In Conversation with: Sheu Mhaka

Chef Sheu Mhaka plating up
Sheu Mhaka

Sheu Mhaka, Sheu is short for my full name which is Sheunopa Mhaka. A number of people know me as “zsheu” which when you say it it’s ‘shoe’. I am a chef, a father of 2 and an Arsenal fan.

What led you to become a chef?

When I was growing up, I never thought or planned to become a chef it wasn’t even on the list of the things I wanted to do. It so happened on winter night when I was just chilling in a pub in Brighton. Just started chatting to a random, cut the long story short he invited me to come help him in his kitchen as he was short staffed. I had never worked in a kitchen I told him; he just went, “I will show you what to do.”

Looking back at it now, I had it in me all I needed was to activate the passion, I had no idea that I had it. This guy Prakash, PV we used to call him gave me the chance and I realised hmm I think I like this. My passion is one that developed and grew as I went on to work in different establishments, learning more and developing myself.

I am one of the Chefs a lot of people refer to as self-taught Chefs. Having worked with Prakash for a bit, I went on to work at a vegetarian restaurant called Terre a Terre. There I met Chef Glen Lester and David Mothersill. At this restaurant that’s where I had the great awakening, I had been introduced to a whole different level of cooking. At that point that’s when I realised, I had the skill, then I realised that’s what I wanted to do and since then I never looked back. I’m still loving it and have no regrets about that choice I made. When I made that choice, I was studying for a Diploma in Marketing, I had to drop that and pursue the long hours, the heat, the burns.

Along the way I met some incredible Chefs whom I learnt a lot from that helped cement the choice I had made to become Chef. I’m grateful for my encounter with them. I might as well take this opportunity to appreciate a few of them if that’s alright, Ben Mackellar, Dan Kenny, Mark Charker, Glen Lester, Dave Mothersill, Semone Bonner just to mention a few.

How did Graze Kitchen come to be and what inspired the name?

Graze Kitchen menu
Graze Kichen

The concept behind the Graze Kitchen is what’s known around the world as street food, a lot less formal. I thought of grazing and getting stuck into your food. That’s when Graze came into mind that’s how the name came about.

What inspires your cooking?

Good quality seasonal produce really gets me going. I like to discover new produce to work with and create some magic. The idea of manipulating textures and flavour profiling gets me excited to create those textures and come up with some well-balanced profiling when coming up with a dish.

How do you know when what you have made has ‘that thing’?

I think when I create a dish in my head when I’m brainstorming it has that thing already hahahaha. That thing idea is one of the exciting elements when coming up with a dish. You want to have the correct textures, good balance of flavours, colours, consistency, etc. I’m always looking for that thing with every creation. Honestly sometimes I never know, some days I’m like yup what a dish ahahah.

What is the most important thing you consider when cooking?

I’m a strong believer in that, things have to be done the right way or don’t do it at all and on top of that patience and discipline.

Sheu Mhaka's Graze Kitchen menu
Graze Kitchen Menu

What is one thing you can’t live without?

My palate. There is so much joy in being able to taste and distinguish various things. At the moment I’m doing my wine course with WSET. I need that and I can’t live without it.

Given a chance who in the world you want to cook for?

I love to cook for anyone who really loves food. It’s such a joy when your guests are blown away and keep talking about it. That just gives me Goosebumps for days.

What would you cook for them?

If I tell you now tomorrow morning, chances it will have changed.

How would like to be remembered?

My heart’s desire Is to be able to help others to achieve better things in life.

How can people get in touch with you?

Twitter: @zsheu

Twitter: GrazeKitchen

Instagram: @zsheu

Instagram: grazekitchzw

Facebook: Graze Kitchen

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