Written for Food&Home. Originally published on 4 November 2022.

To celebrate World Vegan Month, we chatted to Emma van Zyl, founder of The Skinnie Chef, to find out all about her brand and her range of unique vegan products.

What sparked the idea to create The Skinnie Chef range of products?

There were so many little things that lead me to create these products. The first is, I have a very big sweet tooth and decided to transition to the healthier side of life. I started experimenting baking delicious treats using vegetables and fruits and absolutely loved it, and I loved sharing the treats with people and shocking them with the ingredients after. After playing around and loving what could be, I found myself very frustrated with the options out there. I couldn’t understand why healthier options tasted a lot like dirt: there is truly no reason for this. Also as a chef, cooking for people is one of my biggest love languages and so I decided to take it upon myself to create products that are healthy and wholesome that actually taste delicious!

What inspired the name “The Skinnie Chef”?

I was actually standing in the family farm kitchen with one of my family members saying how I wanted to start a business and what should I even call it and he simply looked at me and said “the skinnie chef” and that was it, it stuck and i love it!

If you could describe The Skinnie Chef in 3-5 words, what would they be?

Delicious, wholesome, moreish

From the beginning, what has been your vision for The Skinnie Chef range of products?

I want The Skinnie Chef products to be for everyone with no intimidation. Yes it’s healthy and low calorie, but that is not a limitation it is just a perk. I want that to be for everyone no matter what diet or lifestyle you follow.

What makes your products unique?

I’d say the minimal ingredients. I have never understood how products can have 100 ingredients and usually no one knows what most of them are. The Skinnie Chef is straightforward, open honest and has no harmful ingredients (love that if you drop a crumb or want to share [with] your fur friends they will be safe).

What are the core values of The Skinnie Chef brand?

We are committed to providing healthy food through our quality products. Unity and understanding to value biodiversity to make sure everyone can feel part of and included by The Skinnie chef.

What is your background as a chef and product developer?

I specialised as a patisserie chef and worked under some wonderfully talented French patisserie masters and also fine dining background. From there I moved onto private cheffing which I currently still do. I also decided to study nutrition as well to really understand food and the body.

How long did it take to develop your range of products?

It took about a year to create the first two products (cookie doughs), I can’t even explain how many cookies and raw dough I ate that year, haha. The mug muffins took me about 4 months to perfect before I launched them.

What inspires new flavours and products?

This is actually quite funny…I was ready to start my business but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to put out there yet. While I was in this train of thought, I happened to walk into the lounge where the show Big Bang was on and the one character Amy asked the other for cookie dough and BANG it hit me, wholesome healthy cookie dough! So that was the start, not very traditional but inspiration never is. Then for flavours, I always start with what I would enjoy and sample it on a diverse group of people to see what the favourites are and then it goes from there.

“So that was the start, not very traditional but inspiration never is.”

Do you have a favourite product in your range that people should definitely try first?

I am obviously very biased, I love them all! The vanilla nilla mug muffin and salted chocolate chip are staples in my home though.

What were you hoping to achieve with the aesthetic of your packaging?

For it to be fun and playful while also sharing pieces of my life with my clientele.

How do you want people to feel when they try your products?

Happy, happy happy!

What would you say is the best thing about your brand?

That it is so personal and that there is a lot of love behind everything in The Skinnie Chef.

What is your favourite ingredient in vegan baking?


Do you have a favourite recipe that uses one of your products?

Yes, I LOVE making flapjacks using my mug muffins!

How has vegan food, cooking, and baking influenced your life?

Plant based cooking has really changed the game in the world of food and especially for me. It almost feels limitless and it allows me to be as creative as I can be. It gives you the opportunity to go away from the norm and create new exciting things from what mother nature provides and being an outdoors country person, it makes me love nature even more!

Do you have any foodie influences or someone that inspires your food philosophy?

There is an Instagrammer called @earthyandy and I absolutely love her way of life and food. She is also always creating and sharing the most incredible plant based food, she is a beautiful boss business women, and everything she does is also so full of love and for the benefit of the person at the end. Really stunning human and products.

What is your hope for the future of The Skinnie Chef brand?

My hope for The Skinnie Chef is to keep growing and provide the most incredible snacks for everyone. I aim to help people find more balance in their lives and filling it with positivity, as that saying goes ‘you are what you eat’ so why would you not want to be sweet and healthy?

What can we look forward to seeing from your brand going forward?

Amazingly enough, we have just launched our online site, so that is very exciting ! Making The Skinnie Chef accessible to everyone all over South Africa. Of course come the new year there will be some new products coming out for everyone to enjoy but that is still hush hush for now.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am just very thankful to everyone who supports The Skinnie Chef. This is such a dream come true and it is so wonderful to be able to share it with so many people!

Feature Image: Carla Steyn