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The Chef Who Cooked For Beyoncé In Paris

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Chef Wandile Mabaso Beyonce

FORBES AFRICA is slightly early for the interview and photoshoot at the SA Culinary Club in Bryanston, Johannesburg. The owner tells us the chef is running a bit late and, also, that he didn’t take him seriously when he walked in one day wearing shorts asking to cook for them.

He finally arrives in jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers looking young and far from the fat chef one would expect. He is short and slim and has cooked for everyone, from Jay-Z to the president of Nigeria.

As we begin our conversation, he jokes that every article on him starts in Soweto; a vibrant township south of Johannesburg where he was born and bred. He grew up in different parts of South Africa, going to different schools, but in his early teenage years he knew he loved the kitchen.

Chef Wandile Mabaso, South Africa’s French cuisine ambassador, cooked his first meal for his family at the age of 14. His father didn’t understand, nor approve, of him being a chef because at the time it wasn’t a job for black people. The misnomer faded and Mabaso started traveling; exploring and making money cooking.

“After high school I went to a hotel school; did a hotel degree. I found myself a job on a small private cruise ship in the Mediterranean. So I spent a lot of time in Italy, around Scandinavia, Barcelona, Monaco,” he recalls.

It was Mabaso’s first time outside of South Africa and he didn’t know what to expect, but he was in his early 20s and very excited. On his return, Mabaso furthered his studies and went for a culinary degree where he was offered a job in the United States while studying. He didn’t look back and went straight to Miami, where he spent 18 months and from there headed to New York, where he was trained in classical French cuisine. He has worked for many famous French chefs and was mentored by the world-famous Chef Olivier Reginensi.

READ MORE: The Man Who Knows What Billionaires Eat For Lunch

Mabaso was more eager and passionate than the rest of the class when cooking; trying new things was his ideology. He stood out and was handpicked over the other chefs who were more shy, unsure or scared.

“I worked at Daniel, I worked at Le Bernardin, which are all two-star, three-star Michelin restaurants, at least top 20 in the world. I worked in a whole lot of high-end places in Manhattan, probably all these restaurants are at least in the top 50 in the world,” he says.

Chef Wandile Mabaso Beyonce Paris

Chef Wandile Mabaso (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

When he cooks, it’s professional; it’s rare for him to cook the same dish again. His training made him creative.

He has cooked for Jay-Z, Beyoncé, presidents and NBA stars in Paris.

“People are fascinated by cooking for celebrities, for me it means nothing, in a sense we’re all people, whether you a celebrity or a guy helping park cars. Chances are people like Beyoncé just like fried chicken and the average guy has a better palate than Jay-Z. It doesn’t mean cooking for Jay-Z is the ultimate person to cook for. I’m not about showing off,” says Mabaso with a straight face.

READ MORE: Pots, Pans And Passion

There’s a culture of collecting knives among chefs in New York. Before Mabaso left the Big Apple for Paris, he was gifted with a Misono knife (handcrafted Japanese chef’s knives), by Chef Reginensi, engraved with his name. The knife is worth $420.52 and he treasures it.

In 2017, Mabaso was in partnership with Carrol Boyes; a renowned cutlery and crockery artist and designer. He served all his food on Carrol Boyes plates on a sold-out tour he took across South Africa.

“I would have a class where I would invite junior chefs or students and show cooking techniques. From there I’d choose one, two or three kids to come work with me for the dinner. At the end we put out a bursary where I choose two from the whole tour to go work in Paris at a three-star Michelin restaurant,” he says.

The tour ended in Cape Town and two learners will be undergoing French speaking lessons for three months with the French Institute of South Africa and the French Embassy before leaving, and will be funded by Mabaso and other chefs in France.

Next, Mabaso will be collaborating with a South African artist on a cutlery and crockery range. The artist will work on the plate and Mabaso will serve on it in 2018.

“It’s art and food combined.”

Mabaso was out of the country for nine years and missed traditional South African food. Tripe is one of his favorite childhood memories and he says he prefers street food over haute cuisine. He doesn’t like Johannesburg’s central business district because there is “no sanitation, no cleanliness and you can’t cook like that,” he says.

“The best I have experienced is a falafel in Paris, it’s just this place man. They sell shawarmas for 10 euros but there’s always a line, sometimes about 800 meters long, every day, and it’s Algerian guys doing it in Paris.”

Mabaso started in Soweto, traveled and cooked for VIPs globally. Now he’s back in South Africa, sharing his skills with younger chefs, and hopes to have long queues outside his restaurant one day.

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Celebrating Women With Monumental Strength

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Sixty two years ago, on August 9, 20,000 women of all races, classes and creed marched, singing and chanting, babies on their backs, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, to deliver a petition to then Prime Minister J.G Strydom against the introduction of the apartheid pass laws.

This meant black women were not allowed in urban areas for more than 72 hours unless they possessed a pass with the holder’s details, including payment of taxes and permission to be in these urban areas. The march was led by the struggle stalwarts: Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Rahima Moosa.

