Siba Mtongana shares her take on the rich fusion culture of modern South African cuisine. The award-winning celebrity chef, cookbook author and humanitarian hosts her weekly show "Siba's Table" on the Asian Food Channel.
What does a typical Monday dinner for you look like?
We have a meat free Monday initiative which has now become a trend in South Africa to encourage people to eat less meat and more vegetables. So most Mondays I become a vegetarian.
We are a fan of your show. What is it about South African cuisine that captivates you most and motivates you to share it with the public?
We are a very diverse country and so is our food. I love that we easily embrace other influences from all over the world making things a lot more fun when experimenting with new ideas.
Tell us more about your inspiration behind your creative recipes!
I'm inspired by a lot of things and the food I grew up eating is at the very heart of it all. I think it’s important to be well informed with what's happening around us, so we eat out a lot and also invest some time in learning what's happening across the globe.
Being a Food and Consumer Sciences graduate, what do you think you have that other cooks don’t?
Enhancing any skill or talent with further education and being professionally trained always works in your favour. I believe education is key and covers a lot of groundwork that perhaps would have taken a lot longer to achieve without it. It brings credibility, often sets you apart from others and people take you seriously. With that in mind, I also believe that your training should never make you rigid. Chefs need the creative freedom to break the rules from time to time. I do myself, to simplify things and make them more accessible to those who may not have the necessary cooking expertise - otherwise you lose the fun and things become boring and a bit too predictable.
We have learnt that you always cook healthy and avoid saturated fats. How did that habit come about and what would you recommend for the wider audience?
My mother is diabetic and has been for a very long time, she has always been health conscious and prepared food for the family with that in mind. So I naturally picked up on that, as my siblings did too. There are new schools of thought that are conflicting with the old on what is ‘healthy’. For instance, 'carbs and sugar' are currently in the spotlight as the 'new baddies' and fats including saturated fats are not considered as 'that bad' anymore. So I believe in a well-balanced diet that doesn't exclude any foods from the food group. I also believe in eating in moderation and living a holistic lifestyle that includes physical exercise.
You are a patron of Food Bank South Africa, and we love a good cause. Tell us more about your meaningful philanthropy.
One of the things that our parents instilled in us while growing up is ‘the spirit of Ubuntu’. 'Ubuntu' is a very popular African word that means ‘I am because you are’, it teaches us to value others and not to be self-centered, living for ourselves alone but to have the heart to help others in need too and giving is at the very core of it. We were also taught that ‘to whom much is given much is expected’. So I'm naturally geared to help and give hence I love helping organizations like Food Bank SA. I strongly believe we need to positively impact people lives for the better and I'm using the platform that I've been given to do that. It is awesome to live for a cause greater than yourself!
Catch the show Siba's Table every Monday 10pm on Asian Food Channel.