Over 30 Under 50: ‘I’ve created a template for young people’/ Siba Mtongana

Published 16 days ago
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Story curated by Chanel Retief and Nicole Pillay Art Direction: Lucy Nkosi Photography: Katlego Mokubyane ; Assistant: Sbusiso Sigidi Styling: Deneal Van Wyk; Outfits supplied by Fashimo Styles Studio, Ukara, Suited For Her and Preview Accessories Hair & Makeup:Vanessa Unamaca, MakoleMade Location: NewKatz.Studio, Johannesburg

If you ever find yourself with an internationally-acclaimed chef, just know that he or she will joke that they would like for you to first taste their food before adding salt. And then want you to know that this craft is an art and science come to life.

As a food and nutrition scientist, chef Siba Mtongana is no different. She gained global recognition when her show Siba’s Table first aired on Food Network, capturing the essence of South African cuisine. Reportedly, more than 150 countries and 60 million homes in the US tune into Cooking Channel alone to watch her whip up her culinary specialties, proving how hungry the world is for African cuisine.

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Q. How did your journey in the culinary world begin, and what inspired you?

A. My journey started when I was a very young girl in my mother’s kitchen, where I was so mesmerized by how my mother could turn simple ingredients into the most amazing dishes. She had a garden that my dad tended for her. My life was an interaction from the garden to the kitchen, which was really beautiful. I decided, against my parents’ wishes, to become a chef. At the time, there weren’t many people who were successful; I’m going to say specifically African black people who were successful in the food industry, especially as chefs. Therefore, my parents were very skeptical… but I do believe that I’ve created a template – because [of] my cooking show on Food Network, where I can say specifically to Africans, this is actually a career path you can take. I think my contribution to the food industry and culinary world was that I made it more relatable and easy for people to follow in my footsteps.

Q. Can you talk to us about a big career milestone?

A. I have been blessed with many career milestones but one comes to mind… I opened my first restaurant during Covid-19. SIBA–The Restaurant is a fine dining restaurant in Cape Town (at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront) and is doing incredibly well. Last year alone, we won about 10 awards, locally and internationally. I often think to myself, should I not have done it at that time, would I have had the trajectory that I am on now? Maybe not, because the story might not have been as strong but you really have to have that inner gut feel and follow it.

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