For chef Tefo Mokgoro (33) food is a creative conquest that tests both patience and ingenuity. While he admits that being a chef is hard work, his grit and passion help him navigate his way through the kitchen.
His hard work has culminated in Molly’s 3RD, a private chef service in Johannesburg which he started in 2019. “I am a creative at heart, so more than anything it’s about creating a lifestyle and putting a smile on people’s faces. That’s why I do what I do,” he says.
Running a new business has been daunting, so much more so amid a pandemic, he says. To weather the storm of the novel coronavirus, Mokgoro delivers cooked food to an exclusive clientele he has acquired in and around Jozi.
“It’s been very crazy, to be honest. My business has only been running for less than a year, and there are certain things you need to do. You need to establish yourself within the market, people must know you as that guy who would do home service delivery,” he says.
He is very picky about who he offers his services to and follows the strict regulations that have been set by the department of health.
“Nobody wants to catch a disease, so its people within the closed circle that I am servicing for the time being.”
With restaurants closed under level five of the national lockdown and with restrictions slowly being eased since alert level four, it has been hard for chefs to stay afloat. But in the recent weeks Mokgoro was fortunate enough to get a cash injection from Chivas South Africa. “That did help me, but not for pleasure reasons. It’s money that needs to go into the business. It’s money that is needed to strategize.”
“It’s about creating a lifestyle and putting a smile on people’s faces. that’s why I do what I do.”
Before flexing his culinary muscles, Mokgoro was a young boy who loved helping his aunts and his late mother, Maureen “Molly” Mokgoro, in the kitchen.
“The environment that I was in just made it conducive for me to be who I am today. I have taken certain pieces from every person in my life and this I use for inspiration.”
Mokgoro lost his mother at age twelve. He remembers her as a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.
“My mom was bad–ass!” he exclaims.
“I remember growing up and there would be maybe a wedding, funeral or any gathering. My mom would be that person that would be called to come delegate and to come make sure that everything flows (according to plan), and the food is up to scratch.”
Mokgoro spent his teens in Kimberley. Like any teenager he was filled with angst and remembers cooking as a mundane chore that he grew to love. “It was a thing that became a big part of my life.”
He matriculated from the Kimberley Boys’ High School in 2006. Being young and creative at heart has its challenges. “As a youngster I think you’re confused, and you don’t know what to do. You have people in your life who are always giving you chances to try new things.”
In a span of ten years, before venturing into the culinary world, he worked as a business consultant alongside his father and even a film producer alongside his brother, Rabatho. In those ten years of finding himself, cooking was an ever-prevalent passion that would not go away.
“My thing is that I have always been cooking, whether it’s at family things, or with the boys at a braai. I was not following it as my passion and the people around me could notice that I actually like this and I am getting more satisfaction from it.”
“You need to make your mistakes, you need to learn, you need to burn those fingers.”
In 2016, he began his professional food journey at the Steyns Culinary School in Pretoria. “I decided I just want to do something that I want and something that makes me happy.”
Upon completing his City & Guilds diploma in food preparation and culinary arts in 2017, he started his first restaurant job at La Luna, an Italian eatery in Midrand and has worked at various restaurants in Johannesburg.
Mokgoro’s dreams have, however, always been bigger than the professional kitchen. In 2019, he resigned as a sous chef at Olives & Plates and has since been pursuing his dreams of writing a cookbook, doing television appearances and offering his private chef services.
He sighs, “although there are a couple of black chefs who are changing the game, this is a white dominated industry. My challenges are my challenges and I don’t like to say eish it’s because ke darkie (it’s because I’m black). It’s beyond that, but it is about what you want and how you are going to get it.”
Mokgoro cautions that if you find moments of peace in the kitchen, that is when you should be on high alert. “You will never find a kitchen that will run smoothly. If everything runs smoothly that means that kitchen is cursed,” he remarks.
Although he is not a fan of giving unsolicited advice, when pressed Mokgoro does say that our experiences should be our guides in the kitchen.
“You need to make your mistakes, you need to learn, you need to burn those fingers. Whatever you do it’s all about how you want to be seen in the market.”