Located in the southern hemisphere of Africa, Zambia, with its over 70 tribes and 70 languages, is a welcoming country that sits on a plateau and is known for many things, including Victoria Falls, one of the world’s largest waterfalls, their selection of museums and national parks.
Now, thanks to the talent and expertise of Clara Kapelembe Bwali, a major food influencer and the owner of Black Garlic, a food influencing firm, the world is able to learn more about Zambian cuisine.
Born and raised in Kitwe, the country’s second most populous city. Initially, this influencer had no interest in cooking at all. It was not until she grew tired of her mother’s pleas that she decided to give it a try and fell in love after seeing cooking as a unique art form.
Bwali shares, “Growing up me and my mom would bump heads all the time. She tried to teach me how to cook, but honestly, I was not into it. I was never interested, and then there came a time when I decided to try and do what she wanted me to do. Then I noticed that I started to enjoy how to cook.”
Since her father is from the Kaonde tribe and her mother is Lunda, Bwali’s cooking style mimics more of her mother’s culture and can be described as Zambian soul food. “I believe most of the time, a person is more inclined towards their mother’s culture. I mean your mother teaches you how to cook, and you spend most of the time with your mom. So, in terms of cooking, I’m more aware of my mother’s side of doing things than I would ever be on my father’s side.”
From Computer Science to Zambian Influencer
In 2011, Bwali headed to South Africa to attend Monash South Africa University. While earning her degree in computer and information science, she met a fellow Zambian and got married. This is when opportunity came knocking.
Bwali explains, “It all started when I got married in 2016. So being a new wife, I was obviously trying to impress, trying some new recipes here and there. And whenever I would cook new stuff, the feedback was amazing. My husband would love it, and friends would come over and say, ‘This is really, really good.’ Some would say, ‘You should actually start selling your food.’ Others would say, ‘You should share your recipes online. Start a website. Start a blog.’ Eventually, nine months down the line, I decided to open a Facebook page where I shared my recipes here and there and I also started to sell some of the food.”
Therefore, since they settled in South Africa near the university area after graduating, it only made sense to capitalize on all the busy college students from Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere who could use meal preparation and food services.
This is exactly how Bwali got started. She began to sell weekly meals to students. “So come Monday I would prepare meals for Monday through Friday and deliver every Monday.”
Entrepreneurship was going well for a few years. However, like with most businesses, unexpected challenges occurred, causing Bwali and her family to move back home to Zambia. This meant starting all over with no clients. But it also meant giving Bawli a chance to think differently, to think more creatively, and to think bigger.
“I had been away from Zambia for a good eight, nine years. And it was me now tapping into a new market, finding new clients and all of that.” She continues, “The first thing that I decided to do was to start baking. I started selling cakes. That was good. I got customers. I started catering for weddings. That also went well, but it just got to a point where it felt like every fifth person that you know is a baker, and every fifth person that you know is a caterer.
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“I started feeling like I wasn’t doing my best. I just felt like I was drowning, so I had to go back to the drawing board and say what is it that I can do in the food space that’s going to set me apart from every fifth person that’s baking or every fifth person that’s a caterer.”
In time, a revelation came to mind. Since Zambia is an inland country, many services are outsourced, and not many locals in the area at that time were consistently adding to the food-influencing space. Bwali shares, “I said, this is it for me! I decided to rebrand and be a food photographer, food blogger, and in the long run, a food influencer. Just everything food related. And that is how my journey started in February 2020.”
Bwali went in full force. She began to fearlessly network, make calls, and meet different people, and this discovered niche helped her conquer the food space allowing other nations to be more aware of Zambian food and culture.
The Face of Zambian Spice and Other Things Nice
Over the years, Bwali has become a well-known face in Zambia. She has collaborated with many local and international food businesses and organizations and is a brand ambassador for one of the biggest milling companies in the area.
Another collaboration was with Wood Kitchen. This led her on an extensive food journey where her picture was taken for Shokaz Spice, and it allowed her to be featured on several cooking shows in South Africa.
Another privilege The Wood Kitchen provided was the opportunity to teach students how to make various Zambian foods at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Cape Town. This opportunity was a huge step for the Zambian food scene and Bwali, awarding her the chance to travel and teach students from another country about Zambian food and heritage.
Last year, this influencer was a part of the Every Plate Counts Challenge with the United Nations Environmental Program, World Wide Fund and other organizations to bring awareness to food loss. Her recipe for Impwa Okra Fried Rice and expertise contributed to this cause.
Despite the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur, the door of opportunity has flung open, and many more beautiful moments are surely headed Bwali’s way.