A final year Culinary Arts student at Gaborone Technical College (GTC) is revolutionizing eating through hyping salads in a country renowned for voluminous and scrumptious meat consumption. Ompelege Moreosele who goes by the trade name “Chef Cathy” has become the first Motswana to author a recipe book- a collection of salads recipes titled “Life on a Salad”.
Chef Cathy says more often than not, salads are relegated to an “extra and filler’’ position with basically no value addition in the serving and eating process. She says salads are therefore largely perceived as a “thoughtless combination of fruits and vegetables that accompanies the stars of the plate”
This echoes with what comedian Jim Gaffigan argues in an anti-salad essay published in his book Food titled: A Love Story, in which he also deploys the “just” that usually precedes the word salad.
“When someone orders a salad at lunch, it’s presented as the decision of a martyr giving up their happiness to the waiter: ‘I’ll just have the salad,” the book states. Expounding that it’s the “just” that defines the ethos of the salad, positioning it as less than other things you might have eaten. Jerry could have had a meal, but instead he just ordered a salad. “Just” is a word of abstention, and salad the food of abstainers.
Not so, says Chef Cathy. She adds that the days of salads’ portrayal as “less-than”, feminine and exotic especially in the African culture will surely be a thing of the past after users have engaged with her book.
“Salads are healthy, convenient, cheaper, cool and are special in different ways; they are crunchy, fun to eat because they come in lots of textures and flavours” she says.
The book, published May this year, is very close to home as it features a mix of uniquely Setswana salads yet not differing from the notion of salads as integrated from Western culinary practices.
“I have introduced some unique ingredients for salads that can be enjoyed by people across various eating preferences and habits. These are not far from the everyday food that a typical Motswana eats yet I didn’t want to run away from salads as we know them,” Chef Cathy explains her book.
The recipe book is a collection of salads and dressing recipes she has prepared over the past four years of her culinary journey. All of them, she says are tried and tested. Some are her work from school practical examinations, others were prepared while on attachment at Masa Cresta Hotel as she was given the latitude to be explorative in the kitchen in order to cook up new things.
“I have also done some when doing catering gigs for baby showers and birthday parties. I really have many tasty recipes that are quick to prepare,” she says.
The book is not only a manifestation of hard work as time was also invested in the project which took two years of compilation.
“I believe this great work which will bring beneficial changes to the culinary culture in our country. Braais, baby showers, weddings, picnics and all other event menus will never be the same with a the use of this recipe book,” Chef Cathy quips.
Adding that some salads can be served as main dishes, accompaniments or desserts depending on eater’s preferences.
She says people have been impressed with her well thought and unusual African inspired salad recipes such as mosutlhane, letlhodi and samp salads. These are mostly from indigenous grains such as sorghum, maize and some leguminous plants (peas).
The public and institutions are impressed with her offering to the food industry.
“Since I am the first Motswana to publish a recipe book Batswana are pouring in their support through buying copies and my phone has been awash with congratulatory calls and messages. Schools are placing orders as well, Francistown Technical College and Gaborone College of Culinary Arts have already placed orders”.
Life on a Salad is surely elevating salads from the bottom of the food chain. Mosutlwane salad has become very fashionable among food lovers and it trendy on social media culinary pages such as Foodies Botswana and Exquisite Family Meals.
‘The book is a game changer which came at the right time,” says professional chef and chef trainer Richard Molefe. He was previously based at GTC and formerly head of the department of tourism and hospitality where Chef Cathy is enrolled under.
Batswana are becoming more health cautious and are paying attention to what they eat, he says. Adding that featuring traditionally inspired salads was well-thought because the nation is increasingly eating local foods which are acclaimed for their wholesomeness, nutritional value as are they are not over processed.
Chef Molefe further says Cathy’s work will change mindsets towards salads.
“There is much more to salads, they can be healthy meal as main courses or can be consumed as side dishes,” he says.
According to the chef trainer, now based at Francistown College of Technical and Vocational Education which also offers culinary courses; the book was overdue. He believes it will lure young people into culinary arts and has potential to inspire more Botswana produced food literature. He adds that lecturers in faculties of culinary arts and hospitality would be motivated to work harder and it generally would propel the nation’s level of respect for food to greater heights.
“It gives me honour and reignites my passion to see our students influencing the culinary culture in these parameters” he says.
Chef Cathy developed passion for cooking from her grandmother back in her home village of Kalamare. She would throw her tiny hands to knead dough as her granny prepared fat cakes (mangwinya) – a delicacy, the old woman’s hands had no match in the whole of Kalamare!
Twenty-eight (28) year old Chef Cathy aspires to open an internationally rated fine restaurant. Life on a Salad sells for P230 a copy and currently accessible from the author.