Moyra Mapeza on passion for pastries to entrepreneurship
After living and working in Victoria Falls for two years, Moyra Mapeza, affectionately called “Mo” by her family, friends and colleagues, fell in love with the hospitality field, much like most people who find themselves navigating life in the small yet globally renowned resort town that borders Zimbabwe and Zambia. Although she held an office job as a Personal Assistant, she enjoyed the unique opportunity to see and experience the many facets of the tourism industry, including operations, guest relations, event hosting and so on. Moyra was hooked. But time came again for her to move on from her short stint in Victoria Falls, and so off she headed back to Zimbabwe’s capital after her contract had ended.
Upon moving back to Harare, Mo’s next job became a beaconing call to truly consider making a shift into the events’ space from office administration. And so, it was in 2009 that her journey towards becoming a culinary professional would begin. The young and spirited, curious at heart adventurer started looking at where she could pursue training for a career in hospitality and event management. While her plan was set, life as she would have it took her in a totally different direction. In this season, it was not to be.
Lemons to lemonade – and becoming a Pastry Chef
Passion inspires, as much as it can often lead us to unexpected, life-changing spaces as it did for Moyra. A few years later, well after her plans to attend a hospitality school had come to a halt, a new opportunity presented itself, literally turning what Mo viewed to be lemons into lemonade. A month of forced leave coaxed the adventurer in her to head down to Cape Town, a trip that would be the first time to the Mother City for her.
“I looked into schools and life in Cape Town because it seemed to promise a new start for me. I wanted the exposure to global trends in the industry and because Cape Town is well positioned on the map as a global destination in Africa for tourism, a stint in this ocean front city seemed like the perfect opportunity for me,” Moyra recounts.
Despite getting rejected at some places because of her age (she would be turning 30 in the year she would enroll as a first-year student), Mo found a school that was perfect for her stringent budget. It also allowed her the flexibility she needed to be able to work on other things to help sustain her student life. It was nine months later that Moyra sold her belongings, traded her stilettos in the administrative world for flats and life as a foreign scholar.
“I studied at South African Chefs Academy (SACA) in Salt River, Cape Town. It was a year-long course structured with more practicals than theory, with a two-month internship at the One & Only Hotel, Cape Town. This was such a wonderful experience and opened up my eyes to the world of Pastry Chefs and not the glitz and glamour we watch on TV!” says Mo.
“I fell in love with pastry, and for someone who had never baked before, it really was life-changing. Like the saying goes “time flies when you are having fun”. The year went by so fast but, it was worth it and, I would not trade it for anything!”
After graduation, desperately wanting to travel and explore the world through her creativity in the kitchen, Moyra headed up north to Gauteng Province, where she worked briefly at a Country Club in Johannesburg. Though she struggled to secure a work permit, she refused to give up on her dream of becoming a Pastry Chef. Equipped with certification from the training she had completed in Cape Town, Mo started researching ways in which I could elevate the skills she had acquired from her course and experience in the kitchen.
“I decided to explore the world of cake decorating. So, I returned to Cape Town to study cake decorating with La Petite Patisserie and that was the birth of Mo's Cake Couture. It was more of a plan B whilst I waited for the perfect Pastry Chef opportunity,” says Mo.
“I felt I could use my pastry experience to produce a great product and, the decor skills would help because we eat with our eyes first, right?” Moyra chimes in.
From the Mother City, Mo headed back to Harare, her hometown, as the permit issues persisted. She was surprised to see how well her newly formed brand took off. Mo was selling cakes and cupcakes in the numbers, and in the process, she was exploring new techniques of baking and pastry décor. But the call for further exploration of opportunities outside Zimbabwe never waned. It was not too long after that she received the call to head over to the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi specifically, to work as a Pastry Chef.
The season in the UAE led to remarkable exposure to new baking methods and opportunities to try out a wide variety of culinary experiences. Mo’s creative prowess in the kitchen further blossomed during this season, before choosing to return to Zimbabwe on a maternity sabbatical. Armed with more of what she had learned in one of the world’s most iconic travel and culinary destinations, Mo got back on the saddle with building her brand – Mo’s Cake Couture.
“This time Mo's Cake Couture was bigger and better. Receiving compliments and repeat customers, I also worked as a pastry chef at a local restaurant. I could tell that I had grown so much from being a girl that had a dream to move from being an office administrator only a few years before. But the situation in Zimbabwe forced me to seek greener pastures for my child and I, and so we packed our bags and moved to Durban, South Africa,” shares Mo.
Today Mo’s Cake Couture is doing well and growing. She not only sells cakes, but her cupcakes are also a hit especially with the women’s clubs that host meetups and events in her community. Moyra has since added some pastries on her list with her signature cinnabuns being a favourite with some of her customers.
When asked to weigh on the bigger picture or the dream as it were, Mo responds: “My aspirations? Well, I would love to one day own a coffee shop or maybe two. I’m still torn between Victoria Falls and Cape Town because that is where my story began at varied intervals.”
Mo maintains that her inspiration comes from experiencing various cultures. “I’m a sucker for the beach, am a complete coffee addict and, I strongly believe food makes a huge part of people's culture and heritage. I would love to incorporate these elements into my brand,” she says.
“Mo's Cake Couture is my baby, born of a need, but now I am in love with it and, it will always be a part of me wherever I go. I believe the cake is for all to enjoy, and this thinking is what inspired my tag line – ‘Let them eat cake!’”