Chef Bonga cooking up a storm for royalty

DURBAN – The American reality TV court show star, Judge Judy, loves her salmon salad and Durban-born chef Bonga Mahlaba knows exactly how to prepare it for her.

Mahlaba is an executive chef for Cell C and he prepares food for the top bosses of the cellphone network operator at their Joburg head office and also cooks up a storm for special functions held by the company.

The 33 year old trained as a chef at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Florida, USA, eight years ago where he was tutored by world renowned chef Derin Moore. His training at the luxurious hotel gave him an opportunity to meet and cook for the well-known and feisty Judge Judy Sheindlin, who, he said, was a regular at the hotel.

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Chef Bonga Mahlaba with the mother of the nation, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Picture: SuppliedChef Bonga Mahlaba with former Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela. Picture: SuppliedChef Bonga Mahlaba with newly crowned Miss SA Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. Picture: Supplied

“Judge Judy is such a nice person, she often used to dine at our hotel and loved our meals. Her favourite (meal) used to be a salmon salad, she even knew my name and would call me from the kitchen,” said Mahlaba.

TV mogul Oprah Winfrey is also among those he has cooked for and Mahlaba said she enjoyed the mahi mahi fish dish.

Mahlaba, who is from KwaDabeka township near Pinetown, is a sought-after chef in high-profile circles.

Just this past weekend, Mahlaba had the Swazi Royal family and the mother of the nation, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, licking their fingers and raving about his food. He cooked for the families at the Joburg birthday party of Zenani Mandela’s husband, Swazi Prince Thumbumuzi.

For starters he served prawn salad, followed by beef fillet mignon drizzled with prepared brandy sauce and seared salmon drizzled with French sauce and Italian mash. The dessert was an assorted sorbet with macaroons and key lime pie with pistachio ice cream.

Mahlaba was invited by Princess Celenhle and it was not the first time he had been invited by the Swazi Royal family.

Their relationship started when he received a bursary from the Ubuntu Institute to train in the US. Her Royal Highness is an executive director and chief operating officer for the organisation.

“Ubuntu Institute played a role in the success of my career. I stayed in the US and trained at the Ritz Carlton through their bursary. Since then Princess Celenhle has always entrusted me to cook for some of her events.

“I have always wanted to meet Mama Winnie and my dream has finally come true,” he said.

“She called me from the kitchen just to compliment my food. It was amazing, everyone raved about my food,” said Mahlaba.

Among other people he has cooked for is new Miss South Africa, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, the Sharks rugby team and advocate Thuli Madonsela.

“I enjoy the fact that I wake up every day to do what I love, all thanks to my grandmother who had an influence in my love for cooking as a young child,” said Mahlaba.

Mahlaba’s dream is to have a cooking show and publish a book. For now he is also promoting healthy living.


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