Sister chefs, Zainab and Faatimah Paruk, are the proud owners of Chilli Chocolate Chefs, a gourmet catering company in Durban. The chefs are graduates from two of South Africa’s renowned Chef Schools, Christina Martin and Fusion Cooking School. They recently won the Roshgold’s Young Business Achiever Awards and took time out of their busy schedule for an exclusive interview with The Weekly Gazette.

The Weekly Gazette: How did your journey begin in business and cookery?
Zainab & Faatimah: It all began in our mums kitchen where we would have fun experimenting. Our mum and aunt would always encourage us to be productive during the school holidays and would send us for cooking, baking and art lessons. We think this is where the love and interest in food began and it is also largely inspired by our foodie family that always celebrated any milestone with food and lots of it. We would try new things and our family would critic it. But, you will be surprised that we both left school in grade 8 to go to madressa. We eventually completed our matric through correspondence whilst teaching but still wanted to pursue our passion for food. So in 2007 we begged our grandfather to sponsor our studies at chef school and this was where the fun began. After completing our chef studies, we would juggle work with taking small orders from friends and family. This meant working at our jobs in the day and coming home in the evening to prepare each persons treats. Eventually, the late nights and ridiculously early mornings became too much so we decided to both take the plunge to quit our jobs to start Chilli Chocolate Chefs.

TWG: “Chilli Chocolate Chefs” is quite an interesting name, what is the story behind the name?
Z&F: Indeed our name is interesting. Well, we wanted to start a brand that incorporated a number of things, including the sweet and savoury fusion food items that we create, our indian heritage and the fact that we are qualified chefs. After consultation with our family, Chilli Chocolate Chefs was the right fit for us. Not only did the name achieve this but it also shows off our personal characteristics. One of us is sweet- chocolate – and the other is feisty -chilli – we will let you be the judge.

TWG: What is it like being sisters in business and working so closely together?
Z&F: Honestly, it’s a lot of fun but it also comes with its challenges. With only 16-months separating us, we are extremely close and consider each other as best friends. In the kitchen we work well together because we try to focus our energies on our different strengths. We also realised that on the occasional times when we do fight and argue, at the end of the day we quickly forget and become friends again. But yes, it’s a lot of fun.

TWG: How do you feel about winning Roshgold’s Young Business Achiever Awards?
Z&F: We are so humbled and honoured to have been awarded the Roshgold Young Business Achiever Award. There were over 60 other great businesses with fantastic stories of their own. So when we were shortlisted in the Top 20 it came as a surprise and then when the Top 5 was announced that’s when the nerves really hit us. Due to work commitments, our Marketing Manager, Ashraf Kadwa, represented us at the awards in Johannesburg where the top 5 finalists were seated together at a table. He called us in the morning to say that the other finalists were amazing and we don’t stand a chance of winning so he was going to network and enjoy what was left of the afternoon. Needless to say, when our phone began buzzing with congratulations messages it came as an unexpected surprise and we were over the moon.

TWG: What does this award do for the two of you, in terms of your growth in business in South Africa?
Z&F: We personally feel that this award recognises that hard work pays-off but more importantly this award gives us confidence that we are on a good path in creating a sustainable business. With a bit of luck, mentorship and capital our brand has a chance of being around for a long time.

TWG: Where to from here for you and your business?
Z&F: We have a very exciting year planned but don’t want to reveal too much yet. Inshallah, God willing, our plans will come to fruition but you will need to follow us on social media to be kept in the loop.

TWG: We have to ask, what is your favourite food and why?
Z&F: It changes quite often because we are in the kitchen tasting and experimenting, also sometimes its seasonal.
Faatimah: I really enjoy our Portugese Chicken and Burfee Cheesecake.
Zainab: I like Aubergiene Melanzane.

TWG: What food is an absolute “no” for you?
Faatimah: Definitely Okra.
Zainab: My husband’s cooking, just kidding. We both aren’t lovers of liver.

TWG: Our readers are curious and need some assistance, tell us what is a good substitute for egg?
Z&F: There are so many substitutes for egg but it all depends on the application, for example, if the egg is being used as a binder, leaving agent or even when it’s needed for moisture. For general use for 1x egg: Whisk together 2 tablespoons of water, 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.

TWG: What can one do when too much of salt is added to a dish?
Z&F: You can add a piece of peeled cubed raw potato into your item. The potato will help to absorb the salt.

TWG: What is a good substitute for carbs and wheat flour?
Z&F: For carbs – almond flour, for wheat – coconut flour.

TWG: What is a good replacement for sugar?
Z&F: There are also many replacements, this is mostly dependent on the dietary requirements of a person but raw honey or stevia works well.