Food, fashion designer, entrepreneur, author – Nthabiseng Nti Ramaboa is undoubtedly up there with the best when it comes to awe-inspiring multitasking skills.
She’s a TV chef, an MC, fashion designer, restaurant owner, entrepreneur and now a published author … really, what can’t Nthabiseng Nti Ramaboa (better known as Chef Nti) do?
Her latest endeavour saw the publishing of her cookbook My Modern African Kitchen, which is set to become a Mzansi home staple. ‘My mom taught me to cook,’ Chef Nti says.
‘I grew up in Soweto with my mom and sister. Cooking was one of the chores and my sister didn’t care much for it so I cooked. I wanted my story to lead the recipes, so we went back to my childhood, my troubles, my time in Italy, my life… And, I think, back to the food that made those memories – then the recipes followed.’
Her recipes showcase home-grown ingredients in an accessible way, while still enhancing the skills of the home chef.
‘Growing up eating pap and pilchards used to feed my soul – and it still does,’ Chef Nti explains.
‘The book takes a traditional favourite like pap and tinned fish (especially important with our economy being so tough these days), then elevates them with a modern take by turning them into a tart. That tart moves from oven to table, is sliced and shared with those you love and tastes like home. You can find it on Page 68!’
The cookbook also sees Chef Nti incorporating aspects of her time living abroad. These recipes have Asian and Mediterranean fusion aspects. For example, seafood paella makes an appearance but instead of rice, samp is substituted, adding a bit of South Africa to global influences. ‘It takes what we love every day, then gives it a twist, making it something special,’ Chef Nti says.
Given the opportunity, she’d expose everyone abroad (and every foreign visitor to South Africa) to pap. ‘I have an entire chapter in my cookbook dedicated to maize meal!’ she says. ‘It’s an ingredient that unites us as a country and it’s so special to me, to my childhood. Ask me who I am and I’ll take you to that chapter. That’s the grain I first started cooking with.’
The recipes are designed to be accessible to everyone, with no dish being particularly technical or fiddly. ‘The toughest dish for a chef to cook is the dish you’re not excited about,’ Chef Nti says.
‘Food is a form of expression and if you’re not feeling the process or you’re feeling defeated, you’ll have a tough time in the kitchen. Confidence makes anything possible in cooking. You have to learn to have fun with it.’
If there’s anyone who’s an authority on the subject of confidence making anything possible, it’s Chef Nti. ‘My business wiped out (as businesses do) in 2013 and I had to start over. While rebuilding myself, I documented everything on social media to try to live an honest life. I didn’t want to hide anything. You can go from driving a Porsche to not having a car at all. I’m proud of my journey and where I am today.’
Where she is today is … well, all over the place. She balances being a professional chef with running a restaurant, a fashion-apron line and a sauce-manufacturing business. ‘My apron business started when I became a professional chef,’ Chef Nti explains.
‘I thought the aprons around me weren’t cute enough! I figured I have a background in the fashion industry, so I made fancy aprons that complement the fashionista look in the kitchen. Then came Taste Kitchen in Maboneng. We’re having a good time, we’re busy, we make sauces in-house … then found guests were just loving the sauces so we decided to seize the opportunity and sell them.’
Where to next? ‘A TV show! Yes! Food, travelling Africa, beautiful things … I think also more products further down the line.’
As for Chef Nti’s festive plans, the focus will be on family. ‘I try to wrap up work by December 19, then it’s family, family, family.’ When it comes to the big day, the star of the show, for Chef Nti, is the turkey. ‘It’s like lipstick. You do your make-up and you look good, but you’re not complete until that perfect colour is on your lips. So for Christmas, have everything on your table – and buy the biggest turkey you can.’
Details: @chef_nti on Instagram
A duo of handy kitchen tips from Chef Nti:
1. Bananas ripen quickly so to prevent that, separate them from the bunch, then wrap the open end with cling wrap. It looks bad but you’ll also have perfect bananas for ages.
2. Check if your eggs are fresh by dropping them in water. When they sink to the bottom, the egg is fresh. If it’s in the middle, it’s getting to its last legs and if it floats … stay away!