A Soweto chilli has found fame on the international food scene. The Chilli of Soweto has been added to the international Ark of Taste thanks to a meeting this week between the man who started a global food revolution, Slow Food founder and United Nations Special Ambassador Carlo Petrini and Soweto farmer Phila Cele.

Petrini also announced that he will be starting an annual scholarship for one young South African to attend the University of Gastronomic Sciences which is situated in Pollenzo, Italy. The Ark of Taste is an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods which is maintained by the global Slow Food movement. It lists species and products that are unique to a country and should be protected. South Africa has 44 listed (with Petrini adding the Chilli of Soweto as the 45th) with plans to add 30 more by the end of September.

Petrini was on a four-day visit to Gauteng where he visited a number of community farm gardens in Soweto as well as various artisanal and organic producers in Magaliesberg and Johannesburg. He will be visiting Khayelitsha in the Western Cape tomorrow. Petrini was hosted by the Slow Food Johannesburg and Cape Town Convivia who this year made the pledge to create 10 000 food gardens in South Africa.

Cele was overcome when Petrini made the announcement, the equivalent in culinary terms to winning a gold medal at the Olympics. He produces nearly 200kgs of chilli a week in season as well as a wide variety of other vegetables on a piece of land the size of a football field in Phiri in Soweto. He is passionate about his product, uses permaculture techniques and is scrupulous about the quality of this unique little cultivar.

Cele, who has been a farmer since 2011 when he launched Siyazenzela Plant Biotech and Agricultural Consultants, holds a BSc in Microbiology and an Honours in plant biotechnology, both from Wits University.

“We have never had such recognition before, particularly on a global stage. Our customers know that we produce a top-class product but this honour from Slow Food has been amazing. My team and I are delighted,” he said from Kwa-Zulu Natal where he had gone to share the good news with his family.

Petrini said the food gardens he had seen were fantastic and reinforced the message that organic food is not just for people with money.

“We must protect our indigenous seed. When 100 percent of seed is controlled by multinationals, agriculture will be over. We don’t want our indigenous agriculture polluted by genetically modified products. We have a right to gardening, and communities have a right to it.”
Petrini also met with Xoliswa Ndoyiya, who was the personal chef for many years to the late Nelson Mandela. Sis Xoli, as she is affectionately known, presented him with her book Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen which he has said he will donate to the library of the University of Gastronomic Sciences.

The Chilli of Soweto will be one of the attractions at the Slow Food Soweto Eat In & Food Conference which takes place at the Soweto Theatre on Saturday, September 3.
The event comprises a food market (selling the produce of the Soweto and Orange Farm urban farmers) plus a selection of classic township street food; a farming and food security conference and the opportunity to eat an Nguni cow from nose to tail.

Izindaba Zokudla (Conversations about Food) is coordinating a conference with topics such as ‘Growing and Producing Food in Soweto’, ‘Johannesburg: Urban Farmers Speak’ and ‘Buying Food in the City: How to get a healthy and fair deal’. Panellists include dietician and functional medicine specialist Mpho Tshukudu, UJ anthropologist Hilda Bbhenkele, industrial designer Angus Campbell and Wandile Zwane, Head Department of Social Development, City of Johannesburg.

Lunch time sees an Nguni Eat In competition under the auspices of Slow Meat. This culinary extravaganza sees nine teams of chef students and a 10th team of Soweto gogo’s cooking every aspect of a 300kg Nguni cow. Each group drew lots in order to be allocated two cuts of meat (one muscle, one offal).

Cost is R20 for entry into the food market as well as the conference and R295 to participate and eat at the Slow Meat Chefs’ Competition. Booking for the latter is on www.webtickets.co.za

Since its foundation in 1989, Slow Food has grown into a global movement involving millions of people in more than 160 countries, working to ensure everyone has access to good, clean and fair food. It is thanks to Petrini’s efforts that a growing movement of people believe that we can reduce both hunger and obesity while improving the quality of food, the life of farmers and the impact of agriculture on the environment and health along with real cooking, taste and pleasure.