DIJO: Remembering Lesego Semenya.
Today I went to the store with a plan: To braai chicken wings whilst thinking of Lesego Semenya.
Last week I heard about the passing of chef Lesego Semenya also known as LesDaChef. Another C19 fatality. In 2019 Les and I travelled around the country to shoot a web show called #letstravelandcook for the @ATKV The brief was to crack open the camping world for a wider audience whilst serving up delicious dishes made on the fire. One of these: Chicken wings.
Going around SA during the jam-packed holiday season meant that Les and I had to share living quarters at some of the venues. We would watch the world cup soccer matches at night and chat about the days’ work. There was no crew, no make-up and none of the bells and whistles that would typically fill the call sheet. He cooked, I shot, a representative from the agency represented, and the client did client things.
For someone at that level to retain humility and a sense of service to others deserves mention.
I felt that throughout our shoot.
We spoke at length about camping and culture and soccer, and South Africa and also about how doing what we do, has afforded us to travel to places we would never have seen. We spoke about Russia and the US, Europe and Hartenbos.
Les was at the top of his game. He had diabetes and had managed to churn that into an avenue for himself and his style of cuisine. Now he is gone. He was not yet 40.
It has been said that it is impossible to know someone unless you have travelled with them.
I don’t know why Les’ passing hit me harder than others. By now, we all know people who have succumbed to this cruel and ruthless disease. But some of these sting a little more than others. I don’t think I would be able to say that we were friends. But I do think I can say that I knew him.
We met up for coffee after the shoot at Rosebank. His book was coming out: Dijo. (The Sotho word for food) He showed me a picture of a beautiful old enamel stove in the house he grew up in that he wanted to feature on the cover, but he said the publisher wanted to use his face – a testament to his humility.
On set at Klein-Kariba, a line of people started forming where we were filming because they had heard: “Daar is ‘n famous sjef” and people came to take pictures. I have always found that funny about people and the irony was not lost on him either. He was as sharp as his knife. He shared the food with campers and engaged with them. He wasn’t an influencer in a setting. He was a guy genuinely interested in peoples perspectives.
Three weeks ago, I returned to the studio after having had C19 myself. I was lucky — five horrid days and then a steady recovery back to work. I had a conversation about Les with an agency looking for people to work on a luxury vehicle brand, unaware that it would not be long before he would have trouble breathing.
I wish I sent the Whatsapp.
SA has lost an incredible role model, a one-in-a-million ambassador, and a great artisan.
I will never forget your comforting and infectious laugh.
My wings weren’t as good as yours Les, but we both knew that coming into this thing.
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John-Henry is the founder and owner of The Media Farm and has been creating television, films, music and digital content for more than 15 years.