Chef Nti

Nthabiseng Ram­aboa has lived many lives – in busi­ness, fash­ion, and now, food. But she’s al­ways stayed true to her roots. Now, she’s cel­e­brat­ing South African flavours with her event space in Mabo­neng in Joburg

Woolworths TASTE - - Bubbling Under - @chef_nti

I grew up in Soweto.

It was just me, my gran, mom and sis­ter. When it was a good day, we knew, be­cause we would cel­e­brate with food. I’d come back from school on a cold win­ter’s day and my gran would have made scones. From when I was 13,

I was the des­ig­nated chef at home.

I left home at 16-and-a-half with R800.

My mom was a sin­gle par­ent at the time, and that’s all she had, but I reg­is­tered at Tech­nikon SA.

Then I en­tered a beauty pageant and won. I asked the dean’s of­fice to give me a job in­stead of the prize. That’s how my jour­ney started.

Even now when I wake up some­times I think I have been do­ing this!

I feel like I’ve lived many lives.

I worked in the tele­com sec­tor, then I joined The Rep­u­ta­tion In­sti­tute dur­ing Thabo Mbeki’s era. Then I was poached by SAA’s CSI depart­ment. I started my own con­sul­tancy firm while I was there. For the first two years [of run­ning it], I was still work­ing at SAA, so I would get by with three hours’ sleep.

In my early twen­ties, I fell in love with a guy who had to go to Italy for work.

We lived there for two years. When I came back, I used the con­tacts and re­la­tion­ships I had formed to start my fash­ion busi­ness. I couldn’t find trendy, fun, work cloth­ing, so I started de­sign­ing clean­cut, fem­i­nine, el­e­gant clothes so that a girl could walk into the of­fice and still feel good. I would im­port and de­sign my own stuff and even­tu­ally I had three bou­tiques.

Then, my re­tail busi­ness went south.

I had to close my stores. I sold my house and went to LA to re­search the food in­dus­try. I thought, if I’m go­ing to fall over, I’m go­ing to make it fun.

Ital­ians are so ob­sessed with their food.

You can’t tell an Ital­ian that there is any­thing bet­ter than Ital­ian food.

But in South Africa, we are so di­verse. When I went to LA, I strug­gled to ex­plain South African food.

In 2015, I reg­is­tered for a Diploma of Culi­nary Arts

at the In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel School. It was full time and life got real – I was su­per broke. I had to get by on R50 in a week – I was that girl from Soweto with R800 all over again. But I’m very grate­ful for that ex­pe­ri­ence in my life, be­cause it made me more con­tent.

My back­ground in busi­ness helped me to find my new call­ing, to con­nect brands with au­di­ences.

I’m from Soweto, I un­der­stand that

nar­ra­tive, I re­late to peo­ple there. Af­ter culi­nary school, I was called in for screen tests with Tiger Brands, and that’s how the tele­vi­sion show The Per­fect Ace came about.

I feel like there are still a lot of sto­ries about South African food that need to be told.

Like gem­mer­bier (gin­ger beer) and scones. If you wake up in the town­ship on Christ­mas morn­ing, it’s not com­plete with­out the smell of gin­ger beer brew­ing. And when you see your mom is mak­ing scones, you know there are guests com­ing.

Now I host pop-ups at my space in Mabo­neng, The Taste Kitchen.

The idea was to go back to food mem­o­ries. When you look at the black com­mu­nity in SA, when there’s a cel­e­bra­tion, umqom­bothi must be there. It’s an ac­quired taste, so I thought how can I bring this to our gen­er­a­tion in a way we will en­joy it? We de­cided to make a mousse with it, with beau­ti­ful bis­cuit crust, crum­ble, boozy pineap­ple in­fused with rum, and rum syrup. We make it look fancy, but the idea is to cel­e­brate food that is proudly South African; food that is part of our her­itage. Peo­ple love it; we get amaz­ing feed­back. We also serve a dish in­spired by um­le­qwa or hard­body chicken. We cook the chicken like my gran used to, but we’ve bor­rowed from Asian food, too. We mould our dom­bolo in the same shape as bao. We stuff these with pulled chicken, chakalaka and cab­bage. My mom used to serve cab­bage with ev­ery­thing – prob­a­bly for five years straight, ev­ery night. We use Chi­nese cab­bage. We also do fish and chips, but our chips are made of pap, moulded and shal­low fried.

I’m in­spired by Siba Mton­gana,

she re­ally was the first one to do it for all of us young, black South Africans. I travel a lot, and when I say I’m a chef, they say “Siba!” It’s such a beau­ti­ful thing; we are well-rep­re­sented by her.

I would tell young chefs to stay con­sis­tent – suc­cess comes from be­ing con­sis­tent.

Be pre­pared to work hard, be­cause this is not as easy as it looks. I have never worked this hard for my money be­fore! It is phys­i­cal labour! And be true to who you are. Own it, and stick to your nar­ra­tive.

“I’M IN­SPIRED BY SIBA, SHE RE­ALLY WAS THE FIRST TO DO IT FOR ALL OF US YOUNG, BLACK SOUTH AFRICANS” – NTHABISENG

RAM­ABOA

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