longest time I felt I couldn’t express it in my language, but I began to be affirmed by my audience you know, that’s the power that my audience has and that music lovers have, is that sometimes they can cause you to move into spaces that you would not qualify yourself for. So even with the response of the album, it feels the same way. People are qualifying you. It’s such an affirming thing because for me music is a personal thing, but for me the motive I have is to move people’s souls first and foremost before I formally get recognised formally through awards and those kinds of things,” says Zoë.

Zoe having a vibe on stage at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper
KUMNANDI LA: Zoë having a vibe on stage at Blooming Sounds in Joburg. Photo by Sip The Snapper

Her music moves more than just the soul. Her performance of Intsha had the tiny audience dancing, and probably a lot more streaming viewers’ hips swaying. “It always makes me lose my breath and twerk myself into a disaster,” a panting Zoë says while on stage. “It’s a song dedicated to the youth of 1976 and it’s a song that reminds us that young people are always part of watershed moments, we always make big changes.”

As James Brown’s message on Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud cannot not be misunderstood, so is Zoë’s Abantu. It’s a candid conversation she has with Bantu people- touching on black on black violence, self-image, and poverty but yet the song is mighty reassuring. “This song is dear to my heart because it’s part of all the conversations we’ve been having. It’s a beautiful love letter because it’s a song that puts us in a place of realising that we commit so much violences [sic] amongst ourselves as black bodies and part of that is calling systems into place that have allowed us to think in this way,” she says during her performance.

Zoë doing her thing at Blooming Sounds. Photo by Sip The Snapper
IYAGIDHA INTOMBI: Zoë’s dance moves display how in-shape the artist is. Photo by Sip The Snapper

With her trademark brush-cut, rocking a leather dress and snakeskin print ankle boots Zoë looked elegant. A glimpse of her Instagram page will let you know, that she’s an aesthetically-conscious one, and is comfortable in her style.

The moving imagery from Inganekwane, that takes us back to her childhood.
QUEEN IN THA KRAAL: The moving imagery from Inganekwane, that takes us back to her childhood.

It was her vision that inspired the album cover art, helped by an amazing team of creatives in its execution. “I’m blessed to have people who believe in my visions,” she says.  The idea for her cover stems from a visit to her paternal grandmother as a 5 year-old KwaMpisi, in rural KwaZulu-Natal.  “I’d always have this moment of looking into cows for a long period of time, and she’d [grandmother] always look at me like I was crazy. That’s the power of this record that it’s allowed me to really look back into childhood, look back at what’s made me who I am, right now.”


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