The Ice Cream Man: Tapiwa Guzha Q & A

The ice cream man is coming!

Words by Zaza Muchemwa (Writer / Director)
Questions by Zaza Muchemwa and Alex Gwaze (Curator)

Growing up ice cream was always a special treat you only got on holidays or from that special someone you liked. It wasn’t common like Sadza and ‘veggies. You really had to be good and finish all your homework, before your mother would maybe allow you to indulge in the delectable experience, over the weekend. On the other hand foods like mazhanje, matowe and mopani worms were also unusual. This is because they were either seasonal or seen as too rural for city living. So they were also a treat – but a different more chewey, getting back to your ‘African roots’ type of experience – than the lovey-dovey-ice-licking sweet taste of ice cream. Who knew you could combine these uncommon elements and come up with an extra-special treat? Well, I certainly didn’t.  

When I first heard about Tapiwa Guzha, a Zimbabwean Microbiologist who invented more than 600 ice-cream flavours, my jaw dropped (I couldn’t wait to taste them all). But when I heard his ice creams were African centred and included flavours like imphepho (sage), sour milk, greens, smoke, okra and ivhu (edible clay) – I was curious and proud (but also thinking to myself, Tapiwa might be homesick). I later found out that Dr. Tapiwa Guzha is a University of Cape Town graduate, an Indigenous food Revivalist, African Storyteller, Calligrapher and Sex Educator. And, he was inspired by his grandmother and an episode of Master Chef to create his own ice cream bistro called “Tapi Tapi”. Located in Cape Town, “Tapi Tapi’ (meaning ‘sweet sweet’ in the Chikorekore dialect of the Shona language in Zimbabwe), serves ice cream with authentic tastes from all over Africa.

We caught up with Tapiwa (in between the working hours) to talk about how he managed to harness multiple knowledge systems to create something “good for the culture” – and how he took food security to another level.

ZM: What began as a direct-delivery service in 2018 is now a fully-fledged business reviewed by “BBC News”, “CNN”, “The Mail and Guardian” and Nederburg’s “I’ll Bring The Wine” series. How did you turn your “self-imposed dare” into a globally recognized business?

TG: I wouldn’t say I made any conscientious effort to become a globally recognized business. And in fact, the opposite is probably true. I am more interested in focusing my work on the continent. I think the genuine nature of my mission and my communication on that mission has made my story appealing to people. And it resonates with people that are not only in South Africa and the continent, but globally as well. So, there was never an aim, and it was a wonderful, unexpected outcome of the work but it was not by design.

AG: You are a Microbiologist, Indigenous food advocate, Confectioner and Cultural rehabilitator. Different roles with some contradictions. So how do you go about developing the ice cream flavours. Are you motivated by taste, technical execution, experiences or?

TG: I think different flavours and different concepts require different approaches. So, when it comes to flavour development I always think about, ‘What am I trying to say with the flavour? Is it about celebrating the ingredient? Is it about celebrating a cooking technique? Is it about celebrating natural phenomenon on the continent? Or is it about talking about politics or philosophy?’ So, flavour development often starts at that point. Like, “What am I trying to do this week? Do I have a theme in mind? Or are we just making delicious ice cream here?’ And depending on the nature of the ingredients; the ph. levels, the texture, the dryness or the relative moisture within the ingredients and how they react with sugar, milk and fat. All those factors come into play. And you then develop your flavour based on more of the practical considerations. So, once I know I am going to make a particular flavour then I have to think about, ‘What’s the chemistry at play here? What’s the likelihood that this will work? What’s the likelihood that it will taste the way I am thinking it will in my head knowing the potential chemical reactions?’

ZM: I noticed that you use indigenous languages to name some of your flavours. For example, “ivhu” (edible clay), “musika” (tamarind and coconut), “thiakry / degue” (millet couscous and sour milk) and “amagwinya” (fried dough). It reminds me of how they use French names in fancy restaurants. Did you use African names as a reaction to this practice of using French?

