“If you truly want to witness how much love a person has for food, watch them cook or taste their food yourself,” says Kutlwano Mbele from Ga-Rankuwa in Pretoria.
These words carry him in his culinary journey as he finds expression in making Sphatlhos, widely known as kotas, a bunny-chow-like traditional township food.
A kota is a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread which is usually stuffed with ingredients such as chips, fried egg, cheese, atchar and sometimes sausage. But Mbele’s King Kota finds its distinctiveness in being filled with lettuce, gerkins, red onions as well as fish fingers.
From experimenting in the kitchen on a boring day during lockdown last year, Mbele has gone as far as opening his own restaurant called Saucy Boys with his brother, Katlego Ingwane, and selling more than just kotas.
Although he never thought of opening a restaurant or even study towards a culinary qualification, the self-taught cook says his love for food piqued during his early years in life. He would watch his grandmother, who was a qualified chef, cook up a storm and often helped her out.
Mbele says he used to find his grandmother’s words about one’s true love for food being evident in their cooking funny, until he realised that “the more I cook, the more I express my love for food”.
Food For Mzansi had a sit-down with Mbele to hear more about his culinary journey.
Keamogetswe Matlala: When, where and how did it all start?
Kutlwano Mbele: I was bored at home in Ga-Rankuwa during the lockdown period early last year and decided to make myself a kota that was different from the ones we eat eKasi (township) – from the taste to the look.
I was with my brother, so I made the first two kotas and we enjoyed them so much that I suggested we turn it into a business.
We started selling online because we couldn’t really open a proper restaurant where people could sit in or collect due to lockdown restrictions, so we bought a scooter and equipment. We marketed ourselves on Facebook, so if you wanted to order you would WhatsApp us, we send you the menu, you order then we deliver to you.
As soon as the business grew, people started demanding that we get a place where they can call and collect, so we heeded to their call. But it didn’t work out because it was at our home, the yard was too small, so we closed down and went back to the drawing board.
I then came up with an idea, something that has never been done before; selling kota at a busy intersection in our neighbourhood. I got a speed point machine and a container that was big enough to contain the food and maintain the temperature of the food.
It became a success; I would sell 20 kotas in 20 minutes and people loved the idea that they could swipe a kota on the go.
The next step was to open a restaurant next to this intersection so I can load the container faster. I now sell three to four loads of kotas on the streets per day – more than what the actual restaurant sells.
What inspired the name ‘Saucy Boys’ and its slogan?
I wanted to start something that has a catchy name. When you start a food outlet, you need to have a catchy name especially when you sell the food that we sell.
Whenever I’m in the kitchen, I’m very messy. So I would cook something very nice but when you look at me, you’d just see sauces all over me. With this and the fact that we have a great range of sauces to add in the kota, ‘saucy’ felt befitting to describe a partnership between brothers that came alive in the food business.
As for the slogan, the first time my brother and I tasted the kota experiments, we simultaneously said “Tjoo Dia Tswah!” which is an exclamation to the flavourful taste coming out of the combination of ingredients.
What are some of your favourite but simple recipes that you like to make in your own kitchen?
I never really go for simple recipes. I make sure that when I cook, I put in as many ingredients that complement each other when it comes to taste, as possible. I, however, have lasagne as my favourite dish and recipe from the days I used to help my grandmother in the kitchen.
I’m in the process of perfecting the recipe so I can introduce it to the Saucy Boys’ menu one day.
Do you have any tips for aspirant chefs and home cooks?
When you want to do something, do it. When you want to come up with your own meal, do it.
If you’re confident in your craft, have unique recipes and if the food tastes good to you, it will surely taste good to the world too. It all depends on how much you believe in that dish. If you believe in it, why not give it to the world?
With his restaurant having opened in January 2022, Mbele says that’s not where his vision draws the line. He plans to build the biggest food franchise that has ever come out of eKasi.
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