South African cooking sensation Nono Mtshali might hold a degree in linguistics, but in her heart of hearts she’s a chef – slowly but surely capturing the attention of the nation with her delectable food and drink recipes.
Chef Nono, as she is affectionately known, has been drawn to the kitchen from her early days in KwaZulu-Natal. One of her best childhood memories is preparing food for her elders and watching them enjoy it. It was the best encouragement to pursue her culinary career.
She might have always loved to cook and bake, but when she matriculated from Ndlovana High School in Ulundi, she studied languages instead. “I hold a BTech Degree in Linguistics from Durban University of Technology. Years later, I decided to do a cooking course. I now also have a diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking which I obtained from (the professional chef school) Capsicum Culinary Studio.”
This entrepreneur trains aspiring chefs to cook through her social media show, In the Kitchen with Nono. “I host cooking classes which is a ‘one man show’, [where] I teach people to cook. But when doing private events, I work with two junior chefs that assist me with things like chopping and running errands while I take care of the cooking.”
Throughout her cooking journey, Chef Nono says her grandmother was the drive behind her passion. “She has been a constant source of positive vibes for me. There’s been so many times in my life where I felt like giving up, but it’s always my grandmother that gives me hope and besides that, she invests so much in us (her grandchildren): her prayers, time, care, love and support.”
Seeing as everything she cooks and bakes with comes from a farm, Chef Nono shared her thoughts on agriculture in South Africa. “I think it’s time that the conversation about women in agriculture progresses from ‘How do we attract women to agriculture?’ to ‘How do we cultivate a business environment that offers equal consideration to women and men working in agriculture?’”
Three things that you might not know about Chef Nono is that she always has peanut butter and an apple in her bag, is an introvert and she is trypophobic. Before you Google it, trypophobia is an aversion to the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes
“I’m trypophobic and as a result I do not even get close to a dish that people love so much: tripe (often reffered to as “usu” or “umgxabhiso”), I’m scared of it. Eish, you see now even thinking about it makes my skin crawl.”
Being a chef is not as easy as it might seem to an outsider. You need to have a passion for what you do. Chef Nono says, “If your heart isn’t in it, don’t waste your time. This business is not for sensitive people. Your heart has to be on every plate you make. If you’re in the kitchen just for money, you’ll never make it. Stay focused.”
Well, since we’re clearly not getting a traditional tripe recipe from our beloved Chef Nono, we did, however, ask her for help with another South African favourite: homemade ginger beer. As we are heading towards the peak of summer, what better way to cool off than with an ice cold glass of ginger beer.
Try this at home: Ginger beer with a local twist
Chef Nono prepared a refreshing ginger beer recipe with a South African twist. It is easy to make, has only six ingredients and will have your taste buds buzzing for more. Here’s her step-by-step guide to a lekker homemade ginger beer.