Siba sets the table for international success

Siba 'Sibahle' Mtongana has worked her way up from her mother's kitchen to becoming a world renowned celebrity chef. Photo: Matthys van Lill

Award-winning celebrity chef Sibahle “Siba” Mtongana found her love for food in her mother’s kitchen. As a wife, mother of four, businesswoman, author and presenter of the renowned international television series Siba’s Table, it’s amazing how she juggles it all.

The celebrity chef, who also rubbed shoulders with former United States first lady Michelle Obama at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, hails from Mdantsane, a township close to East London, Eastern Cape. Growing up with five other siblings their home was always abuzz.

RECIPE: Boerewors Bobotie

“My mom and dad adopted two of my siblings when we were younger. We are a big, crazy family. We’re filled to the brim with love and support for one another,” says Mtongana.

She was appointed as the culinary director for the 2019 inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The happiest childhood memories are the days she spent with her parents in their vegetable garden in their backyard. “I would be sent to forage fresh produce from the garden for dinner and was tasked with choosing the best ingredients. I had to make sure they were clean and ready to be prepped and cooked.”

Mtongana’s food curiosity was sparked long before she even knew she wanted to become a chef. She started helping her mother around the kitchen before she was allowed to work close to sharp objects and heat.

Siba, as she is predominantly known, was always fascinated by her mother’s skills in the kitchen. “It was here that my appreciation for food and great quality produce flourished. My mom was a wonderful teacher in the kitchen, cooking from memory and by feeling, no recipe books in sight,” she says.

One of the things that her family values the most is education. So, after she matriculated from Alphendale High School in 2002, Mtongana went on to complete a degree in food and consumer sciences at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). She focused on food science and nutrition and graduated in 2006.

To earn an extra income, Mtongana took up a few jobs while she completed her studies. Her first job was as a student lecturer at CPUT. “I worked as an extra in a few feature films and TV ads, I was a hair model for Frika and I worked at Melissa’s The Food Shop, before I worked my way up to food editor for Drum Magazine for about 5 years.”

During her time as food editor at the publication, Mtongana made her television debut in 2011 when she starred in a show called Drum Presents Cooking With Siba.

“My mom was a wonderful teacher in the kitchen, cooking from memory and by feeling, no recipe books in sight.” – Siba Mtongana

Two years after her debut, Mtongana was headhunted by the American television channel Food Network. Today she presents her mouth-watering recipes on her world-renowned and award-winning food series Siba’s Table, which started in September 2013.

“My series, Siba’s Table, has picked up five international awards, including at the US Film and Television Awards and the New York Film and Television Awards, over the last five years,” Mtongana says.

Since then she’s released two spin-off television shows. In April 2019, Mtongana debut Siba’s Adventures Johannesburg, where she heads into Jozi’s streets to find inspiration to create new dishes. Last month she released Siba’s Bites, which has an African twist to it. In this series Mtongana prepares easy-to-make African recipes.

Mtongana’s cookbook My Table received two accolades at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

It doesn’t stop there. The flamboyant chef started her own company called The Siba Co and released a cookbook called My Table. “My business is in Cape Town, where we have a beautiful space, called The Innovation Kitchen. This is where all the magic happens, I create gorgeous recipes and other content for clients of ours or for various projects,” she says.

In 2016, the vibrant Mtongana’s book was celebrated with two awards from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. This ceremony celebrates the best food and wine books and television shows across the world.

Thinking back to this highlight in her career, it seems as though Mtongana could burst with excitement. “This is the Oscars of the literary world, for my self-published cookbook My Table. Michelle Obama was awarded at the same ceremony, what an honour to be acknowledged on the same platform!”

The list of appreciation for what she does seems to be endless. Mtongana was honoured with the 2018 Ubuntu Award in the Arts and Culture Youth Category. The award celebrates industry excellence and acknowledges the recipient for flying the South African flag on a global stage.

“[I was also] approached by the presidency to be the culinary director for the 2019 inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa, where we catered a luncheon for 70 heads of State, kings and queens and an additional 380 VIP guests were treated to a three-course Sibalicious meal.”

Mtongana prepared the boerewors recipe from her cookbook. Photo: Matthys van Lill

Mtongana says her faith keeps her grounded. “I grew up in a dedicated Christian family with a strong relationship with God, and to this day my faith is the base that informs my life decisions.”

As a way of giving back, she served as a Sunday school teacher for three years in Langa, Cape Town. There Mtongana witnessed the social issues such as malnutrition, unemployment and hunger. Working to overcome these barriers in local townships, she has been the ambassador for Foodbank South Africa for the past six years. The organisation aims to fight hunger and malnutrition in Mzansi.

Away from the kitchen Mtongana prefers to spend time with her family, hubby Brian and their four children. They are indeed her main priority. “On weekends or in our free time, we love spending time outside together having picnics or spending time in the park. We also love to explore the beautiful city we live in, Cape Town, as if we are tourists.”

All in all, success is what drives and pushes her to achieve even more. As she continues to do what she loves and sharing her recipes with the world Mtongana believes, “the idea of living, breathing and creating something that is successful is enough motivation for me to push through the tough times”.

RECIPE: Siba’s boerewors bobotie

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