Whether it was with her family in Soweto while growing up or in her house dining with friends, a great meal would always be the one thing that would bring the people she loves the most together.
“Just the whole experience of sitting together as a family was more than enough for me,” she said.
BOWLED OVER: Celebrity chef Nthabiseng Ramaboa, popularly known as Chef Nti, chats to us about entrepreneurship and her love for cooking. Pictures: Matthews Baloyi
It was in her mother’s kitchen in Tladi that Nti’s cooking skills were cultivated. Her older sister hated cooking and would always make sure the food she cooked wasn’t amazing, so whenever Nti cooked, the food was a hit.
“I got into food because it has always been something that I love. From the age of 13, I was already a designated chef at home for family gatherings.”
KITCHEN MAGIC: Chef Nti always found herself cooking up a storm in her mother’s kitchen, growing up in Tladi, Soweto. Picture: Matthews Baloyi
Nti, whose real name is Nthabiseng Ramaboa, started off her professional career as an entrepreneur in fashion.
“I did exceptionally well until about three years ago. I could say that I decided to pack it up and start all over – but in fact business was tough; it shifted me and I had to find something else.”
The 33-year-old chef, who is also a designer, owned the label Bello Couture. She had three retail stores and showcased at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 2012.
“I had a flagship store at Melrose Arch for about six years. I was one of the first black tenants to open at the precinct. It was fun, but with business the market changed and it wasn’t fun anymore. It got very tiring.
“Then I started thinking about what else I enjoy, and it was cooking, so there was a natural pull to it,” she said.
When she eventually decided to go full-time into the food industry, her mother had reservations about her career change, especially as she had already done so well for herself from a young age.
“By 2009, I was opening my third store – the one in Melrose Arch – I was driving a Porsche Cayenne and I had a house in Hyde Park. But it was a journey I wanted to take on and I wanted to do it right,” she said.
She went back to culinary school full-time, downgraded from the house, and sold the Porsche and bought a smaller car. She eventually sold that car and started using metered taxi services to get around.
“It was a humbling and beautiful experience because I had the chance to find myself on that journey.
“I could finally understand when people say you fight for what you love. It sounds clichéd but I really needed that to find my sweet spot.”
SIZZLING SMILE: The chef’s focus is on eating healthier for a happier lifestyle. Picture: Matthews Baloyi
Nti’s first big culinary project was to rebrand the frozen yoghurt Mayo. Then she did a project with Flying Fish to design a menu for them that paired with different beers.
“I finished school and continued to work on various concepts, and the next thing I was on a TV show.”
She became the chef on The Perfect Ace on e.tv, which celebrated everyday South African meals.
It was while she was still studying at the International Hotel School that Nti also got the opportunity to do a Gordon Ramsay culinary course in Los Angeles in 2014, the same year she started blogging.
“People ask me why I still blog. For me it’s such a beautiful platform to connect with people. How I do my cheffing is different. I’ve researched the industry better and found that there are a lot of gaps – not many interactive branding campaigns with brands, or at least no one black was doing it,” she said.
Last June, Nti joined e.tv’s Sunrise show, where she has a live morning insert every Thursday.
Siba Mtongana is one of her favourite black female chefs.
“She’s the one who has made it possible for someone like me to dream bigger. You look at her achievements and think to yourself that you can do it too.”
Nti has her focus on corporates, and designing recipes and menus for clients where she can infuse traditional foods with more modern meals.
“If you look at pap, it’s got a sentimental story in most homes. As black people, we eat from influence, what we are used to growing up and with budget restrictions,” Nti pointed out.
She is on a journey to introduce new ways of appreciating food because it’s important to eat for health.
“We should celebrate our food but also get to that mind shift of teaching ourselves to appreciate new food and eating better because it is good for us.”
Nti started dieting at age 12. The influences in the media and family reminding her of how fat food makes a person made her have an ugly relationship with food.
“I now eat everything – in moderation. What I cook is what I eat. You have to train your mind over time and shift gradually to eating healthy food. Diets make people grumpy from deprivation. You have to eat good food and honour your body.”
Nti has just returned from the African Young Chefs Competition in Lagos, Nigeria, where she took part in the mentoring and master-class sessions, and is currently working on a cook book about life and everything in between.
“I’m planning on launching an apron collection that complements my looks.
“There is so much opportunity right now in the industry. Food today is where comedy was before Trevor Noah blew up,” she said.
Picture: Matthews Baloyi
MUSHROOM GREEN PEAS QUINOA SALAD
1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
250g mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
Grated Parmesan – as much as your heart desires
In a large saucepan of 2 cups water, cook quinoa according to package instructions; set aside.
Heat olive oil and butter in a large heavy base pan over medium high heat.
Add mushrooms, garlic and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3-4 minutes; season to taste.
Stir in frozen green peas and cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in quinoa until well combined.
Serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!!