Photography by Andrew Cowen
Words by Zindzi Okenyo
Design by Evi O
When I got the email from Dish-Pig saying they wanted to do an article on me, I was super happy because I was already in love with them. But when they said I would cook I started to squeal. And I don’t really squeal. I have to say though, food and cooking is something that in the last few years I have come to appreciate more and more, the art and the fun of it.
I grew up all over Australia, my mum is an English-as-a-second-language teacher (ESL) and we moved around wherever her jobs were. After growing up in the remote center of the Northern Territory desert, living above a shop in Rockhampton, in the chill of the Adelaide Hills and many a late night Greyhound bus trip, I ended up in Tasmania for high school and stayed there until I got accepted into the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney, now I’ve lived here for thirteen years. I’m a homebody and a traveller all at once and that’s because everywhere I went I had a strong sense of family and belonging but a keen eye for adventure. I have been working in professional theatre for the past nine years and essentially grown up on stage. Being thrown into such high pressure but exhilarating circumstances pushes me as an artist and a person. It’s an exhausting but thrilling lifestyle. The people you meet and the stories they tell are like no other, the community and the convergence of ideas is the best aspect of the job. I also work on children’s programme Play School and it’s an absolute treat. I’ve always loved and valued children as important individuals and Play School really follows through with that ethos. It turns 50 this year!!
I bought an apartment in Chippendale six years ago and it’s the perfect location for creativity. As an actor/singer songwriter it’s so important I have space to create literally and mentally. Writing songs in this apartment has been an integral part to the way I write and the mind state I’ve been in. Cooking is also something I’ve always come to for calm and respite. I’m a terrible baker but I love cooking Mexican, Lebanese and am learning a few French techniques but my favourite style of cooking is Japanese. My partner’s mum gave me a book for Christmas called Tokyo Cult and it shows you how to prepare all the basics and I just love it! Now everything has dashi in it.
The two books Dish-Pig sent me were spot on for honing in on food I love, but one was on wholefoods (delicious but very sensible) and the other one was recipes akin to what you might find at an old school Milk Bar so it was an obvious choice. Milkbar Memories has lots of recipes I loved but I went with the good ol’ Crispy Chicken Burger because I was strapped for time and umm it’s delicious. I burnt myself with the spitting oil but it doesn’t matter because the egg sauce tasted like Big Mac special sauce and now I know the secret and the chicken was cooked perfectly juicy and yum. To be honest, I’m pretty happy burgers have come back into food fashion because they are freaking delicious and I basically want to eat them all the time. The chicken at Belle’s Hot Chicken (originally Melbourne but recently opened in Barangaroo) is out of control and I love being able to eat messy where there isn’t even the choice to be clean. On the flipside, one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney is Kensington St Social, the epitome of modern restraint. The menu is so clever and clean but always robust in flavour.
I do also have to mention my cat. Because look at her. Honestly. She cracks me up every day and she is never not funny and loving. Her name is Lunar Flat Face Okenyo and she is a treasure in my life, a wonderful little creature. I also love that she brings joy to so many others, she’s well known for turning non-cat lovers into full blown feline followers. She always manages to make her way into photo shoots.
Zindzi Okenyo has just finished tour supports for Urthboy and Santifold. Her first single, 10 Feet Tall is out now and she is currently working on a play called Disgraced at the Melbourne Theatre Company.