Thandi Maphai believes she always needs to look her best when she cooks. Her appearance, she says, “influences the end result of her dishes”. Before she enters the kitchen, Maphai ensures that she’s always glammed up and today she’s widely known by many in the culinary world as The Glam Chef.
Born in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, Maphai and her three siblings were raised in Mthatha. While their parents were studying, her grandparents, Ivy and Mpumelelo Xaba, raised them. She says the kitchen was the heart of their home. “This is where my granny taught me the secret to the best vetkoeks ever – fluffy on the inside and oh so crispy on the outside.”
The Glam Chef recalls her gogo always saying that cooking for your family was a way of showing you love them. Maphai grew up in a family where the women loved to cook and although she was always there to help with the cooking she was green with envy when her aunts were praised for their food.
“I love attention, so I would be envious of the praise the ladies would receive after meals,” she says. When Maphai was 13 years old she wanted to join in on the praise, and tried to impress her family by cooking dinner.
Things however took a slight wrong turn when she somehow managed to cook crispy rice and burnt potatoes. It was this disastrous moment that spurred Maphai on to become the chef she is today. Amusingly she adds, “that’s when I knew I was destined to cook”.
“I always make sure that I am a bit dolled up when I cook, because I feel that when you look good, you do your best and it translates to my food,” says Maphai
When Maphai started high school, she moved in with relatives to attend Wendywood High School in Johannesburg. After matriculating in 1998, she completed a marketing degree at Midrand Graduate Institute.
“After graduation, I worked at one of the first MTN pilot stores at Woolworths. However, before leaving corporate I worked in marketing at a company called Tenant Profile Network.”
Maphai decided to quit her job to focus on her cooking career. She started with her culinary qualification at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Johannesburg, but chasing her dream wasn’t the only thing happening in her life at that time.
“I started in 2008, a year after I got married. So, we basically went from two salaries to one salary and starting a new family.”
When she graduated in 2010, Maphai was pregnant with her son Leano. She calls him her lucky charm, because she wrote all her exams and completed her practical tests while pregnant and passed with distinction.
Soon thereafter Maphai started her own catering business, The Glam Chef. She employs three people and they offer private and corporate fine dining experiences. “Soon we’ll be venturing into the ‘pop-up restaurant’ space”, she adds.
Besides running a successful catering business, Maphai also develops recipes.
Her career highlights include her work as ambassador for Robertson’s Spices and Sasko and the opportunity to work in the kitchen at the Gordon Ramsey teddy bear dinner charity event in 2011.
Maphai already has her eyes set on completing a nutritional science diploma in the near future, while she continues to share her glamorous cooking skills. “I always make sure that I am a bit dolled up when I cook, because I feel that when you look good, you do your best and it translates to my food as well, especially with presentation as we eat with our eyes first.”