TG: We use the local names for things not as a reaction to anything but because those are the local names for things. It’s pretty bizarre to want to name our flavors using European languages. Yeah, so we use English names to describe things. But if we want to name dishes, we will always use a local name.  We use either Shona or any other language from the continent-depending on where the ingredient is from or the concept, the idea or the flavour is coming from. So yeah, it’s not so much about pushing back. But it is just about, ‘We live here so let’s use our languages. And if you are in France, you do whatever you wanna do in France.’

AG: Some people assume products with African names, made for Africans by Africans are cheap or low quality. Especially our fellow Africans. Besides some customers scoffing at the price of ice cream, what’s the most memorable reaction you ever had at “Tapi Tapi”?

TG: So, some of your questions fundamentally are at loggerheads with the way I see life. I don’t really do rankings of best or most ridiculous or most offensive or most whatever. Experiences are experiences and they all have their intrinsic value to me. So, I wouldn’t say I have a particular memorable reaction. We have different classes of reactions. Some people are bewildered. Some people are shocked. Some people are excited. Some people are disgusted. Some people are offended. And some people are just mesmerized. So, there is no one particular memory that I think sticks out. They all are beautiful and difficult. I would say it’s interesting to know what different people’s experiences are in the space and what kind of past traumas and personal baggage do they bring with themselves into that space – yeah.

AG: Lately some South Africans are vehemently Afrophobic or Xenophobic. So, I’m sure your ice cream might spark some lively conversations. What is the most positive comment or interesting connection to Africa, South Africans have ever made in relation to your products?

TG: This is another question I don’t really have an answer for. I don’t think of individual moments as being more important or less important. So, it’s a difficult one to answer. What I find interesting is sometimes people have forgotten about an ingredient or a cooking technique. And it takes ice cream to reconnect them with that particular thing. So, I always find that fascinating; that this non-local cooking technique is helping people reconnect with their local cultures. And sometimes you will find people are learning about the multiple uses of a particular ingredient for the first time. Or maybe they consider ingredients that they thought were maybe reserved for certain cultural practices but actually there are no properties or no nutritional value. So, it’s always shocking when you end up, quote unquote, “mansplaining” things to the local custodians of those things. So, yeah – you will find sometimes I am explaining things to a Nigerian person who grew up in Nigeria but doesn’t know what the hell I am talking about just because I have done a bit more research because it is necessity of the work. So that’s not unique to South Africa. It is everybody.

ZM: Besides fostering dialogue, food also makes one nostalgic. I suspect you will never tell us which one of the 600 is your “flavourite” ice cream but I’m sure there is one that is very personal and stirs up memories. Which flavour is it and what memories does it conjure?

TG: To be honest I don’t really eat that much ice cream anymore. After you have made as much ice cream as I have the flavours stop being as memorable. How do I put it? I enjoy making ice cream. I still enjoy eating ice cream. But it’s not the first thing I think of when I want to have a treat. Because I have had enough ice cream in my life. More importantly I have had enough ice cream that speaks to my identity in my life. So, they are all affirming in different ways and ultimately the thing that’s still fun is knowing I do this. And that I bring joy to other people’s lives. But probably if I were to identify memorable flavours are normally the ones I would be making either from ingredients I think are unusual or unexpected. So like okra, mopani worms, fish. Or ingredients from my childhood like wild fruits from Zimbabwe; matsau, tsubvu, tsvanzvu – things that people wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in an ice cream. So, they are not memorable, but they are just like, ‘Oh! that’s interesting I managed to make that work.’

ZM: Social media is the new way to create and store memories, especially for foodies. However, not everyone is a fan of the ‘camera eating first’, food porn and the envy it generates. What are your thoughts on people taking and sharing pictures of their meals?

