By K. Astre
December 2018

For many parents, it may seem like an impossible task to try and convince a child who is not interested in reading, to sit down and pick up a book for so many reasons. It can be difficult to find material that interests children, keeping them stimulated, and then there is the uphill battle to get them to be consistent so that they can continue to grow as readers.

Luckily, there are ways to get them engaged, ways that will keep them active and stimulated as they learn and that won’t bore them if they aren’t interested in a traditional approach to improving their reading.

Lesego Semenya’s cookbook Dijo, published by Jacana, offers parents a way to engage their young readers in an environment that may have been overlooked as a potential classroom — the kitchen. The acclaimed chef and former judge of Top Chef South Africa spoke at the third annual Abantu Book Festival held in Soweto 6 Dec – 9 Dec where he expressed his vision for sharing South African cuisine with the world. His mission is to balance the tension between the often rigidity of tradition and innovation to create traditional dishes that also include non-traditional ingredients.

The book is full of well-loved South African recipes with a global twist. For Semenya, it’s always been important for him to take the “snobbery”, as he says, out of cooking and make it accessible without compromising on sophistication often associated with professional chefs. With each of his dishes, he shares a short personal story that adds depth to the recipes he offers and provides readers with a chance to get in quick and useful reading time.

This skillful sharing of both the recipes and their history is a fertile opportunity to bring together parents/caregivers and their children. Numerous studies have shown that sharing stories with your child doesn’t mean you have to read. Just by looking at books with your child, you can be a great storyteller and a good model for using language and books. Cookbooks are a perfect vehicle as they often mirror the classic “picture book” with the volume and vibrancy of photos of yummy bites.

Children can be involved every step of the way while parents incorporate reading into the activity throughout the process. This becomes a great medium for teaching basic cooking skills and vocabulary while cooking up cultural staples. Giving kids some agency in the kitchen to choose the recipes they’d like to prepare can help them feel more engaged in the activity. They might enjoy trying foods that are familiar to them such as scones, chakalaka or malva pudding or could be inspired to explore different foods they haven’t made at home yet like gnocchi, panna cotta or pea and corn chowder.

When parents take a hands-on approach to getting their children involved in reading, it can make a big difference in building a foundation that can last for a lifetime. Parents can engage their kids at the grocery store where they can look for ingredients and later in the kitchen they can read the recipes aloud while helping out. They can also ask questions throughout the process to help children improve their comprehension skills.

This cookbook gives parents the ability to turn time in the kitchen into an opportunity for their kids to learn and grow as a reader. It’s complete with gorgeous images of food and life in South Africa that will keep them flipping through the pages and hold their interest as they learn that reading is more than just sitting down quietly with a book.
Reading can also lead to fun activities that are useful and help to learn new skills. And that’s something every child can benefit from.

Book Description:

“Wow, you don’t look like a chef!” This statement is something Chef Lesego Semenya has heard many a time over the years. His response is always:
“So, what does a chef look like?”

With his bulging tattooed upper arms, soft-spoken nature and obvious passion for South African cuisine and giving it his unique twist, Lesego probably doesn’t fit the generic look of a self-made top chef.

It is his unconventional personality and approach to food that has kept South Africans coming back for more over the years. Having cooked for billionaires such as Richard Brandson, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, starring on the judging panel of foodie programme Top Chef South Africa, being the resident chef for various newspapers and radio shows, and then building his successful culinary brand LesDaChef, he finally brings his foodie fans his first cookbook, Dijo – My Food, My Journey.

Every dish that will be featured in Dijo has a story that speaks of passion and nostalgia. Sharing both the recipes and their history will give foodies a way of getting to know Lesego’s food background while growing up in Soweto, as well as the fine-dining techniques he learned at chef school and a few hot chef secrets, too.

Divided into three sections that span his food journey, Dijo is an affirmation of South African cuisine, its heritage and its unique flavours. Readers will go on a journey through the simplest yet most-loved of township dishes, to the more complex fine-dining molecular gastronomy creations he has become known for. It truly is a reflection of his life lived through food.

Lesego is also very active on social media and has used this platform to not only build his brand, LesDaChef, but also to educate, inform and, sometimes, challenge his followers to learn and understand exactly what they’re consuming – whether it be food or beverages.

Buy the book here…