By Sana Ebrahim
What started out as a culinary hobby by two Durban sisters has grown into a lucrative business in exquisite food catering called Chilli Chocolate Chefs (CCC).
Since it started operations in 2009, the Durban-based business has now become a household name in the Halaal gourmet catering industry in the region.
Award-winning chefs and authors, Zainab and Faatimah Paruk told Al Qalam that the business started small from their family home. “We grew up in a small suburb in Durban called Parlock, in a close-knit but extended family. Our family is also very traditional and we are very close to my mother’s side of the family who celebrate every occasion with food. So I guess this is where the initial love for food began! Thanks to my mum and aunt, we used to go for every type of creative course as children, from flower arranging to painting,” says Zainab.
Their decision to work in the food industry was born at the age of 20 while they were working as teachers. “We were always exposed and surrounded by food when we were growing up to the point that we were making things for friends and family on an ongoing basis. We also had this belief that we wanted to further ourselves in this industry. But then reality dawned on us that we had left school at the age of 13 to pursue Islamic studies. It meant that for us to achieve our dream of being chefs we would need to start from the very beginning and go back to school to get a matric. We attended a correspondence class and completed matric whilst working and then enrolled in Chef School,” says Faatimah.
Zainab studied at Christina Martin School of Food under Christina Martin and her daughter, Michelle Barry. Faatimah did her studies at the Fusion Cooking School, and trained under chefs Shaun Smith and Caryn England.
The company name, Chilli Chocolate Chefs, they said, reflected the sweet and savoury fusion food they create, along with their Indian heritage. Also captured in the name is an allusion to the sisters, since one is sweet like chocolate and the other is feisty as chilli.
The CCC is known for their Portuguese braaied chicken and chicken chow mein. Their desserts include cheesecakes and a delectable range of brownies. They have published three recipe books. “Being sisters and working together has been one of our strengths in business,” says Faatimah. “We have different capabilities and use these to create a balance in the business.
The CCC got their first break in the industry when Al Baraka Bank took a chance on them to cater desserts for an event held at the Durban ICC. “The requirement was 700 x plated desserts and I can remember clearly how we got our whole family on board to help us. We stayed up all night, hired refrigeration and assembled things in our garage.
“This was a huge break for us because it led to us catering for the Mercedes C Class launch a few weeks later where the requirement was food for 2000 people for 3 days. I will just end here by saying it was tough but the leaps we made helped us learn very fast,” says Zainab. Innovations in wedding and celebratory events also meant that the demand for their services was extending beyond KZN.
“Community service is something that is very close to our hearts,” says Zainab.
The CCC Team shares their gains and is committed to giving back to the community as the company undergoes a monthly initiative to visit hospitals and orphanages. They are involved in initiatives such as Mandela Day. Additionally, surplus is often distributed to homes in dire need of contributions. Their long-term goal is to sponsor a student every year to attend Chef School.
“We love what we do because of our passion for food, so much so that ‘work’ doesn’t feel like work. The best part of what we do is probably meeting different people and sharing our love of food with them. One of our biggest passions is seeing the excitement and delight our customers have after enjoying a meal prepared by us,” says Zainab. “Food trends constantly change across the world, so we try to stay up to date with these trends and always experiment to innovate our flavours.”