Gentle giant Mbonani Daniel Mbombi’s love for African food has crept into the hearts of many South Africans. Widely known for his traditional dishes, Mbombi has been dubbed the “African cuisine chef” by his followers on social media.
The 28-year-old chef’s whopping 50 000 plus followers on Instagram and Facebook has even caught the eye of food brands like Tastic and Nestlé, where he has worked as a “food amplifier”.
The young chef’s taste for food is entwined with his background, because everything he cooks is connected to his Xitshongaculture. “There’s nothing that I know better than me. It’s my roots, it’s my culture and where I come from.”
His grandmother, a strict woman, played an incredible role in his culinary career. As a young lad she would force him at times to help her make food, and through that he’s learnt a great deal about cooking. “Gogo wanted me to learn how to make pap (porridge) and I would watch her cook at times and I would also learn a few hacks. My grandmother teaching me how to cook has been one of the experiences that I’ve managed to grasp [throughout my life].”
At Dinwiddie High School in Germiston, Mbombi thought that choosing home economics as a subject would be easy and that he’d “be going there to chill”. It wasn’t an easy ride and although he found it challenging at times, Mbombi decided that he wanted to become a chef.
When he matriculated in 2010, he went on to obtain a culinary qualification from HTA Culinary School and since his graduation he worked at several food service companies such as Consol Food, Afrox and two private hospitals.
A rather interesting little detail about Mbombi is that he has never applied for any job he’s landed with a formal CV. He laughs saying that he has been the luckiest person when it comes to getting a job, although his trick didn’t always work.
“I would go to places and talk to the manager and tell him that ‘I’m willing to come on Monday and show you what I’m made of’. I would go there and cook up a storm and after that they will be like ‘the job is yours, come sign the contract’”, says Mbombi
In 2016 he started sharing pictures of his food on Facebook and Instagram. He has become a well-recognised Mzansi chef and brand amplifier (influencer) since then. “Over the past three years I’ve worked with Tastic, Pasta Grandé, Nestlé and Nola Mayonnaise. It was not really an ambassador thing; I was actually a brand amplifier. For instance, when I make pasta I would use Pasta Grandé and post pictures of the dish.”
As a chef the most rewarding thing for Mbombi is to always cook authentically, “because it will show in the end product”.
“The most important thing is that if you cook with love, even if you cook the simplest things it will always show. You can always taste love in a dish,” he adds.
While he is obsessing about his love for Africa, Mbombi looks forward to travelling throughout the continent. “I possibly want to do an African book edition of the greatest chefs. I also want travel the world, live a happy life and open up my own African restaurant to influence other foodies and make sure that I’ve actually created a legacy.”