About Mel


Culinary Quickies Cookbook

Foodie Tours

Coming Soon.

Media Appearances

From keynote speaker to cooking demonstartions.

Mel In Her Kitchen Studio


With a genuine smile that can light up a room, an entirely new and fresh approach to cooking and a culinary lingo all of her own, Chef Mel Alafaci is quickly becoming a globally recognised chef and personality.  Mel believes her flair comes from living in various countries and travelling extensively.

Mel is sassy, talented, witty and funny and is also fondly known as “The Happy Chef” by her students. Mel’s clever cooking approach focuses on simple versatile recipes with time spent on excellent presentation.

Mel’s style of cooking is fun, quick, tasty, colourful and bursting with personality and texture.  Mel promises she can make any dish look ten bucks more expensive and will show you every shortcut she knows to get you a round of applause with minimal effort.

Mel’s other passion is travelling and discovering different cultures and cuisines, and then bringing those ideas and influences onto her plates.

Make delicious discoveries with Chef Mel The Vanilla Zulu!


Chef, Teacher, Author & Presenter

This enthusiastic, entertaining, award winning African-Australian chef and cooking school owner says with a little know how anyone can plate up spectacular spreads similar to what you’d expect to see in five star restaurants. Mel is brilliant at making everyday dishes dazzling. She promises that after one of her classes you will live happily ever after. She ardently believes that even boring mince and chicken breasts can be absolutely sexy.

So it came as no surprise when the Royal Queensland Show, the awesome EKKA asked local celebrity chef Mel to be their host and presenter at the 2019 Ekka Cooking School and Celebrity Chef Stages.  What an honour and a privilege.

She’s blonde, she’s African-Australian, she’s bubbly and she’s a talented chef and she runs one of Brisbane’s most successful cooking schools. 

Chef Mel’s happy smile is one of the reasons she’s become a regular on lifestyle and cooking segments on Australian radio and television shows over the years.


Vanilla Zulu Executive Chef

Chef Mel believes in using the freshest local ingredients and having a repertoire of reliable recipes that you can rehash and refresh by using different sides and accompaniments. Just as you would wear the same little black dress time and again and dress it up with new earrings, a new handbag and new shoes…it’s all about culinary bling and accessories! If you shop clever, you can cook clever too. It doesn’t have to be expensive but you too can achieve a round of applause if you know some valuable ‘cheffy‘ tricks. Armed with a sassy sense of humour Mel is willing to share everything she knows about her passion…which is cooking! Her students LOVE how she makes cooking fun through clever analogies, they even say she “speaks Mel” a language all of her own that explains her culinary procedures in a quick and clear way.

“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 for Food and Home Magazine, South Africa

“Having a chat to vivacious blonde bombshell Mel Alafaci, it doesn’t take long to figure out behind the huge personality is a seriously good chef who emerged from humble beginnings”

– Valerie Ferdinands for My Village News, Brisbane

“Townsend, a bubbly, intelligent woman who’s classes are fun and relaxed….”

Omeshnie Naidoo The Mercury Newspaper, South Africa

Zimbabwean-born chef Melanie Alafaci (nee Townsend) owns the Vanilla Zulu cooking school in Teneriffe, Brisbane, where she gives foodies and newbies a fun and relaxed atmosphere to “go wild” with food.  Vanilla Zulu is Melanie’s second cooking school and the culmination of an eclectic career spanning nearly two decades, flavoured by a life rich in experience.

Her love of food was born during her childhood, long before her career as a chef.

Born to a mother and father that lived in the Zambezi Valley bush in tented camps, Melanie’s father was one of the last great white ‘bushmen’ 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, her father’s hunting rifles, 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 cook book at age five and her brother would read the recipes aloud while she concocted her food masterpieces.

Melanie completed her formal chef training in Durban in 1994, where she went on to start her first cooking school. First, though, she took her career abroad, backpacking her way around the UK and working at various hotels and restaurants. 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! Her fondest memory during this time was cooking for Dusty Springfield at the Cregg Castle in Galway.

Heading back to a dismal job scene in Durban in the late 1990s, Mel became quickly disgruntled with long hours and feeble pay in the kitchens and started her first cooking school venture, Gecko Culinary Adventures, was established in 2001 and run humbly from a granny flat attached to her home. Hers was the first school in the area to offer team building through cooking, winning Mel four business innovation awards. Her bubbly personality gave her local celebrity status and scored her frequent guest spots on local food shows and magazine articles.

When she bid farewell to South Africa eleven years ago in search of a safer life for her and her two young sons, Mel had a burning desire to ensure the spirit of her cooking school lived on here in Australia. Vanilla Zulu, her latest venture, debuted on the Brisbane food scene midway through 2011.

Melanie is now a published author with two very exciting recipe books under her belt and is currently working on her third.  Melanie is proud to have been ambassador chef for Stork Cremendous, Gourmet Garden, Crystal Bay prawns, Movenpick Ice Cream, ChefWorks,  NEFF appliances, Bosch appliances and is also an avid blogger which allows her to express her excitement about her latest food find! As a global traveller she loves to explore and make delicious discoveries along the way.

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!

She is proud to share all of her foodie travel experiences to her loyal fans, sharing her favourite foodie picks along the way and then creating recipes from the inspiration.  A proud African, she loves to share her African roots with her Aussie and global fans.

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Some of The Many Companies Mel has Worked