Sibu Nyembe (30), together with his family of avid cooks, founded Nitrogen Events Organisers in 2014 to merge elements of fine dining with African cuisine at the glitzy events they host in and around Jozi.
Nyembe, his siblings Mbali and Sfiso, his mother, Zodwa and wife Boitumelo are all cut from the same cloth and love cooking. He says it was a no–brainer for him to follow in his family’s footsteps. “We are basically just a family that loves cooking,” he says.
“Every Sunday she (mom Zodwa) would be there busy with the pots and whenever there were functions, she would make me and my sister Mbali tag along. My brother Sfiso has been working in the industry as well – he worked for a couple of five-star hotels – so he was also grooming me and steering me in the right direction,” Nyembe says.
He knew he could always rely on his passion for food and cooking and opted to take the leap and journey into the culinary world. “I decided to advance in the industry on my own and that’s how the business came up.”
“This business is one of my biggest highlights. I recently had my first chef’s table where I prepared an eight-course meal of South African dishes paired with different wines,” Nyembe says.
Nyembe has a long list of Mzansi food heroes, including chef Andile Somdaka, who is the former presidential chef for presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, and Chef Mahlomola Thamae, a veteran chef with more than 20 years’ experience in the South African culinary sphere. But he still cites his mother Zodwa as the ultimate champion in the kitchen.
“My mother loves cooking and my love and passion for the kitchen comes from her,” he says.
He furthered his passions for cooking when he studied hospitality at the Roodepoort college, and even flourished as a rugby player playing for a local club in Soweto. After completing his studies in hospitality, he went on to pursue his qualification in food preparation at the International Hotel School in Sandton in 2009 and graduated in 2011.
His ambitions have seen him travel to Palm Beach, Florida in the USA, where he worked as line chef at the Frenchman’s Reserve Country Club from 2016 to 2018. This experience, he says, widened his horizons in exploring flavours from around the world.
“The atmosphere was great, we worked with a lot of different nations and what was amazing was the different cuisines that you could incorporate into your own cooking,” Nyembe says.
Nitrogen Events Organisers have since expanded their catering company, offering confectionery services they call the Cake Chamber. Nyembe’s wife, Boitumelo, is a pastry chef by profession and makes immaculate cakes that are included in their catering services. He jokingly says she has replaced his mother as the resident kitchen champion, while his wife is “basically resident chef in my home. I love her food and we work hand in hand with our company”.
The chef advises youth looking to get ahead in the industry to acquaint themselves with different cuisines. “Focus and keep your head down. Keep pushing, read, try things out and learn as much as you can!”
Nyembe believes that there could be room for African cuisine to be more appreciated by South African chefs. “We shouldn’t be losing more of our African cuisine to Western cuisine. I feel that it is one of the things that we need to start focusing on. I feel that it’s best to start doing more with what we have.”
He hopes to see Nitrogen Events Organisers blossom into a fine dining restaurant right in the heart of Soweto.