Of all the roles actress and singer Lucia Mthiyane has taken on, she most revels in the title of “Culinary Goddess.”
With an avid love for cooking, this passionate home cook loves to experiment with dishes. So much so that in May of this year she authored a cookbook, Kitchen Queen depicting her food journey.
Mthiyane has lit up both silver screen and big screen with roles on popular Mzansi telenovela’s including Muvhango and Rhythn City and major movies including the 2011 action How to steal 2 million.
The KwaZulu-Natal-born Mthiyane reveals that the closest she has come to studying the culinary arts was by interacting with other chefs and foodies. “It helped me keep up to date with all the latest trends in the culinary world.”
Her culinary journey, five years in the making, was catapulted by maize meal brand White Star.
“At the time my brand was called ‘Lucia Mthiyane Cooking in Stiletto’s.’ I would engage with working mothers who must get home and prepare a meal for their kids. I taught people how to get creative with maize, it should not always be pap and wors, or pap and steak,” she says.
Today, Mthiyane is known now as the “culinary Goddess” in culinary circles. “If you say you don’t know Lucia Mthiyane, eish I don’t know. I have worked that hard to make sure that my name is written in the culinary stars.”
Adhering to the rules of the national lockdown, Mthiyane conducted her book launch virtually in May.
“My publishers and I are thinking of doing it next year, where I would have a book signing with guests, because I was robbed of that.”
Noluthando Ngcakani: Lucia you are a self-proclaimed entertainer and nurturer at heart. If I am correct you say it was your friends who suggested the book? How did this journey unravel?
Lucia Mthiyane: I grew up on a farm where my grandparents planted everything you can think about. We had nuts, we had apples, oranges, naartjies, all the vegetables you can think of. Even my love affair with avocados started on that farm. We moved to Umlazi and mom went to university leaving me and my siblings at home. We took care of each other and would take turns to cook.
When I moved to Joburg I started cooking classes because I loved to entertain. My guests always used to say to me, “Lucia you know what? Write a book one day and share all these recipes for foods you make us.” What solidified it for me was social media where all my dreams and visions were laid bare for people to see what I could do. They think I am just an actress and singer.
It’s almost like I knew it was going to be a lockdown because I carefully selected ingredients that were readily available in any pantry, which meant that you did not have to leave your house.
NN: Where have you drawn inspiration from in terms of your journey into the culinary world?
LM: I draw inspiration from all my surroundings. From brands who have been loyal to me for so many years. I draw inspiration from my family who supports me in everything that I do.
I have been in music, I have been in theatre, I have performed in a lot of musicals where I used to cook for my cast members. If we were doing two shows back-to-back on a Saturday there would be a pot of curry that we would all enjoy.
I have always loved to feed people around me. Experimenting with new recipes has allowed me to make my friends guinea pigs.
NN: What are some of your fondest kitchen memories?
LM: My love for food comes from family, although when I was growing up it was more of a chore.
We baked our own bread at home, I didn’t like it very much. When you are a kid you don’t really appreciate such opportunities. But now I can make bread and I have a few recipes that I share in my book.
I was brought up in a home where food wastage was like a no-no, my mom was strict about it!
When we cooked porridge in the morning, we would never throw away the leftover porridge, it was made into mageu. We didn’t buy bread; we baked our own bread. There was always a hot meal on the table every day during my youth and I have carried that with me.
‘Learn something new every day! Practice, practice, practice, it is not a recipe until you have tried it at least ten times.’
NN: What is a simple dish you love to make in your own kitchen?
LM: I love stuff that comes from the garden. In my backyard we have a garden with spinach, cabbage and butternut. There is nothing better than eating from your garden and straight to your table. I love spinach with a chorizo sausage. I love simple ingredients; I love fish that is not seasoned to death. Keep it simple with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon. It is the simple ingredients that elevate a dish.
NN: What are some major lessons you have learned on your culinary journey?
LM: When you are passionate or have a burning desire for something there is nothing you cannot do. I love food and I am always thinking about what I am going to create in my kitchen next. There is something always pushing me to reach new heights and do new things. I have just recently discovered truffles which are the Rolls Royce of ingredients, I love them. People are always willing to learn so when I discover something new that I think they would love I share insights through live video and cook it with them.
‘If you say you don’t know Lucia Mthiyane, eish I don’t know. I have worked that hard to make sure that my name is written in the culinary stars.’
NN: What does the future look like for the Kitchen Queen amid a pandemic?
LM: I used to want to own a restaurant, but now with the lockdown and how people are cooking at home I am thinking, eish I do not think people will come to my restaurant. Now they know how to cook, and I have written a book to help them.
I love traveling and learning new cuisines. I was in Greece three years ago and learned about their cuisine which I love.
I would love to go out there and expose South African cuisine to the world, even collaborate with chefs around the world. Food is food at the end of the day. I can learn something from them, and they can learn something from me, and we can collaborate and come up with a dish that could be Greek and Zulu, Zu-Greek, Zu-talian even.
NN: Speaking of indigenous food, how do you embrace your heritage foods?
LM: I grew up on a farm, I must say that I did not like the food very much then but now I appreciate it.
My childhood food was stuff like ithanga (pumpkin) which we used to make isgingi (pumpkin pudding) which is pap with pumpkin mixed with sugar. I used to hate this, but now I use that to make something, a dessert like a pumpkin pie. Or even a savoury option where you can combine pap with pumpkin and make balls that you fry and serve it as a braai side.
Also, nothing tastes better than maize that you grind at home, I have incorporated elements from childhood and embraced them in my journey.
NN: Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs and home cooks?
LM: Follow your dreams, keep the fire burning.
Learn something new every day! Practice, practice, practice, it is not a recipe until you have tried it at least ten times.