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Simphiwe Zondi is the top choice when it comes to South African celebrities’ cakes, no matter what their special occasions demand.
And while life may be sweet for the cake master now, before making stunning cakes for the likes of Connie Ferguson, Kelly Khumalo, Nonkanyiso ‘LaConco’ Conco, it wasn’t always plain sailing.
Growing up in a household where his mother and grandmother baked the most delicious pastries, the passion came naturally.
“I knew I wanted to be in the kitchen from high school, it was where my passion was,” he says.
Chef Zondi was aware of the stereotypes associated with young men choosing Consumer Studies as a subject.
“I knew I would be discriminated against and be called gay. I took the courage and to this day I am proud and comfortable with my decision.”
The decision would lead him to an internship at Indaba Hotel in Durban, and he also studied at Capsicum Culinary Studio.
And while he says he failed his final theory exam, most people don’t know about.
This failure, however, simply strengthened his resolve, and after passing on the second go, he would go to Dubai for further pastry training.
It would be this experience of working abroad that completely changed his life.
As his career gained momentum, he decided to call it quits, as the pressure was taking a toll on him mentally as was the financial strain of cake making.
This led to a stint in the corporate world, working for an economics company for two years. However, his calling to bake was too strong. “I quit my job and started a vegan baking company,” he says of his return to the baking world.
This business, however, wasn’t as successful as hoped, and this is when Chef Zondi says he hit rock bottom.
“I had to start from zero, I had no money in my account and I needed to start my own thing.”
The chef said he started taking orders for custom bakes as his sublime cakes gained traction on social media and via word of mouth.
And even as many others lost their sources of income when the pandemic hit, the orders kept coming, and Chef Zondi & Co started establishing itself as one of the country’s best cake shops.
He now boasts a clientele list that features entertainment industry heavyweights and Zondi says his love for telenovela Isibaya is one of the things that opened doors for him.
As a big fan of Thembi Nyandeni, he sent a direct message to the legendary actress, asking if he could bake a cake for her to celebrate her amazing work in film and television. He didn’t really expect a response, so when she accepted his offer, Zondi was over the moon.
“I love her, she has the resemblance of my gogo, why I wanted to make something special.”
When he arrived with the grand cake on the set of the show, comedian and actress Celeste Ntuli was there and was so impressed she wanted him to make a cake for her.
Ntuli posted her own cake on social media, and from there the floodgates were opened.
Zondi says the power of word of mouth was the magic trick.
Since then he has made cakes for Amanda Bortho, LaConco, Kelly, Basetsana “Bassie” Khumalo, Connie and more.
A big perception about famous people is that they are demanding and have outlandish expectations, but the pastry wizard refutes this, saying he doesn’t give them any special treatment.
“They are so chilled, they allow me to be creative, bake what I want and what would be best suited for them. There’s no brief.”
From the flavour, to the colour and the design of his cakes, his celeb clientele allows him to simply express himself, and his passion shows in every creation.
Being alongside celebrities doesn’t faze him either, and he considers Kelly a close friend, describing their friendship on a “spiritual level”.
“We have a deep connection,” he says.
As Connie celebrated her 52nd birthday on 10 June, Zondi was, of course, the man to bake her an extravagant cake, as he had done several times in the past.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Simphiwe Zondi (@chefzondiofficial)
A post shared by Simphiwe Zondi (@chefzondiofficial)
But, as if being the pastry chef to the stars wasn’t enough, Zondi has also recently represented South Africa in the Dubai Expo, proudly wearing his South African Chefs Association jackets.
He was part of a team responsible for demonstrating the best in pastry and baking in the country, and he presented a couple of masterclasses.
Of this experience, he says he hoped the South African culinary group left their mark.
“I really want to be the voice of South African chefs, to be able to speak on their behalf, especially for the voiceless,” he concludes.