I first met Ntando when he came across for an interview in May 2016. I remember being entranced by the size of his hands and how tall he was, yet had the gentlest voice, twinkling eyes and an amazing peaceful passion about food, as well as the biggest smile ever. I knew then he would be a great asset to our kitchen team.
Ntando joined the Londolozi Kitchen in August 2016, let’s take it from there:
Q: What is your story?
I am originally from Soweto in Johannesburg. I’m the eldest of three children. My younger sister is a year younger and my brother, the youngest, is 15 years old. I grew up in a house made up of five women; my mom and grandmother – who were both primary school teachers – my two aunts who were still at school, and my younger sister. Being the only boy amongst five women was interesting to say the least and I found myself more often than not in the kitchen just observing and anticipating the meal to come.
Q: Where did your first taste and experience of food come from?
Being a boy did not excuse me from any of the daily chores. I was expected to do my fair share in the house and assisting with the cooking was one of them. It wasn’t too long before I found myself in the kitchen trying to mimic all that I saw. The first dish I prepared by myself, at the tender age of eight (under the watchful eye of my Gran of course) was French toast which turned out surprisingly well! From there onwards I spent most of my time in the kitchen helping out where I could and in the process learning to prepare other dishes.
Q: Was your dream then to be a chef?
As much as I enjoyed cooking, I didn’t see myself becoming a chef, instead I wanted to be part of the Navy. My grandmother, however, thought I’d make an excellent chef but like most teenagers I brushed it off as wishful thinking. Towards the end of my Matric year I was met with the sad reality that I would not qualify for the Navy and thus as an alternative option I went on to South West College where I studied professional cookery & assistant chef.
Q: What inspires you?
I draw my inspiration from my girlfriend Ayander (who also works at Londolozi) and my beautiful 11-month-old daughter, named Zinzi – meaning “from the stars”. On those days when I find myself under pressure I think of them and that thought reminds me why I do what I do.
Q: What was your first job?
I got my first job as an intern chef in 2005 at Forum Harmony Boutique hotel in Krugersdorp. After my internship I got my first full time job as a junior chef at Indaba hotel in Fourways. After a year I moved on to work at Mala Mala as a Chef d’partie for a year after which I was promoted to Head Chef. I worked as a Head Chef at Mala Mala for seven years before I took the leap of faith to move to Londolozi to be with my family.
Q: What do you LOVE about cooking?
The thing I enjoy most about cooking is simply seeing the smile on a stranger’s face. Nothing brings me more joy than knowing my dish is satisfactory.
Q: What is your dream?
My dream is to open my own restaurant that specialises in African dishes – “soul food” done in a non-traditional manner but still capturing the original flavours. I want to take Africa to the rest of the world one dish at a time.
And Ntando, I honestly think you will (but not now; we don’t want to lose you!).