When Rufaro Chaniwa was only five-years-old her mother started teaching her and her siblings how to cook.
Says Chaniwa: “She wanted us to learn to be self-sufficient from a young age so she started off by showing us how to wash the dishes. Then you could move on to how to prepare the vegetables, then the sauces, the starches and finally the meats. The meats were always left to the eldest so cleaning duty was for the youngest. It was like any setup in the kitchen where you work your way up the ladder.”
While Chaniwa learnt the basics, it wasn’t something she considered she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“I had a passion for dance and I loved every minute of my training and dancing until an accident teaching a class put paid to any further dance opportunities and I took up a job working in the bakery section of a hotel.
“It was serendipity,” she says, “because it was there that I truly fell in love with the idea of being a pastry chef and I have not looked back since.”
The 30-year-old Zimbabwean is now the head chef and manager at a restaurant called Friends Café in Harare.
Rufaro studied at the Cape Town campus of Capsicum Culinary Studio, graduating in 2016 with a diploma in patisserie.
“After graduation, I went back to Zimbabwe and got a job as a pastry chef at a restaurant called Teta in the Chisipite area. A few months later I was promoted to head chef.
“From there I moved to Victoria Falls where I worked at Ilala Lodge as their pastry sous chef and then, very fortunately, I managed to get a gig on a Norwegian cruise liner as an assistant pastry chef. Now I’m back home and loving working at the restaurant,” she says.
Chaniwa also runs a side business – Africake Bar – making bespoke cakes for all occasions, from birthdays and weddings to corporate and social events.
What made her choose to study in South Africa and why Capsicum?
“After doing some online research and comparisons, I decided on Capsicum because it was offering exactly what I wanted and I loved the idea of work placement and the fact that their diplomas are recognised and respected internationally. I wasn’t disappointed and, in fact, the experience was more than I expected. The staff were friendly and helpful and my lecturer Chef Anso was amazing and I learned a lot from her. The work experience I also got was top-notch from one of the best hotels in the city – the Taj Hotel. I also made amazing friends, many of whom I am still in regular contact with.”
In the meantime, Chaniwa is working hard at perfecting her cakes and pastries with the aim of one day opening her own place. She also keeps busy with her Africake Bar business and updating her blog which is called The Chic Chef (thechicchef.co.zw).
She shares with us her recipe for her very popular mini lemon cheesecakes.
Rufaro Chaniwa’s Mini Lemon Cheesecakes
For the cheesecakes
24 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1¼ cup sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
2 tbsp lemon zest
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla essence
For the crust
2⅔ cups Marie biscuit crumbs (or digestive biscuits etc)
⅓ cup sugar
⅔ cup butter, melted
For the lemon glaze
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
¼ cup lemon juice
3 tbsp lemon zest
6 tbsp butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350°C and add cupcake liners to muffin pan or spray with a non-stick cooking spray.
For the crust: In a medium bowl, mix the Marie biscuit crumbs, sugar and butter with a fork until combined.
Press the mixture into the liners or the bottom of the muffin pan.
Place muffin pan in oven for five minutes, remove and set aside.
For the lemon cheesecakes: In a large bowl, beat cream cheese on medium speed until creamy. Then add in sugar and beat until smooth.
Add whisked eggs to cream cheese mixture and beat on low speed until combined.
Stir in lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla until blended.
Scoop cheesecake filling evenly into the prepared cupcake liners or muffin pan.
Bake at 350° for 16-18 minutes. Cheesecakes will be done when the centre is still a bit wobbly.
Remove from oven and let cool for 1 hour.
Remove cheesecakes from the pan and place in a container and cover. Place container in the refrigerator and chill for 4 hours or overnight
For the lemon glaze: In a small saucepan, whisk eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest until well combined.
Add butter to pan, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken and will be done when glaze sticks to the back of a spoon.
Remove from pan, pour into a small, heat-safe bowl and let cool for 15 minutes.
Cover bowl and place in the refrigerator until cold or overnight.
Add glaze to each mini cheesecake and enjoy.
For more information and recipes, check out @thechicchefzw or visit @africakebar on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.