From the day a vegetable or herb is planted in the earth until the day it is picked, packaged and shipped off, Saveria Nkalashe wants to be fully involved in every step of the agricultural process.
In fact, she treasures every moment in the journey that fresh produce makes from our local farms to our tables. Her peculiar passion for food comes as no surprise; Nkalashe is a trained chef as well as a farmer in Carltonville on the West Rand of Gauteng.
Her passion for food is so deeply rooted that she travelled as far as New York to study the culinary arts. She returned home to Carltonville where she now runs a vegetable and livestock enterprise that she integrates into a fully–fledged catering business she calls AfroTapas.
“AfroTapas is a food production and food processing company. We grow our own produce and process our produce into food products,” she explains.
Nkalashe was born to a family of Lesotho–born farmers. Alongside her father the 27-year-old runs a string of vegetable and livestock enterprises from her native Gauteng to as far as the borders of Malawi and Zambia. “I have farms in Bertrams, Carltonville, Limpopo, the town of Mchinji in Malawi and Luapula in the country of Zambia,” Nkalashe adds.
“I grew up in a family of farmers, my dad has always been a farmer, so it was easy for me to get into farming. I decided to make AfroTapas a farm-to-table experience,” she adds.
The produce she grows is used to create elegant, rustic, farm-to-table style meals at catering events and pop-up restaurants in and around Johannesburg.
The vision behind AfroTapas stems from the teachings of her late grandmother, Pauline Mohasoane. Mohasoane was an avid cook, who loved cooking wholesome, organic meals with produce that she hand-picked from her home vegetable patch.
“She made the best meals and only used organic produce,” Nkalashe remembers.
Her love for farming was instilled in her from a young age by her father. Growing up, Nkalashe says, he was a stern disciplinarian who taught her to value and appreciate agriculture.
“My dad was very strict growing up,” she says. “Growing up on a farm we were forced to clean up poop from all the livestock on the farm. After school we had so many chores and I never really had a social life, I always had to be at home.”
Never did she imagine that this “torture” would culminate in her own business. “I am very grateful for my upbringing, because my dad has taught me a lot of things. Even though he was a big disciplinarian, now look where I am. I have learned so much and I can teach others what I have learned in my years of farming.”
Her strict upbringing gave her the discipline to complete her culinary arts qualification at the Culinary Institute of America in New York City in 2015. After graduating that same year, she would join her father in Carltonville and use her education to reimagine their farming enterprise. Together they grow fruits, vegetables and herbs as well as livestock that includes cows, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys and ducks.
“Not only do we produce and process our own food, but we also do seed production and sell vegetable seeds, fruit seeds and herbal seeds. Thanks to the bees that provide a sustainable ecosystem through their pollination.”
Her business ethics are firmly rooted in ubuntu and brings together her African brothers and sisters from all over the continent.
“I have 20 employees and they all come from different African countries. There are Zimbabweans, Malawians, Zambians and South Africans, because I believe we have to unite as an African continent. We have to create community group economics, because unity is strength and when we work together as Africans we can build sustainable socio–economic dynamics in our communities in Africa.”
Nkalashe advises home cooks and chefs to amplify their passions through entrepreneurial endeavours. “What sets you apart is the quality of your product, and the value it adds to the market,” she says.
“I feel like I am running a self-sustainable business, because I am growing my food, and I am processing it and selling it. So, there is no middleman involved and my overhead costs are low.”
“When you provide for your own business you do not need overpriced produce. You can plant it yourself” she says.