TG: I think it’s empowering and beautiful to see people sharing food. But I mean particularly food that they are creating. Sharing food that other people are creating for you, that’s a different thing. That’s about celebrating the beauty of that food itself and that person’s creativity and expression. So, I enjoy that as well for that reason. But I like people making their own food. So, I am more likely to be excited seeing something that someone made rather than seeing something that someone bought from another place. But ultimately it comes down to the intentions and purposes of you sharing that food, that image. By sharing any image really what are you trying to do? Are you doing this because you think it will benefit other people? Are you doing this because you are trying to create envy in other people?  Or are you trying to start a conversation or a dialogue? Yeah, what are the intentions of the person sharing the image?  Image sharing matters more than the image. Because if your purpose is causing provocation for the sake of causing pain that’s something else. Versus causing discomfort and learning, that’s another thing entirely. So, it comes down to the purpose and intention of the person who is sharing the food, yeah. So, this is not one blanket treatment that will apply to everybody and such. I don’t have a strong opinion overall. It just depends on the photo and the person.  

ZM: Besides restaurant ‘food envy’, I know people that complain that all these fast foods places and imports are “unhealthy”. As a traditional food advocate do you feel the same? Have our diets gotten worse lately?

TG: I don’t think it’s a big secret that the way we consume food as a species has changed over the last 50, 60 years. And part of that is through the process of ultra-refining of food, processing of food. And our diets have changed. For many of us that means they have gotten a lot unhealthier. But also, foods themselves have also become unhealthy. So, yeah, I would say ultimately our diets have changed. I don’t know if I will say they have gotten worse or better. I know they have changed a lot. The impacts of it remains to be truly seen with more long-term studies and observations. But it seems like we are not doing so well as an animal, based on our how we are consuming. Not only consuming food but consuming the planet in its entirety. Our hunger for more and more resources and the consequence of that hunger is very apparent. So, I don’t think it’s only food that we have to be thinking about and examining. I think as an animal we have just gotten a lot more vigorous with our consumption.

AG: I read somewhere that the produce from your grandmother’s garden cultivated your love for indigenous foods. So, I got to ask, do you have your own garden? If so, what do you grow?

TG: I do have a garden. Unfortunately, I live in a neighborhood full of squirrels so I can’t really grow fruiting plants or like nice tasting plants. So, I grow a lot of herbs like wild rosemary’s, wild sages and some mustard greens as well, some lavender, some bay leaf. So it’s only plants that I will be using as spicing or seasoning. Because the squirrels dig up, (laughs).  They really dig up some of the really delicious foods like carrots and beets and that kind of thing and tomatoes and cucumber and sweet potato-so that’s a future exercise. So, I tend to grow succulents as well. And ultimately, it’s just about providing some biodiversity with the land that I live in even at the café. So, it’s about creating an ecosystem where other animals can prosper, your insects, your butterflies, your bees, ladybugs, aphids – whatever. It’s about adding more life even if some of that life is quote unquote ‘pests’. So, I don’t really grow food in my garden for food really. I use the herbs from time to time. But I am not even growing the herbs for my own consumption. It’s just for the ecosystem and to keep the soil healthy and covered – yeah.

ZM: As a Microbiologist who has tinkered with at least 600 flavours of something as indulgent as ice cream, you must know some “things”. So, my last question is what is the best combination of aphrodisiacs that always work for you and your partner – that we should all try?

TG: Oh, I don’t really believe in the use if aphrodisiacs. I don’t believe that’s a thing (laughs). I don’t subscribe to the idea that eating a particular food will result in a particular mood really. But I do think taking the time out to cook a meal for somebody. Or to share a meal with somebody. Or to receive a meal and buy ingredients. And the deliberate process of sharing time in that way is quite intimate. It can foster a nice sensual and potentially sexual environment. And yeah, can open you up to pleasurable moments. But that’s not down to particular like chemical compositions of the foods themselves. That’s more down to the clarity and the intention of the desire to share a moment with someone.

Follow Tapiwa Guzha at: @_tapi_tapi
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One thought on “The Ice Cream Man: Tapiwa Guzha Q & A

  1. I first saw this guy on TV addressing this issue of introducing African flavoured ice creams. So proud the idea is embraced


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