Rachel Tlagae is a private chef and food entrepreneur at the helm of Rachel’s Table. A food business that started as a meal prep delivery service when she lost her job amid the Covid-19 pandemic and has now grown into a fully-fledged private dining and catering business.
After a warm welcome into her home, Rachel explains that while her cooking style is generally a contemporary take on various cuisines, she’s been spending most of her days on a cuisine she never imagined she’d have to immerse herself in; Japanese! Rachel put on her private chef hat when a Japanese family that had just relocated to Botswana required her services.
She took on the challenge without any experience in Japanese cooking, not knowing what lay ahead. Initially, she infused her own style of cooking in her offerings but discovered quickly that her client’s kids were more inclined to the food that reminded them of their home, authentic Japanese cuisine, and would not eat anything else despite encouragement from their mother.
It was then that she realised she’d have to learn how to put that on a plate assiduously. With no Japanese cookbooks to reference for help in the country, she searched for them in South Africa and Namibia with no luck. It didn’t help that the food she grew up with had little to nothing in common with Japanese food, “Everything has broth; even the hamburgers have broth!” she exclaims.
Her client, who Rachel describes as very busy, would put on brief demonstrations for her whenever she had the time, which was a rarity. Notably, she thinks back to when she showed her how to make a traditional Japanese omelette or Tamagoyaki, an egg roll resembling a log, seasoned with mirin and soy sauce and made in a square pan. “In like 3 minutes with chopsticks, she was like, ‘this is how you make an egg roll’” Rachel says, mimicking a fast swirly movement with her hands to show how the demo went. However, with much research on the internet and help from a cookbook that came straight from Japan, Rachel found her groove.
She learnt how to replicate the deliciously complex flavours found in Japanese cooking, even going as far as creatively interpreting the meals while maintaining the integrity of authentic Japanese cuisine. While she insists she is still learning, she says that her community of food enthusiasts can look forward to a Japanese cooking series that will showcase the vastness of Japanese cuisine beyond sushi and ramen.