Meet our Chefs

Mel Townsend | Executive Chef, Vanilla Zulu
Your bubbly chef and host...Mel Townsend
Your bubbly chef and host…Mel Townsend

Zimbabwean-born chef Melanie Townsend owns Vanilla Zulu Culinary Adventures with a relaxed atmosphere, she runs entertaining and fun cooking classes and team building activities and events for both serious ‘foodies’ and newbies to learn how to ‘go wild’ with food.

With her love for food, mixed with a culmination of eclectic career, Melanie has come up with a fantastic interactive learning concept, which makes Vanilla Zulu a fantastic place to learn how to cook. Vanilla Zulu however, is not her first cooking school. After years of ‘working for the man’, putting up with long hours and terrible pay, Melanie was determined not to let her life long passion slip through the streams of boredom and ventured out on her own.

As a published author, mother of two and determined businesswoman she certainly has her hands full, but food is her passion and drives her to discover bigger and better ways of getting people inspired.  Her new Cooking Show, produced at Vanilla Zulu in Wilston for YouTube is a series of fun and fabulous recipes to get that round of applause with every meal you make.  The cooking show ties in with her latest book, The little black book of culinary bling as featured in the Great Taste magazine in the USA, available from She also has launched her own online store so you can now purchase her own range of Vanilla Zulu’s Culinary Bling!

In 2001, Melanie humbly opened Gecko Culinary Adventures from a granny flat attached to her home. It was the first school to offer a form of teambuilding and an interactive experience through cooking in the area, which won her four business innovation awardsHer bubbly personality gave her local celebrity status and scored her frequent guest spots on local food shows and magazine articles.

Melanie’s love for cooking was not something that started out of boredom however, like Gecko; she was brought up in even humbler beginnings. Born to a mother and father who lived in the Zambezi Valley bush in tented camps, Melanie’s father was one of the last great white hunters employed to control the spread of Tsetse flies in the early 70’s.  Melanie’s family fled the Rhodesian Bush War for rural South Africa in the early 1980s after two family members were shot and killed by terrorists in the worst of it in 1979. Melanie remembers walking over the border with nothing but two suitcases, $80 and the clothes on their backs.

Cooking quickly became a comfort for Melanie who grew up on remote farms where entertainment was sparse!

Melanie’s parents intuitively gave her a cookbook at age five which her brother would read the recipes aloud while she concocted her food masterpieces.

Melanie completed her formal chef training in Durban in 1994 and decided to head abroad to boost her career. Always quick to make friends, locals would bring Melanie all kinds of local fare on which to work her culinary magic, such as exotic berries and pheasants with the feathers still intact! One of her fondest memory during this time was cooking for Dusty Springfield at the Cregg Castle in Galway.

In 2008, Melanie decided it was time to move from South Africa in search of a safer life for her and her two young sons. The fire in her belly was still raging with the love of food, which is why in 2011 we saw the opening of Vanilla Zulu Culinary Adventures.

Behind the scenes, Melanie consults for some of Australia’s leading food producers, so her gourmet flair is unwrapped and enjoyed by many on a daily basis!

A master at creating Australian and international cuisine, Mel prides herself on her ability to teach her Vanilla Zulu participants important culinary skills whilst ensuring everyone is actively involved in the cooking experience. Her ‘Zulu” heritage makes this chef just a little more ‘wild’ and exciting with a splash of African flair finding its way onto her plates.

“Vivacious Melanie Townsend holds court with aplomb. An interactive class that flourishes with lots of wine and laughter. Even shy students will be coaxed into the cooking action!” Tracy Gielink, Food and Home Magazine

“Townsend, a bubbly, intelligent woman whose classes are fun and relaxed….” Omeshnie Naidoo, The Mercury Newspaper