Today we are showcasing Zambian cuisine with Clara Kapelembe Bwali from Black Garlic Zambia. Several years ago, in 2015 to be precise, I was on the hunt for more regional and national African foodies dedicated to shining a light on the local cuisines. I put out a call on Twitter in search of a Zambian foodie. After a long wait, the call-out came to fruition. Today we are showcasing talent from none other than Zambia shani. So without further ado, away we go!
Clara Kapelembe Bwali is a Zambian-based food stylist and photographer dedicated to putting her beloved Zambian dishes on the world stage. Not having a food background at all when she started, read on to see how Clara took a deep dive into food styling and how she quickly grew a successful food photography business.
Introducing Black Garlic Zambia
MBO: Could you introduce Black Garlic Zambia to us, and the person or people behind it? Are you comfortable sharing your age and experience in the culinary world? What inspired your brand name, Black Garlic?
Black Garlic is a food styling and food photography business based in Zambia. It’s run by me Clara Kapelembe Bwali, I’m 29. In terms of culinary experience, I have none because I have never been to culinary school. I have been experimenting with food however since 2016. In 2016 I started sharing some of my recipes online which made me start selling some of my meals to friends and family. The brand then was Clara’s kitchen. Come 2020 it was time to rebrand and think of [a unique name]. Garlic is a favourite definitely and we are all team black right? Hahaha so yeah Black Garlic was born.
So far so good definitely love the name and everyone else seems to love it too.
MBO: What inspired you to start? How did you get started? What did you envision when you began and what surprises have you found along the way?
What inspired me to start initially was the need for authentic food pictures taken by local foodies. For the longest of time businesses in Zambia used online stock pictures to represent their brands. There is nothing wrong with this in any way. However, I saw that local products used in recipes by local foodies would have such a huge impact. This is how Black Garlic was born.
Growth Prospects for Black Garlic Zambia
MBO: Would you consider yourself as a business owner, and Black Garlic Zambia as a business? Why? Is it full-time?
Yes, I consider myself a business owner even though the business is still growing. Black Garlic works with different brands, local and international, it’s definitely a growing business. Black Garlic is my full-time job. I eat, breathe and sleep Black Garlic.
MBO: Where do you see things going in terms of growth and sustenance of your efforts?
In terms of growth, it would be nice to work with more African and international brands and foodies. Zambia will definitely be given a seat on the World culinary map in no time. Zambian foodies are trying their hardest to put out Zambian food to the world. It’s an amazing movement to watch. I see collaborations being born from other foodies with the Zambian foodie community.
A Dive into Zambian Food
MBO: Can we talk a little bit about Zambian food? What would you say defines Zambian food? Does Zambia have a national dish?
Zambian food is diverse no doubt we are blessed to be able to grow and rear most of our protein sources.
Mother Nature is also generous as seasonal foods are in abundance. Ubwali a.k.a Nshima is Zambia’s staple food. Other African countries call it pap or ugali to mention but a few. Ubwali is eaten with veggies and a protein of choice. We use processed dry maize to make a stiff porridge. Ubwali can be made using cassava meal, sorghum, or millet.
Clara’s Top 5 Zambian Dishes
MBO: Could you give us your top 5 Zambian dishes to try and why? Which one is your favourite? Are there any myths you would like to dispel about Zambian food?
Lumanda is a unique vegetable taste wise. It has a unique sour taste that other vegetables don’t. It can be cooked using cooking oil or cooked using pounded groundnuts.
Fried Kariba bream we have many water bodies nothing beats a freshly caught fish. Seasoned well and fried.
Chikanda also known as African polony. Chikanda is delicious and takes the skilled to make it. I’m still trying to learn how to make it myself. Chikanda is orchid tubers cooked using pounded groundnuts and soda.
Kapenta(Tanganyika sardines) very delicious small fish and affordable. Taste delicious with Nshima and vegetables.
Vimbombo(cow hooves)- cow hooves are one of a kind they taste amazing. A true labour of love. Best cooked on a brazier. Best served with beans and vegetables.
I honestly can’t pick a favourite. Myth wise many believe Zambians included that Zambian food can not be cooked with spices and herbs. Our food is delicious as is but seasoning with various spices takes the food to a different level.
A Little More About Clara
MBO: Where did you grow up and what influences your food choices today?
I grow up in Zambia. Studied in South Africa and currently back in Zambia. My food choices are influenced by various cuisines I love to experiment and combine flavours.
MBO: Let’s talk a little bit about work and life. I notice in a previous interview, you are married with 2 kids. Is this correct?
Yes married with two kids correct. How do you manage it all, and how does owning a business empower you? Being a mom, wife, and businesswoman is not easy but it is manageable. Knowing when to stop and rest is definitely one way to manage as I cannot be superwoman. A great support system from my husband and family has made it easier for me to run the business. Having a business is empowering as it gives a certain sense of joy that is indescribable. Staying accountable to the business and true to myself is empowering.
MBO: You have two passions. Food and photography. Could you tell us a little more about photography? How did you start and how long have you been a photographer?
Photography started from the need to create local food content for myself and other brands. Been at it for a year now.
The Business of Photography with Black Garlic Zambia
MBO: Let’s get to the nitty-gritty with photography 101. What equipment do you have today and what did you start with? Did you have to make an initial investment into your business?
Photography is not a cheap venture slowly but surely trying to build my gear. I started with a phone and 3 backgrounds Currently still using a phone but with lighting gear and more backgrounds and props. Saving up to buy my dream camera. I did not have a make an investment started with what I had available.
Clara’s Steps to Success
MBO: What can you tell our audience who are budding future business owners. You launched Black Garlic a little over a year ago, during a pandemic. What were the steps to your success? How do you measure your success?
Start with what you have and grow as you go. If you wait to have everything that day will never come. Stay focused and be consistent. Black Garlic was born just before a pandemic true. Staying consistent and showing up every week(on my social media platforms)was the only way Black Garlic grew. Being able to achieve what the business was born for is a success for me. Being able to create content for local and international brands is success unmeasurable.