Finding inspiration to cook a fresh, healthy meal at the end of the day can be tough on a busy schedule let alone spending the time te enjoy cooking again.

Chef Melanie Townsend knows the scenario too well and finds joy in helping people reconnect with their love of cooking through simple, fun and impressive recipes that inject life back into your daily kitchen routine.

Opening the Vanilla Zulu cooking school in Wilston two years ago, the former South African chef is a 20-year industry veteran but says her passion moved out of the kitchen into the class room some time ago.

“I always say I’ve done my time in the kitchen,” says Executive Chef Melanie Townsend.

“It can be thankless sometimes but now I love teaching people cooking, and I love the social aspect of cooking much more.”

The Vanilla Zulu cooking classes are a three-hour cooking session during which 8-14 participants prepare and eat a three course meal, learning everything from knife skills to ingredient selection along the way.

Increasingly, food intollerances including coeliac come up a lot with client requests, says Townsend.

“I do get a lot of people in frustration saying they can’t cook for the family because so and so doesn’t eat gluten and everyone has some kind of intolerance.

“I show them how to get the best ingredients and from there you can create so many meals and the fact they don’t contain gluten or whatever isn’t even an issue.

“A lot of people look for inspiration so it’s nice to motivate people to keep eating healthily.”

Want to eat yourself sexy? Try Mel’s low fat smoked chicken, mayo and mint gourmet stacks:

Smoked Chicken, Mayo and mint gourmet stacks

  • 200g smoked chicken breast fillets, sliced thinly
  • 50ml -100ml fat free yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint and/or basil
  • 1 granny smith apple, cored and finely sliced
  • Half a cup fennel, julienne
  • 1 cup finely chopped broccoli
  • Lots of ground black pepper
  • 1 cucumber, make into ribbons using your peeler (or slightly roast zucchini ribbons instead)
  • Slices of roasted sweet potato, lightly coated in your favourite spice…be creative


Place the sweet potato on a large white platter or individual dinner plates.  Mix the chicken, yougurt, mint and apple together and mix.  Place a large tablespoon of this in the center of the sweet potato.  Now use a cucumber ribbon to wrap around the filling to create a neat little stack….easy!  And so gorgeous!  Now garnish with lots of ground black pepper and fresh rocket or mustard cress and serve!  Drizzle with a herbed oil if you’re feeling daring!

You could also season this with wasabi paste, horseradish or grainy mustard!