Life consists of numerous decisions – some of which are bigger than others. One decision Nwabisa Lisa from Gugulethu in Cape Town came face-to-face with was whether she’d continue in a career she felt safe in, or to venture into a field that entails doing what she loves. She picked the latter and it’s safe to say she hasn’t looked back since. Today, she is firmly grounded in the food industry, where she runs her own kitchen, catering services, private dining as well as cooking classes.
Hungry for following dreams
Nwabisa’s love for making food was nurtured in the home she grew up in – a home that was very compassionate and often enjoyed hosting people. Every gathering included food planning, she shares. ‘At the age of nine, my elder sister left for college and I had to step in. I can still remember the first meal I cooked – it was roast chicken and rice. I can remember sitting in front of the oven waiting for the chicken to be ready. I was a very inquisitive child,’ she says. Despite her love for cooking, Nwabisa ended up studying Cost and Management Accounting, which led her to work at various financial service companies. In 2013, she decided to venture on a different route and became a radio broadcaster. ‘I moved into several radio stations here in Cape Town, and while I was doing that, I started an events and catering company where I used to create my own events content, such as the Cape Town Victory Gospel Music Awards and Women Empowerment events, where I used to do my own catering.’ She took an even closer step into the food industry around 2017 when she decided to cater full-time, which later grew into KwaLisa Soulfood.
‘To empower myself in the industry, I used to attend several chef shadowing programmes at the Chef Training Initiative Academy and recently joined Blaauwberg Beach Hotel on a training basis, working in the kitchen under an executive chef,’ she explains. ‘I also serve in the SA Chef Association Western Cape Region committee on the entrepreneurship portfolio.’And while she acknowledges that everyone who starts a business from scratch goes through challenges (such as access to resources and finance), Nwabisa has made quite the name for herself, and her career accolades speak for themselves. She was a guest chef on Afternoon Express in 2019 and on Expresso in 2020. She was also asked to share her delicious recipes online on IOL as well as on a radio show on SAfm. And she adds being featured in MyKitchen as another one of her many career highlights.
Food for the soul
KwaLisa Soulfood specialises in South African cuisine, however, they have a catering side as well, where they provide any cuisine preferred by their customers. Nwabisa also enjoys hosting cooking classes. ‘After posting food and recipes on social media, I had a lot of people asking about cooking classes,’ she says. ‘I had my first cooking class in Gqeberha in 2020, followed by more classes in Cape Town and Johannesburg – and the rest, as they say, is history.’ Nwabisa’s cooking classes are aimed at home cooks who are looking for new, easy and delicious recipes.
‘I always make sure that it’s a four-course meal, which gives attendees some diversity. One of my highlights is to see the attendees try the recipes we made in the class at home.’ And when you ask her if it was always a dream of hers to open KwaLisa Soulfood, she says: ‘I think this business chose me. If you had said to me 15 years ago that I would have my own business, I would have told you to take a hike.’ She also adds: ‘I believe that we haven’t even scratched the surface.’ So, what can we look forward to from Nwabisa Lisa? ‘A cook-book is definitely on the cards, and I would love to get into food writing, too.’
Complete the sentence: In 10 years, Nwabisa will…
…Have expanded KwaLisa Soulfood and have a cooking studio for cooking classes.
What is your absolute favourite thing to cook, and why?
I don’t think a week can go by without making Butter Chicken. My 13-year-old son loves it!
What are some of your favourite ingredients to make use of?
I have my moments and phases. Sometimes you will find me exploring with vegetables to showcase their diversity, sometimes seafood or red meat. But all in all, you will never find me without cumin, paprika and garlic. They all elevate any dish.
Who are the people you look up to in the industry, and why?
Jenny Morris and Jamie Oliver. I think they keep things simple, just like me.
Words by Bianca Muller
Photography: Courtesy Images
Chef, cookbook author and food influencer Zanele van Zyl is here to inspire you to cook better, eat better and create beautiful food