Meet Chef US: Zweli Williams, the first to bring traditional Zimbabwean cuisine to the states

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By Chana Twiggs/

NORTH CAROLINA: Authentic Southern African cuisine is not easy to come by in the United States.

Originally from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Zweli Williams could not find flavours of her homeland after relocating to the States to study hospitality and tourism at North Carolina Central University 24 years ago.

She and her husband Leonardo Williams ended up opening the country’s first Bantu restaurant, Zweli’s, in Durham, NC. It quickly became a local favourite, receiving rave reviews as well as numerous accolades.

Now, with the couple’s third and latest restaurant, Ekhaya, Chef Zweli Williams continues to share a taste of the Motherland’s south with Bantu tapas and handcrafted speciality drinks.

“My inspiration for Zweli’s Ekhaya was to take African cuisine to the next level, in both food, cocktails and ambience. All the five senses were carefully curated to represent the old and new Africa,” Williams says. “I wanted to redefine African cuisine in a high-level experience while paying homage to the Bantu people.”

Traditional Zimbabwean dish served at Zweli’s Ekhaya. Image: courtesy of Zweli’s Ekhaya.

A truly unique and one-of-a-kind experience, Williams sought inspiration for the dishes only from within. The result was an unparalleled menu, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else.

“I wasn’t thinking of what another restaurant was doing, or how they were doing it. I look at culinary as a true art or canvas I get to paint on and use my creativity,” explains the chef. “This has brought about a unique and interesting, delicious product.”

The restaurant’s decor is equally special, all having been handmade by African villagers. Williams scoured the buzzing markets of Bulawayo and hand-selected what is now Ekhaya’s elegant bar walls, ceilings, art and beautiful plating with an aim to make its ambiance as memorable as the food. She describes Bantu food as simple yet unforgettable.

“It is nurturing to the soul, organic. Traditionally, my great-grands grew all their food and raised all their livestock. Everything my grandparents ate came from their gardens,” says Williams. “They had ways of taking readily available grains and greens, being resourceful and making meals out of what they had.”

Dovi ne Murivo, for example, which translates to peanut butter braised greens, is a rich and nutritious healthy vegan dish sourced completely from a backyard.