Umjita wa se Kasi (Kasi boy) turned gourmet chef, Katlego Sebastian Mlambo still has to pinch himself when he recalls serving former US president Barack Obama and legendary American talk show host and television producer – Oprah Winfrey an array of his authentic Mzansi flavours.
The South African took the reigns as lead chef at the Nelson Mandela Centenary Celebrations hosted by Obama in the US capital of Washington DC in 2019. “It was phenomenal watching Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama eating my chakalaka,” an ecstatic Mlambo says.
“This was food that I grew up eating. It’s food that I enjoyed, and it was being served at the Smithsonian museum being eaten by 500 of the most important people in the world! And I’m just this kid from Africa, so it was really something humbling,” he adds.
Born in Eldorado Park, a township on the southern borders of Soweto, the humble cuisinier is the head chef of the Marabi Club in the vibrant Maboneng Precinct of Johannesburg. Feeding a group of the world’s most important people was not his only 2019 milestone. Mlambo also pocketed the coveted 2019 Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star award. He considers this one of the most momentous achievements in his 10-year career.
“When you’re a kid, you look up to Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey. But as a black kid, who do you look up to? I’m hoping with this award it will show that with the right mentality and the right attitude there is a silver lining in a grey cloud,” he says.
The 31-year-old chef’s journey into the art of fine dining first began when he took a gap year travelling through Europe. His ambitions have seen him travel the world in a bid to understand and explore flavour.
After three years of bartending and waiting tables in the UK, Mlambo returned to South Africa to pursue his Cordons Bleus Grande Diplome at the Silwood School of Cookery in Cape Town.
“Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey ate my chakalaka!”
His love for fine dining was further cultivated when he completed his practical training at one of the world’s top restaurants – La Colombe in Constantia, Cape Town.
The young chef attributes his passion for delicious food to his Gogo, Betty Mlambo. Growing up, Mlambo describes her meals as one-pot wonders of magic.
“I’ve been very blessed, I’ve travelled around the world but my granny Betty is still the best cook I know. She’s my inspiration, this lady would put everything in a pot and make one of those one–pot wonders and every single time it would be delicious. Every single time it’s comforting. Every single time it ticks all those boxes.”
Winning a prestigious award and feeding the world’s dignitaries are not enough, though. Mlambo believes that his journey has only just begun. He has future plans to release a cookbook as well as a web series dedicated to the “crazy” lives of South African chefs.
“In South Africa everyone knows chakalaka; everyone knows lamb chops. I want my cookbook to be a bit special,” he says.
“It’s about my humble beginnings. It details all the trials and tribulations that I’ve been through and where I am at in the moment. Within that journal I just want to share some beautiful recipes!” he adds.