We chatted with South African food industry icon Dorah Sitole, who has a career spanning almost 40 years, about her career highlights, food industry learnings and the most underrated local ingredient.

I’ve been in the food world since 1979 – it’s quite a long time! I started off as a food demonstrator for what used to be called the Canned Advisory Services. It was part of the marketing division for Metal Box and the strategy was to educate the community about canned foods. I worked for them for 7 years. During that time, I did a Cordon Bleu cooking course, as well as a cake icing and nutrition course just to get more of an idea of what it was that I was cooking.

True Love magazine was, at that time, a general interest publication and they wanted to change to a women-focused title. In 1987 I was headhunted for a position as Home Front Editor, which included food, parenting and décor, and I was with True Love for 25 years, 3 years of which was as the Editor. Through my work with True Love I had the opportunity to travel all over Africa and write my cookbooks. Now, I work from home on recipe development and food styling for a number of different clients, including Tiger Brands, as well as writing on a weekly basis for Move magazine.

I would consider my cookbooks – Recipes with a touch of Africa and Cooking from Cape to Cairo – as career highlights. However, the biggest accolade I received was the SA Chefs President’s Award in 2006 – it was an honour to be recognised by the cheffing industry as they work in a commercial environment, and cook to impress. My promotion to Editor at True Love was also a career highlight, allowing me to end up strong before retiring.

A career in food chooses you – I’ve never felt that I need to change careers, and have always wanted to grow with in the career as I’ve always felt at home in this space. It’s all about focus and longevity, and the longer you stay in the food industry, the more you can focus and grow. It’s always been an extension of my lifestyle and I always want to improve – I’ve never taken it for granted that people trust me after I’ve been in the industry for so long, and I’m still nervous and eager to impress with each new food styling shoot.

Food styling has relaxed much more these days – the food is the hero now, not the props, and it has to look delicious, not fancy.

South Africa’s food scene is experiencing a real awakening at the moment – there’s been a revival and I see so many young black people at food markets and restaurants, taking an interest in food.

I know it’s not indigenous, but if I could see more chefs using mielie meal on their menus I’d be very pleased! I just created 28 recipes using miele meal and was surprised by the many ways you can use it – anything you can do with polenta, you can do with mielie meal. It is so versatile and can be used in so many ways – as rustic or as elegant as you want to.