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Multitalented Lorna Maseko shares her story with us. Best known as a TV host, she describes her formative years in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, reveals how she become a professional dancer and pioneer for black woman in South African ballet, and tells us about her most recent incarnation as a celebrity chef and award-winning cookbook author. Who says a woman can’t do it all?
Tell us more about your background growing up?
I grew up in Alexandra township, started ballet at the age of nine, and was raised by the most amazing parents who were – and are – always supportive. The most vivid memory of my childhood is that I did ballet all the time, even during school holidays or over weekends. I never really had time to play with friends because I was always at ballet practice. I don’t recall ever playing with Barbie dolls or anything like that because my ballet teacher was so rigorous in making sure that everything that we did was centred around ballet.
You’re best known for your work on TV. What the public may not know is that you were the first black ballerina ever to dance a principal role in South African theatre. At what point did you decide to become a professional ballerina?
Becoming a ballet dancer was quite an interesting journey for my parents and me because we knew nothing about it, so we went into this ‘thing’ completely blind. It was self-discovery for all of us and the good thing was that I happened to be good at it, which was fantastic. Ballet allowed me to travel the world and see things that I would not have normally seen as a child growing up in a township. It inspired me to want to be better, to achieve my dreams and goals. I realised the world was so big and I was able to achieve things because I was being introduced to a world I would never have known.
I remember my mother putting my ballet shoes in the washing machine because they were dirty. If you know anything about ballet, you know that you never put ballet shoes in the washing machine! This shows you the level of discovery for all of us.
What were some of the challenges you faced in being a ballerina?
The biggest challenge was that I was constantly surrounded by kids that were more well off than I was. Their parents were able to do things that my parents weren’t necessarily meant to do. But I’m really blessed that my parents were with me for my every move and performance.
Other challenges that come to mind were the fact that my body was built differently to the other girls, meaning I had to work that much harder to be seen and to achieve excellence. I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t judged or compared by the colour of my skin but because I was really good at the art form – and that you could put me next to any great dancer in the world and I would give them a run for their money.
How did you branch into television?
I took part in the first Top Billing Presenter Search. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, but I did get to the top ten. Top Billing really opened so many doors for me, which was absolutely amazing. I travelled around the world and got to interview the likes of Ed Sheeran and Chris Hemsworth, to name just a couple. I saw places that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It was an amazing journey.
How did your journey to become a chef come about? When did your love affair with food start?
I’ve always loved food, but my journey really started when I took part in Celebrity Master Chef and got to the top six. I remember leaving the competition and thinking to myself, ‘I absolutely love this and want to continue to do it’. That experience truly ignited my passion for food so much more. I love seeing people happy when they eat, when they engage with each other across a table and share great moments. I always say the food is beyond just a plate; it’s the interaction, it’s the passing of one dish to another person, it’s the laughter over a story shared – truly a memory enjoyed and experienced.
You released your cookbook last year. What has the experience been like?
Releasing my cookbook was absolutely amazing. To have the cookbook win two Gourmand Awards for Best Celebrity Chef and Best International Cookbook is just absolutely phenomenal, particularly because it was competing with some of the best chefs from around the world. Writing a book was a self-reflection and having to go back to where I grew up, how I grew up and where I am now, was an interesting process for me. Sometimes I think you forget how much you’ve been through compared to where you are now. It was a great experience and I can’t wait to get onto my second book.
Image source: Malwande Nkantini
What’s the most memorable place you’ve ever eaten at?
There are so many, but one that stands out is my friend Adam Handling’s restaurant in London called Frog by Adam Handling. I was there by myself and I remember having the most amazing food and being left speechless because it was just so good. My pants were tight afterwards because I’d eaten so much! It was a mind-blowing culinary experience. Whenever I travel I always make sure to try different restaurants. Whether it’s street food or Michelin starred, I have to go food exploring.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about you?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that people sometimes think I’m a snob, and I’m so not. I’m down to earth, and a tracksuit-and-sneaker kind of girl. I always have my wig and lashes on but I’d like to think I’m relatable. I’m constantly wanting to improve and better myself, but am definitely not a snob.
What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get to where you are today?
The greatest fear would be that of failure, although over the years I’ve had to learn that failure is part of success. If you want to be great you will fail a couple of times. While that’s just an unfortunate thing, failure is not an end. It’s part of a process and I shouldn’t ever feel that if I fail at something, then it’s over – it really isn’t. Some of the most successful people around the world have failed many times and it took me a while to actually understand that and be okay with that process.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
Having an internationally award-winning cookbook, being able to have featured at Taste of London and Taste Dubai, as well as sharing a platform with the likes of Massimo Buttora at the Dubai Gulf Food Forum, and being part of a global network of chefs from around the world through Chefs Manifesto, which advocates for food sustainability and change. Having my show The Hostess with Lorna Maseko and being one of the producers was pretty phenomenal as well. There are many other things I am super-proud of, including being a contestant on Celebrity Master Chef, hosting Top Chef South Africa as well as going to America and having a cooking demo on Cleo TV’s Sister Circle. These were really great moments and I look forward to celebrating many more.
Do you think the perception of women’s role, both globally and locally, has changed in recent years? What challenges do you think we still face?
It's not changing as quickly as it should, but the conversations are being had and what I like is that in many instances we’ve also gone beyond just conversations. In South Africa in particular, women are taking action because we’ve had enough and won’t tolerate any more abuse. This is super, super important. We still need an advocate for women being in power and for women leaders. Gone are the days where you would expect women to be sitting around with no voice.
What advice or inspiration can you offer the women of South Africa this Women’s Month?
Keep going and keep fighting for your dreams and goals. Life isn’t easy for anyone and change will only happen when you fight for it. When you consciously work towards the things you want, they will happen. I always say keep it moving and don’t hold on to things you can’t change. Oh, and be fabulous while doing it!
Main image source: Phenyo Keitheile