Meet Our Chefs

Mel Alafaci | Executive Chef, Vanilla Zulu

Zimbabwean-born chef Melanie Alafaci (nee Townsend) owns Vanilla Zulu Culinary Adventures.

With a relaxed atmosphere and a team of very experienced and passionate chefs, Vanilla Zulu runs entertaining and fun cooking classes as well as team building activities and events for both serious ‘foodies’ and newbies who want to learn how to ‘go wild’ with food.

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 of food and cooking slip away through commercial kitchen stress and ventured out on her own.

In 2001 back in sunny Durban South Africa, 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.

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! 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


New Chefs to the team include

Chef Jan Cranitch

Chef Jan has been with Vanilla Zulu for over a year after the Black Pearl Cooking School and show room closed down.  Mel was quick to snap Chef Jan up and welcome her to the ever-growing Vanilla Zulu tribe.  Chef Jan was the perfect fit for Vanilla Zulu with her bubbly enthusiasm and passion for food, as well as a fantastic career as a chef and businesswoman.  Chef Jan brings with her years of fabulous experience and foodie passion and is a remarkable teacher.

 Chef Jan is not only a qualified chef but also ran various food businesses over the years so is also helping Mel grow the Culinary Bling range of food products.

Chef Jan has proven very popular with our foodie and corporate clients and continues to help the popularity of Vanilla Zulu grow.