Posted on Friday, February 18, 2022

On being fearless: Uveka Rangappa in conversation with Farzana Alvarado (Chef Zana)

As we celebrate the month of love, it’s fascinating to hear how love and passion for something can drive us to overcome huge challenges and realise our dreams. Farzana Alvarado, popularly known as Chef Zana, is a woman of many talents. The mom of two started out as a news anchor and radio presenter but is currently a top chef, culinary consultant, recipe developer and food social media influencer. Chef Zana tells media personality, Uveka Rangappa how she Fearlessly pursued her love for the culinary arts after a life-changing experience.

You are so accomplished and have been around the world working with major companies which must have been exciting but at the same time scary. Can you remember your first Fearless moment?

The first time I went on radio to read the news live on air, was my scariest moment. I remember standing outside the studio, my hands were shaking and my voice quivered. I will never forget this moment. I calmed myself by praying. It's what I always do to keep fear at bay.

You’ve also worked for major brands such as Porsche, Virgin Management, The London School of Business, Warner Bros Pictures, and the Disney Channel. What took you down the food route?

It was a combination of different experiences. My late grandfather was a cook. I have childhood memories of helping him and marvelled at him cooking in large "deghs" over a fire. As a young adult, I became interested in the food of other cultures. Living abroad really opened my eyes to how food connects us all, helps us share cultures and traditions. Each dish tells a story. While in the UK, I worked on the PR campaign for a massive food festival called "Taste of London". I got to meet some of the top chefs in the world, and watch them create. I loved the café society culture of Europe, and began to see food, not just as a source of nutrition, but as a creative outlet.

But you faced a major challenge before this happened?

Many years ago, I was in a car accident which left me with severe injuries including nerve and tendon damage to my left hand, resulting in loss of mobility. I endured years of medical procedures and hundreds of hours of therapy but none of it was successful. I had to dedicate a large chunk of my life learning to do without it, both physically and emotionally. When I enrolled at Culinary School, it was a case of facing this reality full on and figuring out how to overcome it in the best way possible. I remember the moment I told my loved ones I wanted to go to Culinary School, the silence was deafening. It seemed no one wanted to encourage me, but no one wanted to discourage me either. The more difficult it seemed though, the more I became determined to live my dream despite the circumstances and make the "impossible" possible!

Do your injuries still pose a challenge for you?

Sometimes. However, I have learnt to find ways that work for me and be patient with myself. I find that this injury has taught me to work harder, to be extremely focused, and to push myself. More than anything, it reminds and teaches me every day to be grateful and not take my body for granted.

Many people might have given up on moving forward after an experience like that – what keeps you going?

Reality and faith! It took me almost a year to figure out that I had survived the accident for a purpose. I could either feel sorry for myself and let life pass me by or I could pick myself up by the bootstraps and make my life what I wanted it to be and live my purpose. I chose the latter.

What does your new title as South African Chef Brand Ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative mean for you?

It's an honour to have this title and I have huge respect for what they want to achieve. As Chef Brand Ambassador, I work with some of the most dedicated marine and conservation scientists on public education and campaigns for seafood sustainability, and I create wonderful recipes for SASSI using green listed seafood.

What’s next for Chef Zana?

I was recently elected to the SA Chefs Association Gauteng Committee and I want to use this platform to shine the spotlight on women in culinary. It's a male dominated industry and I do believe we ladies need to be represented more. Apart from that, product development is currently underway, and I'm working on a cookbook.

You can follow Chef Zana on Facebook @ChefZana, Insta

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