Borders and limitations do not exist for Kwa-Zulu Natal-born chef Nomcebo Ndlela. In her eight years as a professional chef, the 27-year-old has made culinary magic at restaurants in her province of birth as well as international restaurants.
Not only has Ndlela travelled the world, she has also collected many accolades on her journey, recently adding “hot sauce pioneer” to her already impressive list of achievements.
Just last year the recipe developer was accredited by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) on her first go of testing with her very own brand of hot sauce she so playfully calls “ICOOKWITHCEBO Uphelephele.” Translated from Zulu, this means: “I cook with Cebo’s Peri-Peri sauce.”
Growing up in the village of Hlabisa, between the Hluhluwe and Umfolozi game reserves, Ndlela says she has always had a passion for the kitchen and was always very specific as to how her food should be prepared. “I loved cooking from a very young age, and even ate burnt eggs just because I was too stubborn to allow anyone else to cook my eggs.”
Her burnt eggs blunder, however, inspired her to obtain a qualification in catering management from the Durban University of Technology (DUT), graduating in 2014. Shortly thereafter Ndlela went on to do various short courses qualifying her as a professional, private chef who is hired by different clients to prepare meals at their homes.
In 2018 she spread her wings from offering her services as a private chef to dipping her toe into the catering business. Through her business, Ndlela employs seasonal staff for her ever-expanding catering company, I cook with Cebo.
“I am running my own catering business. I started only offering private chef services and cooking lessons, but with growth we have since expanded to events and corporate catering,” she says.
Since obtaining her qualifications, Ndlela has become quite the jetsetter, kicking off her international culinary journey in the United States in 2016.
“I have quite the history, if I must say,” she laughs. “I worked as a freelance chef in Nkonka Lodge in Richmond where I was a private family chef, and would also volunteer my services at the Phinda lodges within the game reserve. I also gained international experience with The Little Nell Hotel in Colorado, Aspen as well as the Elk Camp restaurant (in the same state).”
Her journey, however, has not been without challenges. The single mother of two almost did not graduate from DUT, citing difficulties with funding her studies.
“I started at DUT doing consumer science food and nutrition then discovered that it isn’t what I actually wanted. So, I changed to catering management the following year, but dropped out again in 2014 in my last semester because of financial difficulties. I then did short courses from different institutions and private chef lessons to obtain my certificates.”
The chef’s resilience helped her pull through a rocky road. She advises those looking to enter the culinary sphere to broaden their horizons if they wish to excel, even if it means leaving the comfort of their homes. “Travel a lot. You get to learn a lot from different cultures and travelling shouldn’t be limited to expensive and luxury options. Backpacking is also a great experience.”
She further adds that access to information is key to success in any entrepreneurial venture. “Seek information and consult before starting a business. Mistakes do happen. Learn from them and move on. I spent so much time worrying about failure instead of seeking solutions and I know this sounds so general, but live, laugh and love.”