“I didn’t see much of Helen Joseph at the march, she was in front of the crowd. She was a big strong woman and she led the march with other strong women. They told us that women are holding passes and if we don’t demonstrate against [the government], we [too will one day end up] holding these passes,” recollects Ramnie Naidoo to FORBES AFRICA. She was only was 14 years old at the time, escorting her mother at the march.

Pictured here is Helen Joseph (1905-1992), founding member of the Federation of South African Women, and Rahima Moosa (1922-1993), union activist and member of the Transvaal Indian Congress, both co-leaders of the 1956 Women’s March.

They have been immortalized in the Long March To Freedom, a procession of 100 life-sized bronzes celebrating the pioneers of South Africa’s journey to democracy, at the Fountains Recreation Resort in the City of Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa.

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Arts

Talking African Writing in London

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Africa Writes, the Royal African Society’s annual literature festival, dwelt on Afrofuturism and where black British artists see themselves in the burgeoning new aesthetic.

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Life

Kingdom Calling At The Bushfire Festival

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It’s an early morning in May and as the sun rises, red, orange and yellow hues bathe the swaying sugarcane fields of Malkerns, a small town in the landlocked southern African country of Swaziland.

Swaziland, renamed ‘the kingdom of eSwatini’ in April this year on its 50th birthday, awakens to the sounds of the rustling wind and chirping birds. Very soon, these natural notes will be replaced by the cacophony and camaraderie of thousands of guests jetting into the country for the annual Bushfire Festival, a three-day fiesta of art, culture, music and food in the last week of May.

It’s a busy time of the year for a kingdom that is one of the world’s last remaining monarchies.

Within the Bushfire Festival arena, djembe drums beat to the rhythm of the heartbeat of Africa. Revelers indulge in traditional feasts at the food markets as the musicians take center-stage.

The likes of South Africa’s Samthing Soweto, Brazil’s Flavia Coelho, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade and Mali’s Salif Keita are present, offering a profusion of sounds and melodies.

In the camping arena is a confluence of cultures, as over 29,000 guests who have traveled here to attend the festival make new friends and form unlikely collaborations.

Many stop to admire a hand-crafted grass hat worn by a young woman who has traveled from Lesotho. Anna Thai is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, in the United States.

“The people here are very relaxed and accepting of each other. There are so many from different countries, so many languages and so many different faces and I really enjoy the diversity of it,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

What started as a cultural meet around a small amphitheater, where artistes performed in front of a crowd of no more than a hundred, is today one of Africa’s most talked-about festivals.

 

Swazi-born Jiggs Thorne. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

“We started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity.” – Jiggs Thorne

Swaziland-born Jiggs Thorne, the founder and director of the festival, always had a passion for the arts, but admits he had to learn the business aspect of the festival the hard way.

“The important thing is I never studied to become a festival director and that’s the thing with entrepreneurs, you are driven by passion; the kind of passion that gets you up and creates that drive you need to make something work. And you have to be incessant,” Thorne tells us.

Born in Manzini, he was inspired by his parents who owned a restaurant. He went on to pursue a degree in drama and politics at the University of Natal in South Africa.

In 1994, when he finished his degree, he decided to return to his home country and apply his passion for the arts. Thorne wanted to develop the local arts scene.

In 2000, he set up House On Fire, the eclectic venue where the festival is now held.

However, its business model wasn’t sustainable, and Thorne realized that if he didn’t act quickly, his dream would slowly fade away.

“Well, I was very much an artiste and I think I’ve become entrepreneurial along the way and we started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity,” he says.

The Bushfire Festival came into being.

“It was always about a positive light, warmth, about celebrating diversity,” he says.

A majority of the funding came from sponsorships, and partnerships – the festival is called MTN Bushfire.

With his brother Shelton, Thorne fine-tuned the business model to keep its mandate as a creative arts platform and business at the same time. As Thorne came from an arts background, he had to depend on others to make his dream work.

Read More: Setting Fire To Swaziland

“There needs to be integrity in the way in which you deal with people so I think that’s kind of paramount in this equation where you are dependent on others to make it happen,” says the 48-year-old father of two.

The festival grew beyond what Thorne had imagined, he says, contributing over E50 million ($3.7 million) to Swaziland’s economy.

“When the king travels overseas, people ask him about Bushfire, you know. So it’s quite a surreal thing that the concept that came up all those years ago in a sense has become owned by others,” laughs Thorne.

This year, the local newspapers, radio stations and social media were abuzz with news on the festival.

Thorne owes its success to his team and his parents who left the legacy for him and the family to build on.

“It was kind of the fire they started and it’s a light that we’ve been able to follow. They are the legacy, says Thorne, who runs the festival with his siblings and extended family.

“Entrepreneurship is something that you don’t really study, you learn, and it’s something that takes over, and it’s kind of all-encompassing,” he signs off.

After the curtains come down on the festival, it’s back to the idyllic sights and sounds of Swaziland, until next year, when the little town of Malkerns will fire up again.

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