I was fortunate to be raised by a father who had travelled and worked as a cook on ships. Thamsanqa Mqwebu enriched our lives with his Sunday meals, which the family always looked forward to.

He instilled in us a sense of culinary adventure and I learned to eat and taste rare and raw food before it was mainstream and, unlike most children, to eat and enjoy vegetables of all kinds.

My grandmother, Noluthando MaGaqa Kunene, a Xhosa lady of the AbaThembu tribe, was a pioneer. She owned what Americans call a ‘diner’ in Howick, KZN. My first burn was on her coal stove, where I fell with both hands on the scorching plates. She bathed my wounds for weeks afterwards.

She later taught me to cook porridge, ujeqe (steamed bread) and perform other cooking tasks that were suitable for a pre-teen. She also instructed me in the importance of growing your own food. I have blissful memories of her orchard at the back of her little Howick house where she grew apples, figs, oranges, and grapes among infinite varieties of vegetables.

In her frailer days, she moved to uMlazi township with our family. She started a food garden at one side of the house, flowers beds on the other, and a chicken run in the backyard. Nothing was wasted. We were encouraged to dispose of peels, grass, eggshells and the like for what I later grew up to discover was organic compost. She influenced my love for food and culture.

Sadly, over time, I noticed a change in the food that I grew up with. I prefer to stick with tradition, and my cooking passion has ventured into curiosity of different farming methods. I have now built relationships with farmers. I have been educated in the produce seasonal changes while trying to source local ingredients for my menus.

I realised that going back to the methods of old had been coined ‘organic’. It is neither new nor a trend; it’s just how things were and how they should still be. I am vehemently driven by the lack of available authentic South African cuisine in our South African restaurants.


Find out more about my culinary journey in my book, “Through the Eyes of an African Chef”.

The book includes all the usuals, such as starters, side dishes, mains, and desserts. It also includes extras such as recipes from my international travels, including cream cheese and bread making from my time at Ballymaloe Cookery School under chef Darina Allen; some of my father’s traditional recipes; and a few Khoisan classics, such as honey-glazed springbok.


Fish from Ramsgate, KZN South Coast. Dad was a patron of a local fish shop that served freshly-caught fish in a newspaper. Often, we chose to cook our own and we had a kind of barter system with fishermen from eMvutshini, Oatlands Farm.


My grandmother started a food garden at one side of the house, flowers beds on the other and a chicken run in the back yard.


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