Lesego Semenya

Chef and cookbook writer, Lesego Semenya was raised in Soweto and has been a chef for the past ten years. He was a judge on Top Chef South Africa and has been on numerous TV shows. Dijo, his first cookbook was a bestseller and he’s currently in the process of writing his second book. He also does food consulting and ambassadorship for various corporate brands.

Q & A with Lesego

1. What I’d like people to know about my work is that it’s not all glamorous. Things are very stressful times and I mess up sometimes as well. People think that once you’re in the spotlight that whatever you do is perfect. But being in the media doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going smoothly.

2. Transformation in the food industry will happen when we have more chefs refusing to kowtow to European cuisine and European palates and show pride in our work. It shouldn’t be a novelty, it should be the norm, we are in Africa. Transformation will only take place in the industry once more black chefs celebrate their heritage and where they come from and we infiltrate the fine dining market. So, we need to make the industry attractive. We have to up the pay and to up the pay you have to make sure the schools are transformed as well so it’s a long process.

3. What I’d like SA POC to achieve is transparency in the industry. In the past, there were very few chefs and people who work in the food world, who would rant and be open about the industry. People are scared of losing their jobs. You both get discriminated against more and people are scared that they would lose clientele. I’ve been a champion of that since I was in chef school. I’m trying to get people to speak about their experiences in the industry. The only way that we can change it is if people know what you’re going through.

4. There isn’t a specific person that I look up to, but more a group. I’ve worked 10 years in the industry and it still shocks me when I go work at some restaurants and the staff tell me they’ve never had a black head/exec chef. I look up to those cooks and chefs who’ve worked for decades without the recognition they deserve. They are the ones I truly up to and keep in mind when I’m working.

Read Lesego’s thoughts on the South African cookbook publishing industry and his experience here.