UJ Chef’s Amasi ice cream treats 120 regional leaders at UN World Food Program event

The local traditional food, Amasi, will feature in a custom ice cream prepared for 120 government leaders, influencers and activists at a UN World Food Program (WFP) event on Friday 20 January 2016. Hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the attendees will be discussing how to make food systems sustainable despite climate change, food security, and using local, indigenous ingredients in everyday eating.

The Amasi ice cream is the brainchild of Executive Sous Chef Mr Tlholo Nyatlo, from UJ’s School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH). Amasi, also known as nkomazi or maas, is the traditional African equivalent of buttermilk or yoghurt, and is made from fermented milk. Regarded as comfort food or a quick, convenient snack by many, it is widely available in supermarkets throughout South Africa.

“We like to experiment a lot at work and we do a lot of different types of ice cream,” says Mr Nyatlo. “We’ve done a brown bread ice cream, though people find that weird. So when Chef Reuben Riffel and I came up with this South African menu for the WFP event, we thought that when you make ice cream you use dairy, so why don’t we put a different dimension on that by using Amasi. The WFP event is not the first time we’ve made it. It’s worked out pretty well – everybody loves it. ”

Chefs Nyatlo and Riffel collaborated on developing a menu with several local, traditional ingredients for the WFP event. They are featuring trout river fish, diphaphata flatbreads, chakalaka tomato relish, marogo leafy vegetables, dinawa dried cowpeas, amasi icecream and koeksisters for the global leader’s dinner at the WFP event.

The ice cream is only flavoured with vanilla, to retain as much of the Amasi flavour as possible, says Mr Nyatlo. However, it is a real ice cream: it also contains sugar, egg and some milk, and needs to be churned to prevent ice crystals forming and becoming a solid frozen mass.

“I don’t think people should disregard cultural foods because of their new lifestyle,” saysMr Nyatlo. “I would be happy to wake up at twelve at night and have Amasi if I’m hungry. It’s personal preference. I believe if you grow up with it, and it’s in your blood, by all means go on with it.”

Chef Reuben Riffel, chef and owner of restaurants in the Western Cape, and a well-known TV personality, adds that many people grow up with traditional foods, but a change in lifestyle can mean eating differently. “Sometimes people get more interested in all the Westernised types of foods out there and they get into that. But food is not just about taste, it is really about memory as well. So foods like Amasi are things people will always go back to, because it evokes all those memories about being little, and mom serving it to you.”

In fact, the food that a small child eats from birth to three years is critical for the development of both the brain and the body, says Mr Chris Nikoi, Regional Director for the Bureau for Southern Africa at the United Nation’s World Food Programme.

Poor people spend about 70% of their income on food. Because of that, they feed their children the ‘Big Four’ staples of wheat, maize, rice or potatoes, but that is not enough to ensure the children’s healthy development, adds Nikoi.

“We need to diversify what we eat. There are 300 000 different foods in the world, but 60-70% of all our calory intake comes from those four staple foods. From the day a woman gets pregnant, the moment of conception, until the child reaches two years of age, is the most critical from a nutrient point of view. If the children do not get the right nutrients during that time, they are totally disadvantaged for the rest of their lives in terms of school achievement, diseases and though into adulthood.”

The 20 January event kicks off a year’s action from the WFP in combating hunger, says Mr Nikoi. (#healthynothungry)

Nyatlo’s taste for Amasi developed early. “My mom made it from scratch. We never ever bought it. She still makes it from scratch. She prefers that and I do too.”

Has Nyatlo made this Amasi ice cream for his mom?

“Not yet. I will soon, the next time I go home I will make it for her. I hardly ever cook at home. She cooks…. I feel I might mess something up!” he laughs.

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