Celebrity Chef Simphiwe Zondi gets candid about serving his passion, living his wildest dreams, and impacting change one cake at a time.
By: Musa ‘Gift’ Mqwashu
Simphiwe Zondi, affectionately known as Chef Zondi, has become a sensation in the local culinary scene. Raised in KwaZulu-Natal, Zondi has gone from making mud cakes for his family to create unique gourmet cakes.
He has gained a cult for his visually captivating and tailor-made cakes, which have made people’s celebrations extra special.
He is now the go-to baker for celebrities, having made cakes for entertainment figures like AKA (Kiernan Forbes), Cassper Nyovest (Refiloe Phoolo), Somizi, Connie Ferguson, Bonang Matheba, to name a few.
Zondi is not just a baker; he is also a fierce businessman. He recently opened his own patisserie and dessert bar, Chef Zondi & Co., in Sandton. Hailed as one of the top bakers in SA, he continuously breaks boundaries in the culinary world and is set to dominate the field.
He tells Blacklight during a ZOOM interview that he utilises his popularity as a baker to inspire change. “The term celebrity chef to me means I have been given a platform to showcase my talent,” he says. “It is the greatest platform to teach; I would love to pass on my skills to other people who want to pursue entrepreneurship in the same space as well.”
He adds: “Chefs need opportunities; there needs to be some financial assistance for black chefs to be educated. That is why I want to use this platform as a celebrity chef – to pass on my knowledge.”
When setting out to pursue his dream, Chef Zondi says the plan was to one day own the biggest bakery, like his idol, American baker Bartolo ‘Buddy’ Valastro.“Above all, I just wanted to inspire others to pursue their dreams and keep pushing, to do what is needed for them to achieve what they want.”
During his early years as a budding chef, he studied consumer studies in high school, which helped to unlock his talents in the kitchen.“It was a challenge because there weren’t a lot of guys in the class,” he recalls. “The class helped me realise that baking was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I did some research on the fields that are in the industry, and I fell in love with cake art and pastry.”
Zondi’s appreciation for quality and consistency is palpable in his creation and presentation, from his original recipes to his bold and creative designs. His colourful pastries have attracted a mass following on social media. He is one of the most followed local chefs on Instagram, with over 20 000 followers.
“Social media is a great way to put yourself out there. However, you have to be careful not to mix your personal life with business on social media because that can have a detrimental impact on your career,” he advises.
“You need consistency in your work, and I maintain a certain level of standard for what I do and present. How I present myself [and my work] is important.
“Most people start on a high standard and then get comfortable along the way and drop the ball. I have tried to maintain the standard.”
A gallery of Chef Zondi designed cakes:
The chef says he is inspired by real-life stories from his clients, which helps add a personal touch and a story behind every cake.
“I love getting to know the person more before we even get into cake designing. From there, I am then able to incorporate their story into the cake. It may be through colour or even a simple ribbon; there’s a story behind every cake.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, and lockdown restrictions, which largely impacted the hospitality industry, forced many local chefs to find alternative ways to keep their doors open. For chef Zondi, this period saw steady growth in his business.“Covid-19 had a very positive effect on my business,” he shares. “I was able to get a place and open up my business.”
Life as a chef is known to be an endless juggling game. And being a head chef and having your own business further accelerates the stress of always having to deliver unforgettable experiences to patrons. To keep up with pressure, Zondi says he adopted a self-care routine that helps him maintain a balance in his life.
“I jog and exercise a lot, and I make sure I keep people who have good energy around,” he shares.
“You need to be careful with the energies you allow into your space because they have an impact on who you become and how you perform in life.”
He advises up-and-coming black culinary practitioners who hope to crack it in the industry to be authentic and not be afraid to share ideas with the world. “[In this industry] you need to be bold and not shy away from who you are,” he says. “We need to introduce African desserts to the world and stop being so stuck in the Western way of doing things. Young black chefs need to embrace their Africanness.”
Follow Chef Zondi:
Facebook: Chef Zondi & Co