Siphesile Mhlongo (15) from KwaZulu-Natal may not be old enough to drive or attend culinary school yet, this has not stopped her from starting her own food business.
She started cooking at the age of five, and after being bullied in school the teenager turned back to the kitchen to reclaimed her power.
At just 15, she started a cooking and baking business that is now fast on the rise offering catering and baking services in the Durban suburb of Newlands.
Her mother, Nomusa, a businesswoman and an avid home cook, taught her everything she knows about business and food. Under the national lockdown she founded Sippy the Teen Cook, a food business offering cooking and baking classes.
The kitchen entrepreneur started her business while the country was in lockdown to fight the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
“I truly wouldn’t be this creative if it wasn’t for my mother. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t love food the way I do because I don’t see food as just food, I consider it as art,” says the KwaZulu-Natal born foodie.
Bullied, but not broken
While she may have cooked since she was little, being bullied in school made Mhlongo reclaim her space in the kitchen.
“I’ve faced a number of challenges, the majority of which stemmed from bullying. I was bullied and judged based on my physical appearance, which caused me to lose self-confidence and feel bad about myself,” she recalls.
“My self-esteem suffered a major blow, and I continued to hate myself and doubt my own abilities.”
“I am thankful for my family’s support during this difficult time; it is because of them that I was reminded that I am beautiful and that I matter.
“My brother was instrumental in reminding and assuring me of my worth; from then on, I made a conscious decision to only focus on the positive aspects of life. I decided that I would rather convert all that negative energy into positive energy and use it wisely,” she asserts.
“I now spend my time and energy on the things I enjoy doing, rather than on the things I dislike doing.” Her business offers cooking and baking classes to Durban youngsters aged 10 to 17.
Some of her fondest kitchen memories include watching her mother effortlessly prepare dinners while singing beautiful songs. Her father too is an amazing cook.
“My father is a whizz when it comes to preparing uphutu (pap). Consider me the luckiest teen in the world because he is simply the best at it,” she says proudly.
She may only be in grade 10 today, but the kitchen entrepreneur dreams of attaining her culinary qualifications so she can become a real chef one day. Looking at her track record thus far, that does not seem like an unattainable dream.